Sources from several areas of the country have informed me that there is a new, of course unpublished and unannounced, policy at DHS prohibiting ICE Assistant Chief Counsel who represent the agency in U.S. Immigraton Court from either negotiating bonds with private counsel or waiving appeals from U.S. Immigraton Judge decisions ordering release on bond.
This is just further evidence of the consequences of having ignorant proponents of “gonzo enforcement” in charge of both the DHS and the U.S. Immigraton Courts at the Department of Justice.
First, negotiated bonds are one of the key ways of making bond dockets move forward in an efficient manner in the U.S. Immigraton Courts. Bonds are initially sent by ICE Enforcement personnel, often on an arbitrary or rote basis. Without authority to negotiate bonds, particularly in advance, each bond hearing will take longer. Moreover, since bond cases take precedence in Immigraton Courts, longer bond dockets will further limit the already inadequate court time for hearing the merits of removal cases. With a growing backlog of over 600,000 cases, this appears to be an intentional effort to undermine due process in the Immigration Courts. Typically, when I served at the Arlington Immigration Court, at my encouragement, the parties agreed on most bonds in advance and neither party appealed more than 1%-2% of my bond decisions. Indeed, discussing settlement with the Assistant Chief Counsel in advance was more or less of a prerequisite for me to redetermine a bond.
Second, appealing all bond release decisions will also overburden the already swamped Appellate Division of the U.S. Immigration Courts, the Board of Immigraton Appeals (“BIA”). As in the Immigraton Courts, bond appeal cases at the BIA take precedence and will push decisions on merits appeals further back in line.
Third, Immigraton Judges usually only prepare a bond decision (known as a “Bond Memorandum”) in cases where a bond appeal is actually taken. Since that currently happens only infrequently, the process is manageable. However, if appeals are taken in more cases, and Bond Memoranda are “priorities,” Immigration Judges will have to spend more time writing or dictating Bond Memoranda, further limiting their time to hear cases on the merits. Moreover, by making it more burdensome to release individuals on bond, the system actually creates an inappropriate bias against releasing individuals on bond.
Fourth, yielding to inappropriate pressure from the “Legacy INS,” the Clinton DOJ gave Assistant Chief Counsel regulatory authority to unilaterally stay the release of a respondent on bond under an Immigraton Judge’s order provided that: 1) the Director originally had set “no bond;” or 2) the original bond was set at $10,000 or more. That means that the DHS can effectively neuter the power of the Immigraton Judge to release an individual on bond pending the merits hearing. By contrast, the respondent has no right to a stay pending a decision by the Immigraton Judge not to allow release, unless the BIA specifically grants a stay (which almost never happens in my experience).
Fifth, unlike petitions to review final orders of removal, which must be filed with the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals at the conclusion of all proceedings, judicial review of bond decisions is sought in the U.S. District Courts. More decisions denying bonds have the potential to create new workload issues for the U.S. District Court.
Fifth, the individuals in the DHS most with the most knowledge and expertise in how the U.S. Immigration Courts work are the Assistant Chief Counsel. Stripping them of their authority to control dockets and settle cases, authority possessed and exercised by every other prosecutor in America, is both dumb and insulting. In what other system do the “cops” have the authority to overrule the U.S. Attorney, the District Attorney, or the State’s Attorney on matters they are prosecuting in court? It also makes the Assistant Chief Counsel job less professional and less attractive for talented lawyers.
In short, the Trump Administration is making a concerted attack on both common sense and due process in the U.S. Immigration Court system. The results are not only unfair, but are wasting taxpayer funds and hampering the already impeded functioning of the U.S. Immigraton Court system. Unless or until the Article III Federal Courts are willing to step in and put an end to this nonsense, the quagmire in the U.S. Immigration Courts will become deeper and our overall U.S. justice system will continue to falter.
We need an independent Article I Immigraton Court now!