BREAKING: IN MEMORIUM: HON. JUAN P. OSUNA, LEGENDARY IMMIGRATION FIGURE, DIES SUDDENLY — Was Chairman of BIA, Director of EOIR, High-Ranking DOJ Executive, Editor, Professor — Will Be Remembered As Kind, Gentle, Scholarly, Dedicated!

I have just learned that my friend and former colleague Juan P. Osuna tragically died suddenly of a heart attack last night. Until May of this year, Juan was the Director of EOIR. But, he was much more than that to those of us in the immigration world.

I first met Juan when he was an Editor for Interpreter Releases, the leading weekly immigration newsletter, working with one of my mentors, the late legendary Maurice A. Roberts. Juan later succeeded Maury as Editor-In-Chief and rose to a major editorial position within the West Publishing legal empire. He was serving in that position when I recommended him for a position as an Appellate Immigration Judge/Board Member of the Board of Immigration Appeals during my tenure as BIA Chair. Juan was appointed to that position by Attorney General Janet Reno in 2000.

While serving together on the BIA, Juan and I often joined forces in seeking full due process and legal protections for migrants. Sometimes, our voices were heard together in dissent. In one of those cases, Matter of J-E-, 23 I&N Dec. 291 (BIA 2002) we joined in finding that our colleagues in the majority were interpreting the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”) in an overly restrictive way. In another, Matter of Andazola, 23 I&N Dec. 219 (BIA 2003), we joined in finding that our colleagues in the majority had significantly undervalued the Immigration Judge’s careful findings of “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to U.S. citizen children.

Following my reassignment from the BIA to the Arlington Immigration Court, Juan became the Vice Chair and eventually the Chair of the BIA after the departure of Lori Scialabba. But, Juan’s meteoric rise through the DOJ hierarchy was by no means over. In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Juan to the position of Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division with responsibility for the Office of Immigration Litigation. Later, he was promoted to Associate Deputy Attorney General with responsibility for the Department’s entire “immigration portfolio.”

Not surprisingly, following the departure of EOIR Director Kevin Ohlson, Attorney General Eric Holder named Juan Director of EOIR. In that position, Juan shepherded the U.S. Immigration Courts through some of the most difficult times in EOIR history, involving astronomically increasing caseloads and resource shortages. Throughout all of it, Juan remained calm, cool, and collected.

He was a frequent public speaker and testified before Congress on a number of occasions. He was known for his honesty and “straight answers.” Indeed, in one memorable television interview, Juan confessed that the Immigration Court system was “broken.”

One of my most vivid recollections of Juan’s sensitivity and humanity was when he occasionally stopped by the Arlington Immigration Court to “find out what’s happening at the grass roots.” After lunching with or meeting the judges, Juan invariably went to the desk of each and every staff member to ask them how their jobs were going and to thank them for their dedicated service. He understood that “the ship goes nowhere without a good crew.”

Shortly before I retired, Juan called me up and said he wanted to come over for lunch. We shared some of our “old times” at the BIA, including the day I called to tell him that he was Attorney General Janet Reno’s choice for a Board Member. We also batted around some ideas for Immigration Court reform and enhancing due process.

Back in my chambers, I thought somewhat wistfully that it was too bad that we hadn’t had an opportunity to talk more since my departure from the BIA. Little did I suspect that would be the last time I saw Juan. At the time of his death, he was an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law, where I am also on the adjunct faculty. Ironically, Juan took over the “Refugee Law and Policy” course that I taught from 2012-14.

Juan will always be remembered as a gentleman, a scholar, and an executive who appreciated the role that “ordinary folks” — be they migrants, staff, interpreters, or guards, — play in building and sustaining a successful justice system. He will be missed as a friend and a leader in the immigration world.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Juan’s wife, Wendy Young, President of Kids In Need of Defense (“KIND”), and the rest of Juan’s family and many friends. Rest in peace, my friend, colleague, and champion of due process for all!





11 thoughts on “BREAKING: IN MEMORIUM: HON. JUAN P. OSUNA, LEGENDARY IMMIGRATION FIGURE, DIES SUDDENLY — Was Chairman of BIA, Director of EOIR, High-Ranking DOJ Executive, Editor, Professor — Will Be Remembered As Kind, Gentle, Scholarly, Dedicated!”

  1. Here a a few of the comments and recollections about Juan that I received by e-mail:

    From Hon. Lory Diana Rosenberg:

    “Paul please feel free to post this in comments on your blog if you want to:

    This is a tragic loss and a terribly sad development that hits close to home for me, as I lost my life partner Ken to a sudden heart attack, on December 28, 2005. I regret that I didn’t have a chance to catch up with Juan after his recent EOIR departure, as I only saw him infrequently at holiday events once I left the BIA in 2002.

    Juan and I served together on the BIA and, as Paul remembers, we often joined together in dissenting and majority opinions that recognized and took a stand for decisions that awarded meaningful due process and humanitarian benefits for immigrants and refugees. Juan and I also worked together while he was at Interpreter Releases in a prior era. I have fond memories of coordinating with Juan to assist former BIA Chairman and Editor of Interpreter Releases, Maury Roberts, attend social events in the legal community during his later years of retirement.

    Juan was a smart, strategic, loving and humane attorney, judge and administrator. In a word, he was a good man, and I will miss him.


    From Shaw Drake at Human Rights First (also one of my star RLP students at Georgetown Law):

    “Judge Schmidt,

    I was shocked and deeply saddened by this news. I had over a hour long coffee meeting with Juan just yesterday to discuss my backlog research. He was a deeply kind and generous supporter of me and my work. He taught me the value of tempered diplomatic advocacy. I’ll always remember him.

    I am so sorry for your loss of a mighty colleague and friend.




    From Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr at Cornell Law:

    “Paul: Thanks for writing such a great tribute to Juan. I was out of the office all afternoon playing with our young grandkids, so I just saw your email. A good anecdote to this very sad news. The circle of life continues, but that doesn’t diminish this loss. Steve”

    From Judge Dorothy Harbeck at the Elizabeth Immigration Court:

    “Good smart gentle guy.”


    From Judge Lawrence O. (“Burmanator”) Burman at the Arlington Immigration Court:

    ” Sad day for immigration.”


    From Judge (Ret.) Eliza Klein:

    “Thank you Paul. This is lovely. I am so sad.”


    From Nolan Rappaport, Immigration Commentator at The Hill (and former BIA Senior Attorney Adviser):

    “Very sad.”


    From Tara Magner, Director, Chicago Commitment, McArthur Foundation:

    “Thank you for this beautiful tribute. This is a heart wrenching day for all who knew him. I cannot imagine our community without Juan carrying a torch for justice.”


    I encourage everyone who is interested to add their own recollections of, or tributes to, Juan by clicking in the comments section of this blog.

    Thanks and best wishes,


  2. We at are deeply saddened by the sudden loss of our long-time colleague. Juan could always be counted on to fight for justice and fairness. What a loss. Our condolences go out to Wendy and all of Juan’s family and friends.

    –Ron Whitney
    Deputy Chief, Refugee and Asylum Law Division
    Office of the Chief Counsel

    1. Thanks so much for sharing, Ron. Juan was a scholar who loved people and dialogue with them. He had a strong sense of fairness combined with a sense of what was “possible.” I think Juan always wanted to “move the ball downfield” toward the goal of equal justice for all, even if he had to do it one tough yard at a time. He was a great resource and still had lots to offer all of us at his untimely death. But, he is a great example of the dedicated public servant who was also a respected leader and expert in his field. Sadly, along with folks like Judge Lory Rosenberg, Professor Steve Yale-Loehr, and me, he was one of the diminishing number of links to the late great Maury Roberts. But, I am sure Maury would be proud of what Juan achieved in an amazingly meaningful and productive life. And I do remember how Juan and Lory sheparded Maury around to many events after he was no longer able to do so on his own. Just an example of what a totally considerate and caring person Juan was.
      Thanks again,

  3. Like Lory, I mostly saw Juan infrequently, at office events once I left EOIR in 2011. Mostly funerals. Comes from being almost 68. Lost good friends all 2016-17.
    Juan Osuna was one of the good ones!. I agree with what PWS said about Juan, specially his scholarship bent. Juan Osuna tried hard and mostly achieved an EOIR recovery from the John Ashcroft mess. Whether we agree with any individual precedent, no doubt, under Juan Osuna’s leadership at his many executive stops within EOIR and DOJ, saved for immigrants an Opportunity to be Heard, consistent with substantive due process. Rest in Peace, good friend and leader. Our immigration law is better thanks to your hard work.

      1. I also remember that you and Lory both recommended Juan for the BIA appointment because his combination of scholarship and collegiality. Everyone who interviewed him during the selection process thought he was a “natural” as an Appellate Judge on a collegial court (which was how the BIA was viewed by Janet Reno at that time). I remember that Alex Aleinikoff, then a Professor, later Dean of Georgetown Law and later Deputy UN High Commissioner for Refugees, one of Juan’s references, told me that if we didn’t hurry up and appoint Juan, he planned to hire him.


  4. Additional tributes to Juan:

    From Judge Noel Brennan, NY Immigration Court and our former colleague at the BIA:

    “I’m devastated by his death. He was such a nice guy and one who was gracious to everyone. We visited on one of his trips to NYC maybe a year ago. I feel so badly for Wendy and his mom. Juan was all his mom had I think.”

    Well said, Noel! Juan was an unusually compassionate individual and set a good example for others to follow. Sometimes, nice guys finish first; Juan’s outstanding career and amazing legacy he has left demonstrate that!

    P 8/18

  5. A premature death of a dear family friend. We celebrate his life, his kindness, his accomplishments, his work ethic, his morals and principles of a life well-lived!

  6. My heart goes out to Wendy and Juan’s family. I first met Juan when he was an editor at Interpreter Releases and somehow found out how to contact me in the field, where I was serving as an Immigration and Nationality Service (now DHS) Trial Attorney, to discuss an issue. Much later, when I applied to transfer to the BIA as a staff attorney, Juan and Lory interviewed me. Juan recalled the early discussion and recommended me for hire, even though in the interim I had served on the enforcement team and INS General Counsel’s office, which most would see as counter-intuitive given Juan’s work on asylum and protection of aliens in the US. However, Juan understood the rule of law. Juan was a scholar and humanitarian. He and Lory welcomed a balanced approach to cases, which I tried to emulate. I couldn’t have asked for two more accomplished, brilliant and dedicated chairmen to work for. Loosing Juan in such an untimely manner is an overwhelming loss to the entire immigration law community. It is so saddening to hear this.

    With deepest sympathy,

    Judith Lafleur

    1. Thanks, Judith, for your wonderful recollection. Juan was a very fair-minded individual.
      All the best,

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