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H. Jon Benjamin and his attorney
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

Few issues are more heated these days than immigration. Especially since the United States government is in the hands of really, really racist people. Anyway, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver took on the issue with host Oliver’s signature blend of investigative reporting, comic hyperbole, and nonsense-puncturing stunts as he delved into the shockingly ludicrous legal system that determines whether people seeking asylum in this country get to stay, or whether they get deported back to places they’ve fled, often in very real fear of their lives. Understaffed, wildly whimsical in terms of judgement rates, and, as one immigration judge puts it, “doing death penalty court cases in a traffic court setting,” this system is shown as profoundly, often tragically unjust. Lest that seem like hyperbole in itself, Oliver pointed up just a few cases where, after facing years of waiting followed by summary deportation, people were indeed assaulted or murdered as soon as they were sent back into the sights of the people they’d been running from. In one case after a hearing lasting less than two minutes.

“Now hold on,” one might be saying, “This is the judicial system of these great United States you’re talking about, mister.” Well, as Oliver points out in what’s certain to be a surprise to some, it is and it isn’t, as immigration courts aren’t in the judicial branch at all, but, instead, are under the supervision of the executive. Meaning that every decision surrounding asylum seekers—most of whom are people of color—is subject to the political whims of the particular administration in control. Which, in this case, means noted and empirical bigot Jeff Sessions and, by extension, somehow even more racist Donald Trump. Plus, as Oliver shows in a development that will seem completely, farcically unfair to anyone with a human soul, said courts are exempt from that whole “if you can not afford an attorney, one will be provided for you” idea—even when it comes to children. With one immigration judge (Jack Weil is his name) heard arguing that kids as young as three can be made to understand the intricacies of their options and rights under U.S. immigration law, Oliver played one immigration lawyer’s rebuttal to that shameless nonsense in the form of a series of interviews with actual children expected to represent themselves in court. One, asked to “designate a country of removal,” answered, correctly, “Pizza.”


As ever, Oliver ratchets up his plea for sanity amidst the world’s bullshit with a goof and some celebrity friends. In this case, Archer and Bob’s Burgers star H. Jon Benjamin (in the flesh for a change) came on as a suspected arsonist in the Oliver-produced Tot Bench, a variation on the ubiquitous TV judge shows where Benjamin’s fate is in the hands of a court filled with delightfully inattentive three and four-year-olds. Spoiler: it doesn’t go well, as the honorable and adorable Judge Riley sentences him to “a jillion years” in prison. Well, at least he got a fair trial, by U.S. immigration court standards.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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