From AILA Executive Director Ben Johnson:
“Once again, the Attorney General cites flawed facts to castigate the immigration bar for the significant case backlog and inefficiencies in our immigration court system,” said Benjamin Johnson, AILA Executive Director. “He blames immigration attorneys for seeking case continuances, disregarding the fact that continuances are also routinely requested by counsel for the government, or are issued unilaterally by the court for administrative reasons. In fact, although the report cited by the Attorney General indicates an 18% increase in continuances requested by respondents, that same report found a 54% increase in continuances requested by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and a 33% increase in ‘Operational-related’ continuances. That said, continuances are often a necessary means to ensure due process is afforded in removal proceedings. The number one reason a continuance is requested by a respondent is to find counsel. Other reasons include securing and authenticating documentary evidence from foreign countries, or to locating critical witnesses. And when the government refuses to share information from a client’s immigration file and instead makes them go through the lengthy process of a Freedom of Information/Privacy Act request, a continuance is often a client’s only lifeline to justice. For the AG to blame immigration lawyers for imagined trespasses is both malicious and wrong. We will not let that misinformation pass without setting the record straight.
“The immigration court backlog is a function of years and years of government spending on enforcement without a commensurate investment in court resources. Our nation would be better served if the immigration courts were an independent judiciary, free from the auspices of the Department of Justice, where every immigrant has access to counsel. Immigration court is not small claims court or traffic court; each decision has the potential to tear apart families or keep them together, to destroy businesses or build our economy, to send someone back to certain death, or bring hope for a new and better life. Immigration judges should make those decisions with all information at hand, without any undue influence or arbitrary case completion requirements. That is a goal we can all work toward.”
Sure matches my observations from the latter part of my career at the U.S. immigration Court in Arlington, VA!
Probably 75% of the cases on my “Non-Detained Docket” were there NOT at the request of a respondent or his or her attorney. No, they were “mass transferred and continued” to my docket unilaterally by EOIR to fulfill “Border Priorities” established by the DOJ during the Obama Administration as an adjunct to changing DHS Enforcement priorities.
And, these weren’t “short continuances” to find a lawyer or prepare an application as might be requested by a respondent or a private bar lawyer. NO, these were “Merits Hearing” cases that had often been set for late 2016 or 2017 hearings before one of my colleagues, only to be “continued” by EOIR to my docket for dates many additional years in the future. Indeed, many of these cases were unilaterally removed by EOIR from “Individual Dockets” and “orbited” to my “Master Calendars” (arraignments) years in the future — indeed years after I would be retired. That’s because my docket was already completely full for several years when this chapter of ADR started.
And the same was true for my colleague Judge Lawrence O. Burman. Indeed, at the time I retired, Judge Burman and I were the ONLY judges hearing “nonpriority, non-detained cases” — even though those cases were BY FAR the majority of cases on the Arlington Court Docket. And, to make things worse, my “replacement” retired at the end of 2016 thus resulting in a whole new “round” of ADR.
Talk about ADR driven by incompetent administration and improper political meddling from the DOJ. And, from everything “Gonzo” has said and I have heard about what’s happening at EOIR, such impropriety has become “normalized” under the Trump Administration.
No court system can run efficiently and fairly when the perceived interests of one of the parties are elevated over fairness, Due Process, equal justice, and reaching correct decisions under the law. No court system can run efficiently and fairly when control over day-to-day dockets is stripped from the local US Immigration Judges and Court Administrators and hijacked by officials in Washington and Falls Church driven by political performance objectives not by practical knowledge and day-to-day considerations of how to construct and run a docket for maximum fairness and efficiency under local conditions (the most important of which is the an adequate number of pro bono lawyers to represent respondents).
NO OTHER MAJOR COURT SYSTEM IN AMERICA OPERATES THE WAY EOIR DOES! THAT SHOULD TELL US SOMETHING!
So, why is “Gonzo Apocalypto” being allowed to get away with misrepresenting the facts and intentionally running the Immigration Court system for the perceived benefit of one of the parties and against the interests of the other? There is a simple term for such conduct: Ethical Misconduct. Usually, it results in the loss or suspension of the offender’s license to practice law. Why is Gonzo above accountability?