DOJ PLANS TO CUT U.S. IMMIGRATION COURT BACKLOG IN HALF BY 2020 — CONTINUES TO PRESS BOGUS CLAIM THAT BACKLOGS DRIVEN BY PRIVATE ATTORNEYS — THE TRUTH: BACKLOGS DRIVEN PRIMARILY BY POOR DECISIONS BY CONGRESS (E.G., USG SHUTDOWN) & “AIMLESS DOCKET RESHUFFLING” BY THE DOJ OVER THE PAST THREE ADMINISTRATIONS, INCLUDING THIS ONE!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration/doj-details-plan-to-slash-immigration-court-backlog/2017/11/03/03fcef34-c0a0-11e7-959c-fe2b598d8c00_story.html

Maria Sacchetti reports in the Washington Post:

“The Department of Justice said Friday it is aiming to slash the massive immigration court backlog in half by 2020 by adding judges, upgrading technology and refusing to tolerate repeated delays in deportation cases.

Officials, who briefed reporters on condition that they not be identified by name, said the effort is part of the Trump administration’s broad plan to more efficiently handle cases of undocumented immigrants, who number 11 million nationwide.

The administration has reversed Obama-era policies that allowed prosecutors to indefinitely postpone low-priority cases, which the Justice Department officials said allowed some immigrants to delay “inevitable” deportations. In other cases, they said, immigrants who deserved to win their cases were delayed for years because of the backlog.

The immigration court backlog has tripled since 2009, the year former president Obama took office, to more than 630,000 cases in October.

“That is what this administration is committed to, getting this done right, ensuring that we’re never in this place again,” a Justice Department official said. “Really and truly, when you look at the numbers . . . it reflects the fact that the last administration likely wasn’t as committed to ensuring that the system worked the way that Congress intended it to.”

The agency, which oversees the administrative immigration courts, said it plans to hire new immigration judges, use technology such as videoconferencing, and increase judges’ productivity by setting case-completion guidelines, though officials would not give details.

The department also will have a “no dark courtrooms” policy, the officials said, explaining that there are at least 100 courtrooms nationwide that are empty every Friday because of judges’ alternate work schedules. The Justice Department is tapping retired judges to fill those courts.

The immigration court overhaul comes as the Trump administration is carrying out policies that could generate even more cases in coming months. Arrests and deportations from the interior of the United States are rising sharply, and the Trump administration has ended Obama-era protections for some undocumented immigrants, including 690,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.

By Monday, the Trump administration is also expected to say if it will renew temporary protected status for thousands of longtime immigrants from Honduras and Nicaragua whose permits expire next year.

The Justice Department officials said they are no longer widely using certain protections for undocumented immigrants, including a tool known as prosecutorial discretion that allowed the government to set aside low-priority deportation cases.

DOJ officials criticized immigration lawyers, saying they “have purposely used tactics designed to delay” immigration cases. As of 2012, the officials said, there were an average of four continuances for each case before the court.

Gregory Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the administration’s plan to cut the backlog would “undermine judicial independence” in the immigration courts.

“This administration has been extremely hostile toward the judiciary and the independence of immigration judges, as well as other judges,” Chen said.

Speeding up cases depends partly on congressional funding. It also rests partly on the actions of immigration judges, who have expressed concerns about due process for immigrants, many of whom are facing deportation to some of the world’s most violent countries. Immigrants are not entitled to a government-appointed lawyer in these courts and often handle cases on their own.

The Justice officials would not comment on reports that they will impose case-completion quotas on judges, which raised an outcry from the judges’ union. But the officials said they would give judges clear standards to complete cases and add more supervisors.

Officials say they are already seeing results from efforts this year to improve efficiency. From February to September, judges ordered 78,767 people to leave the country, a 33 percent jump over the same period in 2016. The total number of final decisions, which includes some immigrants who won their cases, is 100,921.”

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THE GOOD:

  • Using retired U.S. Immigration Judges to fill in while Immigration Judges are on leave or otherwise scheduled to be out of court is a good idea. Indeed, the National Association of Immigration Judges (“NAIJ”) has been pushing this idea since the Clinton Administration with no results until now. Additionally, finally taking advantage of the available “Phased Retirement Options” for the the many Immigration Judges nearing retirement could also be helpful.
  • Over time, hiring additional Immigration Judges could be helpful, at least in theory. But, that depends on whether the hiring is done on a merit basis, the new judges are properly trained, and they have the space, equipment, and support staff to function. The DOJ/EOIR’s past record on accomplishing such initiatives has been beyond abysmal. So, it’s just as likely that additional hiring will harm the Immigraton Courts’ functioning as it is that it will help.

THE BAD:

  • “Productivity standards” are totally inappropriate for an independent judiciary. They are almost certain to infringe on due process by turning judges into “assembly line workers.”  Moreover, if hiring is done properly, judges should be self-motivated professionals who don’t need “Micky Mouse performance evaluations” to function. While it might be helpful to have some “periodic peer review” involving input from those appearing before the courts and judges of courts reviewing the judges’ work, such as takes place in some other independent judicial systems, that clearly isn’t they type of system this Administration has in mind.
  • More use of Televideo is problematic. In person hearings are definitely better for delivering due process. The EOIR Televideo equipment tends to be marginal from a technology standpoint. “Pushing the envelope” on Televideo could well force the Article IIIs to finally face up and hold at least some applications of this process unconstitutional.
  • More “Supervisory Judges” are totally unnecessary and a waste of resources. In the “EOIR World,” Supervisory Judges often don’t hear cases. Moreover, as noted previously, professional judges need little, if any, real “supervision.” The system might benefit from having local Chief Judges (“first among equals”), like in other independent judicial systems, who can address administrative issues with the Court Administrator and the public, But, judges don’t need supervision unless the wrong individuals are being selected as judges. And, as in the U.S. District Courts, local Chief Judges should carry meaningful case loads.
  • Every other court system in the U.S., particularly the U.S. District Courts, rely on heavy doses of “Prosecutorial Discretion” (“PD”) by government prosecutors to operate. By eliminating PD from the DHS Chief Counsels, then touting their misguided actions, this Administration has  guaranteed the ultimate failure of any backlog reduction plan. Moreover, this stupid action reduces the status of the DHS Assistant Chief Counsels. There is no other system I’m aware of where the enforcement officials (“the cops”) rather than professional prosecutors make the decisions as to which cases to prosecute. PD and sensible use of always limited docket time is part of the solution, not the problem, in the Immigration Courts.

THE UGLY:

  • The DOJ and EOIR continue to perpetuate the myth that private attorneys are responsible for the backlogs. No, the backlogs are primarily the result of Congressional negligence multiplied by improper politically motived docket manipulation and reschuffling to meet DHS enforcement priorities by the last three Administrations, including this one! This Administration was responsible for unnecessarily “Dark Courtrooms” earlier this year in New York and other heavily backlogged Immigration Courts.
  • Although not highlighted in this article, EOIR Acting Director James McHenry recently admitted during Congressional testimony that EOIR has been working on e-filing for 16 years without achieving any results! Thats incredible! McHenry promised a “Pilot Program” in 2018 with no telling when the system will actually be operational. And DOJ/EOIR has a well-established record of problematic and highly disruptive “technology rollouts.”

THE INCREDIBLE:

  • As usual, the DOJ/EOIR “numbers” don’t add up. EOIR “touts” compleating approximately 100,000 cases in the 7-month period ending on August 31, 2017. That’s on a pace to complete fewer than 200,000 cases for a fiscal year. But, EOIR receives an average of at least 300,000 new cases each year (even without some of the “Gonzo” Enforcement by the Trump DHS).  So, EOIR would have to “pick up the pace” considerably just to keep the backlogs from growing (something EOIR hasn’t done since before 2012). Not surprisingly, TRAC and others show continually increasing backlogs despite having more judges on board. To cut the backlog from 640,000 to 320,000 (50%) by 2020, the courts would have to produce an additional 160,000 annual completions in 2018 and 2019! That, in turn, would require completing a total of at least 460,000 cases in each of those years. That’s an increase of 230% over the rate touted by DOJ/EOIR in the Post article. Not going to happen, particularly since we’re already more than one month into FY 2018 and Congress has yet to authorize or appropriate the additional resources the DOJ wants!

WHAT’S CLEAR:

  • The DOJ hocus pocus, fake numbers, unrealistic plans, political scheming, cover-ups, blame shifting, and gross mismanagement of the U.S. Immigration Courts must end!
  • Unless and until Congress creates an independent, professionally managed Article I Immigration Court, any additional resources thrown into the current Circus being presided over by Jeff Sessions’s DOJ would be wasted.

PWS

11-04-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GONZO’S “KANGAROO COURT PLAN” MOCKS CONSTITUTION – “Performance Metrics For Judges” Are Thinly Disguised “Deportation Quotas” for “Assembly Line Injustice” — Last Pretense Of “Fair & Impartial Adjudication” About To Disappear!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration/immigration-judges-say-proposed-quotas-from-justice-dept-threaten-independence/2017/10/12/3ed86992-aee1-11e7-be94-fabb0f1e9ffb_story.html?utm_term=.bcee5ec17f24

Maria Sacchetti reports for the Washington Post:

“The Trump administration is taking steps to impose “numeric performance standards” on federal immigration judges, drawing a sharp rebuke from judges who say production quotas or similar measures will threaten judicial independence, as well as their ability to decide life-or-death deportation cases.

The White House says it aims to reduce an “enormous” backlog of 600,000 cases, triple the number in 2009, that cripples its ability to deport immigrants as President Trump mandated in January.

The National Association of Immigration Judges called the move unprecedented and says it will be the “death knell for judicial independence” in courts where immigrants such as political dissidents, women fleeing violence and children plead their cases to stay in the United States.

“That is a huge, huge, huge encroachment on judicial independence,” said Dana Leigh Marks, spokeswoman and former president of the association and a judge for more than 30 years. “It’s trying to turn immigration judges into assembly-line workers.”

The White House tucked its proposal — a six-word statement saying it wants to “establish performance metrics for immigration judges” — into a broader package of immigration reforms it rolled out Sunday night.

But other documents obtained by The Washington Post show that the Justice Department “intends to implement numeric performance standards to evaluate Judge performance.”

The Justice Department, which runs the courts through the Executive Office for Immigration Review, declined to comment or otherwise provide details about the numeric standards.

The Justice Department has expressed concern about the backlog and discouraged judges from letting cases drag on too long, though it has insisted that they decide the cases fairly and follow due process. On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed concern that false asylum cases are clogging up the courts.

The judges’ union says its current contract language prevents the government from rating them based on the number of cases they complete or the time it takes to decide them.

But now, they say, the department is trying to rescind that language, and advocates say it could violate a federal regulation that requires judges to “exercise their independent judgment and discretion” when deciding cases.

Advocates and immigration lawyers say imposing numerical expectations on judges unfairly faults them for the massive backlog. Successive administrations have expanded immigration enforcement without giving the courts enough money or judges to decide cases in a timely way, they say. An average case for a non-detained immigrant can drag on for more than two years, though some last much longer.

“Immigration judges should have one goal and that goal should be the fair adjudication of cases,” said Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center, a nonprofit that provides legal services and advocacy to immigrants nationwide. “That’s the only metric that should count.”

Immigration lawyers say the proposed standards risk adding to disadvantages immigrants already face in immigration courts. Most defendants do not speak English as their first language if at all, are not entitled to lawyers at the government’s expense, and thousands end up trying to defend themselves.

Often immigrants are jailed and given hearings in remote locations, such as rural Georgia or Upstate New York, which makes it difficult to gather records and witnesses needed to bring a case.

“People’s lives are at risk in immigration court cases, and to force judges to complete cases under a rapid time frame is going to undermine the ability of those judges to make careful, well thought-out decisions,” said Gregory Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which has 15,000 members.

Traditional federal judges are not subject to quotas.

The rare public dispute between the immigration judges and the Justice Department comes as the Trump administration is demanding a commitment to increased enforcement and other immigration restrictions in exchange for legal status for 690,000 young undocumented immigrants who, until recently, were protected from deportation under an Obama-era program. Sessions announced the end of the program last month, and the young immigrants will start to lose their work permits and other protections in March.

In January, Trump issued a slate of executive orders that sought to crack down on immigration. He revoked President Barack Obama’s limits on enforcement and effectively exposed all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States to arrest.

On Sunday, Trump also called for more immigration-enforcement lawyers and more detention beds, which would further increase the caseloads of the courts.

He is also planning to seek congressional funding for an additional 370 immigration judges, which would more than double the current number.

Immigration arrests are up more than 40 percent since Trump took office, and deportation orders are also rising. From Feb. 1 to August 31, judges have issued 88,383 rulings, and in the majority of cases — 69,160 — immigrants were deported or ordered to voluntarily leave the country, a 36 percent increase over the corresponding period in 2016.

The immigration courts have clamored for greater independence from the Justice Department for years and also have sought greater control over their budget. They have long complained about a lack of funding, burnout rates that rival that of prison wardens, and caseloads exceeding 2,000 each. Some judges are scheduling cases into 2022.

On Sunday, Sessions — who appoints the immigration judges and is the court’s highest authority — called the White House’s broad immigration proposals “reasonable.”

“If followed, it will produce an immigration system with integrity and one in which we can take pride,” he said.”

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Will the stunningly xenophobic “Gonzo Apocalypto” get away with his lawless plan to strip migrants of the last vestiges of their already restricted Constitutional rights to due process? Or, will the Article III Courts step in, assert themselves, insist on due process and fair and impartial adjudication in Immigration Court, and throw the already staggering Immigration Court System into complete collapse, thereby stopping the “Removal Railway?”

The showdown is coming. I think the eventual outcome is “too close to call.”  So far, Sessions is well on his way to co-opting the Immigration Court as just another “whistle stop on the Removal Railway!”

The current backlog has multiple causes: 1) failure of Congress and the DOJ to properly fund and staff the U.S. Immigration Courts; 2) poor enforcement strategies by DHS resulting in too many “low priority” cases on the dockets; 3) often politicized, always changing, sometimes conflicting “case priorities and goals” established by DOJ and EOIR; 4) lack of authority for Immigration Judges to control their own dockets; 5) outdated technology resulting in a “paper heavy” system where documents are often misfiled or missing from the record when needed by the Judges;  and 6) “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” caused by moving cases around to fit DHS Enforcement priorities and ill-conceived and poorly planned details of Immigration Judges away from their normal dockets. “Productivity,” which consistently far exceeds the “optimal” 500 completions per Judge annually (currently approximately 770 per Judge) is not one of the primary factors causing the backlog.

Overall, the current backlog is the product of mismanagement of the Immigration Courts by the DOJ spanning multiple Administrations. No wonder the politos at the Sessions DOJ are trying to shift blame to the Immigration Judges, hapless migrants struggling to achieve justice in an “intentionally user unfriendly system,” and stressed out private attorneys, many serving pro bono or for minimal compensation. How would YOU like to be a migrant fighting for your life in a so-called “court system” beholden to Jeff Sessions?

We’re starting to look pretty “Third World.” Sessions and the rest of the “Trump Gang” operate much like corrupt Government officials in “Third World” countries where the rulers control the courts, manipulation of the justice system for political ends is SOP, and claims to aspire to “fairness” ring hollow.

PWS

10-13-17

 

AP: AILA TAKES ISSUE WITH SESSIONS’S UNSUPPORTED CLAIM THAT UNACCOMPANIED MINORS ARE “WOLVES IN SHEEP CLOTHING!”

https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2017/09/21/heres-what-jeff-sessions-had-to-say-in-boston

Alanna Durkin Richer Reports for AP:

“Sessions, a Republican, said gangs are exploiting a program for unaccompanied minors found crossing the southern border by sending members over as ‘‘wolves in sheep clothing’’ and recruiting in communities.

Gregory Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, called that assertion ‘‘truly baseless.’’ The program aids children fleeing violence in their home countries, he said.

‘‘He’s trying to inflame public opinion against this highly vulnerable population,’’ Chen said.

A few dozen protesters carrying signs with phrases such as #NotWelcome gathered outside the courthouse before Sessions’ speech to condemn his views on immigration and law enforcement.”

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Read the full report of Sessions’s speech to law enforcement officials in Boston at the link.

Sessions is well-known for his alarmist, inflammatory rhetoric on immigration and his “fact-challenged” claims. While undoubtedly some gang members do come into the United States as so-called “unaccompanied minors,” I have seen no hard evidence on the extent of this problem.

PWS

09-21-17

 

FLASH: AILA WITHDRAWS SUPPORT FOR MORE U.S. IMMIGRATION JUDGES & EOIR FUNDING! — UNDER TRUMP/SESSIONS REGIME “increased judges will not necessarily promote due process and fairness for those appearing in proceedings!”

“From: Greg Chen [mailto:GChen@aila.org]
Sent: Wednesday, July 05, 2017 10:06 AM
To: AILA Interior Enforcement List
Cc: AILA Interior Enforcement List; Kate Voigt; Laura Lynch; Kerri Talbot
Subject: [interiorenforcement] AILA shifted position on IJ funding – CJS approps

Everyone,

AILA’s board just voted to change our position on the funding of immigration judges: in brief, AILA will no longer be supporting increased funding for IJs.  The change in position was motivated by two principal concerns: 1) additional funding for judges will enable this administration to deport more people more rapidly; and 2) increased judges will not necessarily promote due process and fairness for those appearing in proceedings, esp under the current administration.

We will convey this to key friends on the Hill, but we haven’t decided how actively we plan to push this.

Here’s what the House FY18 CJS bill includes, according to the summary posted by House approps:

Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) – Funding for the EOIR is increased by $64.5 million, for a total of $505 million. This increase will provide for 65 additional immigration judge teams to process immigration reviews more quickly, and reduce the backlog of pending cases.

Gregory Z. Chen, Esq.
Director of Government Relations
Direct: 202-507-7615 I Cell: 202.716-5818 I Email: gchen@aila.org American Immigration Lawyers Association
Main: 202.507.7600 I Fax: 202.783.7853 I www.aila.org<http://www.aila.org/>
1331 G Street, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005″

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I can understand the sentiment that brought this about. I’m not sure, however, that this isn’t an exercise in “kicking the cat.” The real problem here is lack of independence and the highly inappropriate, facially unethical, role of the DOJ, which Congress created, allowed to fester, and failed to date to fix. And the type of misguided GOP agenda behind an atrocity like H.R. 391 also doesn’t help.

Interesting that the last several Administrations have mismanaged the Immigration Courts to the point where they appear to be doing exactly the opposite of their single mission: guaranteeing fairness and due process for all!

With this particular Congress and Administration, AILA’s change in position probably won’t mean much. Only White Nationalist and restrictionist groups seem to have any influence.

Sadly, years of hard-won progress in establishing due process in the Immigration Court system have now been squandered. EOIR and the Immigration Courts have returned to the mess that they were before EOIR was created.

Bad time to be seeking justice in America! Thanks to my former Georgetown Law Refugee Law & Policy student Shaw Drake for sending me this item!

PWS

07-27-17

 

 

 

ICE Gets Jollies By Busting More Non-Criminals, Adding to Immigration Court Backlogs!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration-arrests-up-during-trump/2017/05/17/74399a04-3b12-11e7-9e48-c4f199710b69_story.html

Maria Sacchetti reports in the Washington Post:

“Federal immigration agents are arresting more than 400 immigrants a day, a sharp leap from last year that reflects one of President Trump’s most far-reaching campaign promises.

In Trump’s first 100 days in office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 41,318 immigrants, up 37.6 percent over the same period last year, the agency said Wednesday. Almost 3 out of 4 of those arrested have criminal records, including gang members and fugitives wanted for murder. But the biggest increase by far is among immigrants with no criminal records.

“This administration is fully implementing its mass-deportation agenda,” said Gregory Chen, government relations director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “They’re going after people who have lived here for a long time.”

. . . .

Acting ICE director Thomas Homan said the statistics released Wednesday show that agents still prioritize lawbreakers: 30,473 criminals were arrested from Jan. 22 to April 29, an 18 percent increase from the same period in 2016.

Meanwhile, arrests of immigrants with no criminal records more than doubled to nearly 11,000, the fastest-growing category by far.

“Will the number of noncriminal arrests and removals increase this year? Absolutely,” Homan said. “That’s enforcing the laws that are on the books.”

What is less clear is what is happening to the immigrants who are being taken into custody.

Overall, deportations have fallen about 12 percent this year, to about 56,315 people, which Homan attributed to a severe backlog in federal immigration courts. He also said it can take longer to deport criminals than those without criminal records, because those in the former category may have additional court proceedings. The Trump administration has called for additional immigration judges and detention space to speed deportations.

Homan did not say how many of the 41,318 people whose arrests were announced Wednesday have been deported, remain in custody or have been released.

Unlike criminal arrests, records of immigration arrests — which are considered civil violations — are not publicly accessible.

The secrecy allows immigration officials to pick and choose which examples of their work to highlight. On Wednesday, they said the immigrants arrested since Trump’s executive order include Estivan Rafael Marques Velasquez, an alleged MS-13 gang member from El Salvador captured in New York in February; Juan Antonio Melchor Molina, a fugitive wanted for a 2008 murder in Mexico who was arrested last month in Dallas; and William Magana-Contreras, another reputed MS-13 member arrested in Houston last month. Magana-Contreras is wanted for aggravated homicide in El Salvador, officials said.

Some advocates questioned whether ICE is truly prioritizing the most serious criminals.

Parastoo Zahedi, an immigration lawyer in Virginia, said ICE is actively trying to deport one of her clients to Italy because of a conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana. He has lived in the United States nearly all his life.

“It’s not criminal aliens,” Zahedi said. “It’s anyone that they can catch.”

Ava Benach, a D.C. immigration lawyer, said ICE agents are “empowered, emboldened and . . . eager to enforce the law aggressively.”

Advocates also questioned the wisdom of arresting thousands more immigrants — especially those who pose no known public safety threat — when immigration courts are severely backlogged. But Homan said that is the agency’s job.

. . . .

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Let’s put this in plain language.  We have a law that doesn’t work, and a system that is broken. There are an estimated 11 million undocumented individuals residing in the U.S. Most of them work, pay taxes (in some form), and contribute to the economy. Many have immediate relatives who are US citizens or otherwise in the country legally.

Because everyone can’t possibly be removed, the “unfocused” enforcement advocated by Homan on behalf of the Trump Administration turns out to be highly if not completely arbitrary. In most cases of those without serious criminal records, removal would be a net loss to our country.

Moreover, the Administration has reassigned U.S. Immigration Judges away from their regular dockets to work on detained cases, which, understandably, are the highest priority. By mindlessly “jacking up” the detained docket, the Administration  guarantees that backlogs will continue to build on the “non-detained” dockets.

The Immigration Courts now have a backlog approaching 600,000, and it continues to grow by leaps and bounds even though there are more Immigration Judges on duty now than in past years and productivity has remained constant over the past few years (although Immigration Judges still complete multiples of what other similarly situated Federal Judges do, and far more cases than the
“ideal”). This is because of the “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” — ADR — foisted on the Immigration Courts by the past two Administrations.

While, at the very end of the Obama Administration ICE was making some progress toward smarter, more focused use of enforcement resources, which took into account the finite limits of Immigration Court dockets, the Trump Administration has returned to a policy of random irrational enforcement. They have also limited the discretion of individual ICE Assistant Chief Counsel to exercise discretion to get what should be “low priority” cases off the docket — in other words, to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” — “PD” — as other prosecutors do.

PWS

05-17-17