Adolescent girls in braids and pigtails and teenage boys wearing jeans and sneakers sat alongside their parents in the courtroom of Immigration Judge Frank Travieso to hear how long they might be allowed to stay in the United States.
Travieso grabbed four thick books and dropped each one on his desk with a thud, warning the families in his Los Angeles courtroom about the thousands of pages of immigration laws and interpretations that could affect their cases and urging them to get a lawyer.
"This is even smaller print," he said of the 1,200-page book containing regulations during the hearing last month. "I am not trying to scare you, but I'm trying to ensure your children get a full and fair hearing."
He then sent them on their way and told them to report back in February.
The scene is one that could become more common as the country's already backlogged immigration courts brace for a deluge of tens of thousands of Central American children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months.
The court system is so overwhelmed that it can currently take three years to get a hearing, and many believe the delays will only get worse in the months ahead. For many immigrants, the delays in the court system work in their favor because they know they have so long before their cases are resolved.