Inside the Chaos of Immigration Court

Inside the Chaos of Immigration Court
(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The Equitable Life Building, at 100 Montgomery Street, sits in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District. Named after an insurance company, it was the first skyscraper built in the city after the Depression, a symbol of optimism rising 25 stories high with marble walls that sparkled in the sun. Today, it is home to all sorts of buzzy Bay Area companies, from Spruce Capital Partners (“investors and thought leaders in the Life Sciences industry”) to the OutCast Agency (“strategists and creatives” with “a hyper-growth mindset”). To get away from the hectic pace of investing, strategizing, and creating, tenants can burn off calories inside the building’s private gym or take their lunch break atop a luxurious rooftop deck. 

The Equitable Life Building is also home to the San Francisco Immigration Court, though it’s easy to miss. On my first visit last winter, the only hint that a court lay within was the scores of families in the lobby, clutching summonses and looking confused. The court is above, occupying the fourth, eighth, and ninth floors. Up here, the elevators opened into a slightly off-kilter dimension: A security line snaked into a cramped waiting room, which led to a winding and windowless hallway, from which one entered identical windowless courtrooms. It was deeply disorienting. I often encountered people fumbling around in the hallway, not sure how the hell to get out.   

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