Thousands of immigrants seek asylum in Charlotte court. Nearly all will lose.

Charlotte N.C.- “Stand up and raise your right hand,” Judge William Riggs said.

He looks expectantly at a Central American man in front of him, who’s wearing headphones to listen to the Spanish interpreter to the left of Riggs. Before she finishes translating, Riggs raises his own right hand to demonstrate the action.

After the man takes an oath, a baby, in the wooden benches designated for observers, starts whining. The mother bounces her knees up and down, attempting to soothe the child.

The immigrant’s lawyer explains his claim, and at one point, Riggs rests his chin in his hand.

It’s about 9 a.m., and this is the first of dozens of asylum cases he’ll hear that day. Once the lawyers finish, he either assigns a later individual hearing or orders the respondent removed from the country.

All of this takes place in Charlotte’s immigration court, located in a mundane office building in east Charlotte. There isn’t a sign outside to identify it, and once inside, you have to take a rickety elevator to the fourth floor — just three floors above an immigration law firm.

That’s where anyone in the Carolinas has to go to claim asylum, and its four judges are some of the strictest in the country.


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