Musings on Events in U.S. Immigration Court, Immigration Law, Sports, and Other Random Topics by Retired United States Immigration Judge (Arlington, Virginia) and former Chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals Paul Wickham Schmidt. To see my complete professional bio, just click on the link below.
“The number of people caught trying to sneak over the border from Mexico has fallen to the lowest level in 46 years, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics released Tuesday that offer the first comprehensive look at how immigration enforcement is changing under the Trump administration.
During the government’s 2017 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, U.S. border agents made 310,531 arrests, a decline of 24 percent from the previous year and the fewest overall since 1971.
The figures show a sharp drop in apprehensions immediately after President Trump’s election win, possibly reflecting the deterrent effect of his rhetoric on would-be border crossers; starting in May, the number of people taken into custody began increasing again.
Arrests of foreigners living illegally in the United States have surged under Trump. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers made 110,568 such arrests between inauguration and the end of September, according to the figures published Tuesday, a 42 percent increase over the same period during the previous year.
Tom Homan, ICE’s temporary director and Trump’s nominee to lead the agency, praised the president and gave a vigorous defense of ICE’s more aggressive approach.
“This president, like him or love him, is doing the right thing,” Homan told reporters at a news conference in Washington, accompanied by the heads of the U.S. Border Patrol and Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“A 45-year low in border crossings? That’s not a coincidence,” Homan said. “That’s based on this president and his belief and letting the men and women of ICE and the Border Patrol do their job.”
[How Trump is building a border wall no one can see]
Trump’s sweeping promises to crack down on illegal immigration fueled his presidential campaign and are at the center of his most ambitious domestic policy proposals, including construction of a wall along the border with Mexico.
Asked whether such a barrier was justifiable given its high cost and the decline in illegal immigration, DHS officials endorsed the president’s plan.
“In this society, we use walls and fences to protect things. It shouldn’t be different on the border,” said Ronald Vitiello, chief of the Border Patrol.
Apprehensions by Border Patrol agents peaked at more than 1.6 million in 2000 and began falling substantially after 2008. The previous low point was 331,333 arrests, during fiscal 2015. Experts have attributed the decline to tougher U.S. enforcement, improving job prospects in Mexico and long-term demographic changes that have driven down the country’s birthrate.
On the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump supporters wait for th
Still, the drop in border arrests is among the sharpest year-to-year changes on record, one that only casts more doubt on the wisdom of building a border wall, said Doris Meissner, senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank.
“It’s a throwback response to yesterday’s problems,” she said, arguing that the money would be better spent addressing what accounts for a growing share of illegal migration: families with children fleeing rampant violence and dismal poverty in Central America.
Border agents took more than 75,000 “family units,” classified as at least one child and a related adult, into custody during fiscal 2017. But the number of unaccompanied minors fell 31 percent, to 41,435.”
Read the complete article at the link.
This has to be what true greatness looks like! Imagine a world without those pesky undocumented workers to support our economy, our society, and our “American” way of life! That’s making America Great Again!
I’m sure future generations will be inspired by Homan’s humanity and wisdom as they pick produce or pound shingles in 100 degree heat, clean toilets, empty urine bags for the elderly and handicapped, clean tables, wash dishes, limb trees, shuck oysters, schlep concrete blocks, dig ditches, and, horror of horrors, take care of their own children while working full-time. Man, that’s going to be “America the Great” just as Trump, Sessions, Bannon, Miller, Homan, and others envision it!
And, the best part: we won’t have to worry about any of that burdensome, nasty “globalism” and the unfair burden of global leadership! That’s because the Chinese, Indians, Canadians, Mexicans, and Europeans will be in charge of the world economy and the Ruskies will control world politics. So we can enjoy our little White Nationalist enclave modeled on post-revolutionary Cuba — life in the 1950’s preserved forever! Save those “Classic ’57 Chevies!”
Kinda sorry I won’t be here to enjoy it! But, then again, I already lived through the real 1950’s once — Cold War, Jim Crow, segregation, anti-semitism, racial covenants, no women doctors, lawyers, or execs, African Americans only welcome on the football fields and basketball courts of a few Northern colleges! Boy, it was great! But, not sure I want to do it again, even to experience the pure, unadulterated joy of having “my Milwaukee Braves” win the 1957 World Series (before fleeing to Atlanta)!
On the flip side, at Homan’s “record pace” of “law enforcement,” he and his minions will have every single undocumented American resident removed from the U.S by 2080 — that’s if no more arrive in the interim. And, the really great thing — they and those around them (including U.S. citizen kids and family members) will be living in fear every moment for the next six decades! Now, that’s something of which we can be truly proud! Of course, this all assumes that the North Koreans don’t nuke us and the rest of the world out of existence first!
“For more than five hours, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sat in a hearing room on Capitol Hill this month, fending off inquiries on Washington’s two favorite topics: President Trump and Russia.
But legislators spent little time asking Sessions about the dramatic and controversial changes in policy he has made since taking over the top law enforcement job in the United States nine months ago.
From his crackdown on illegal immigration to his reversal of Obama administration policies on criminal justice and policing, Sessions is methodically reshaping the Justice Department to reflect his nationalist ideology and hard-line views — moves drawing comparatively less public scrutiny than the ongoing investigations into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin.
Sessions has implemented a new charging and sentencing policy that calls for prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible, even if that might meanminority defendants face stiff, mandatory minimum penalties. He has defended the president’s travel ban and tried to strip funding from cities with policies he considers too friendly toward undocumented immigrants.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Nov. 14. (Alex Brandon/AP)
Sessions has even adjusted the department’s legal stances in cases involving voting rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in a way that advocates warn might disenfranchise poor minorities and give certain religious people a license to discriminate.
Supporters and critics say the attorney general has been among the most effective of the Cabinet secretaries — implementing Trump’s conservative policy agenda even as the president publicly and privately toys with firing him over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia case.
. . . .
In meetings with top Justice Department officials about terrorist suspects, Sessions often has a particular question: Where is the person from? When officials tell him a suspect was born and lives in the United States, he typically has a follow-up: To what country does his family trace its lineage?
While there are reasons to want to know that information, some officials familiar with the inquiries said the questions struck them as revealing that Sessions harbors an innate suspicion about people from certain ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in a statement, “The Attorney General asks lots of relevant questions in these classified briefings.”
Sessions, unlike past attorneys general, has been especially aggressive on immigration. He served as the public face of the administration’s rolling back of a program that granted a reprieve from deportation to people who had come here without documentation as children, and he directed federal prosecutors to make illegal-immigration cases a higher priority. The attorney general has long held the view that the United States should even reduce the number of those immigrating here legally.
In an interview with Breitbart News in 2015, then-Sen. Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke favorably of a 1924 law that excluded all immigrants from Asia and set strict caps on others.
“When the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and Congress changed the policy and it slowed down immigration significantly,” Sessions said. “We then assimilated through 1965 and created really the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America.”
Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division in the Obama administration who now works as chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Sessions seems to harbor an “unwillingness to recognize the history of this country is rooted in immigration.”
“On issue after issue, it’s very easy to see what his worldview is of what this country is and who belongs in this country,” she said, adding that his view is “distinctly anti-immigrant.”
Those on the other side of the aisle, however, say they welcome the changes Sessions has made at the Justice Department.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for moderating levels of immigration, said she would give the attorney general an “A-plus” for his work in the area, especially for his crackdown on “sanctuary cities,” his push to hire more immigration judges and his focus on the MS-13 gang.
“He was able to hit the ground running because he has so much expertise already in immigration enforcement and related public safety issues and the constitutional issues, so he’s accomplished a lot in a very short time,” Vaughan said.”
Read the compete article, which deals with much more than immigration, at the link.
Immigrants, refugees, immigration advocates, and career civil servants involved in immigration at the DOJ seems to be “star-crossed.” After decades of relative indifference to the importance of immigration, an Attorney General finally shows up who makes it his highest priority.
Only problem is that he’s a committed xenophobe and White Nationalist whose largely false and exaggerated narrative on immigration comes right from the alt-right restrictionist playbook and harks back to the Jim Crow era of the American South — only this time with Hispanics and Muslims as the primary targets.
In any “normal” American business, obsession with tracing back lineage of someone’s family would be prima facie evidence of prohibited “national origins discrimination.” But, for Gonzo, it’s just another day at the office.
Notwithstanding his less than stellar performances before Congress and that he’s fallen off Trump’s “A-Team” (notwithstanding probably doing more to deconstruct the Constitution and “Good Government” than any other cabinet officer), he’s unlikely to be going anywhere soon. So the damage will continue to add up for the foreseeable future. It’s not like Senator Liz Warren and others didn’t try to warn America about this dude!
Meanwhile, perhaps not to be outdone, over at the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is proceeding to deconstruct the Career Foreign Service and reduce the Stated Department and our Diplomatic Corps to “administrative roadkill.” You can read about that debacle in this NY Times article:
Less than a year into his presidency, Donald Trump is moving swiftly to reshape the nation’s immigration system in more concrete ways, curtailing illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border and sending a chill throughout Central America.
In a stark reversal from the Obama era, the administration has ramped up round-ups of undocumented immigrants regardless of age or criminal history, expanded detention space and stepped up workplace raids. Officials have also restricted the number of refugees allowed into the country while pushing to speed the deportation cases of hundreds of thousands of immigrants awaiting legal decisions.
Taken together, the policy changes have put the border wall debate on the backburner, advocates on both sides of the issue said.
“Expanded border barriers—whether you call them walls or something else—are not priority,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. that supports tighter controls on immigration.
A worker chats with residents at a newly built section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Sunland Park, U.S. opposite the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico January 26, 2017. JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ/REUTERS
“There’s no question the president has changed the tone of the debate and that caused a huge drop in illegal crossings,” Krikorian told Newsweek.
To be sure, the border wall has been bogged down by political obstacles, including the fact that Congress has not appropriated funds to build it. But the shifting sentiment is striking given how central the border wall was to Trump’s political support in last year’s presidential campaign. Its mere mention was an applause line at rallies and Trump himself said it was key to stemming the flow of illegal immigration.
But since his January inauguration, apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border have dipped, according to the most recent data from Customs and Border Protection. Agents apprehended 31,582 undocumented immigrants at the border in January, compared to 22,293 in August, the latest available data. April saw the year’s low, with just 11,125 apprehensions.
Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at The Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy organization, said news of the administration’s actions is spreading through Central America and discouraging crossings. At the same time, a climate of fear in the United States is gripping undocumented immigrant communities.
“People are avoiding going outside to get their groceries. They have friends to come and do that for them,” Isacson said. “They’re missing a lot of work when they learn that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is in the area and kids are not going to school as much. There’s real fear there.”
Indeed, the immigration overhaul has come so fast that the ranks of federal immigration judges are pushing back on some elements. At issue are the administration’s plans to impose “numeric perfomance standards” on judges deciding deportation cases.
The White House has said the quotas are necessary to help reduce a backlog of more than 600,000 cases, but judges say the standards will hamstring their ability to decide complex, life-and-death cases.
“[It’s] completely at odds with the kind of independence a judge needs,” Dana Leigh Marks, a spokesperson for the National Association of Immigration Judges and a federal immigration judge for more than 30 years, told Newsweek.”
Read the complete article at the link.
Nolan Rappaport reminds me that he predicted that cutting off the “home free magnet” in the interior would have a dramatic deterrent effect on illegal migration.
On the other hand, it remains to be seen whether having a system that relies on largely random enforcement to spread a climate of fear and loathing among a community of generally law-abiding, productive migrants, intertwined with citizens and legal residents, who are part of our communities is something that we’ll ultimately be proud of as a nation.
The United States has been created by successive waves of immigration over the course of centuries. Each wave of immigrants from different parts of the world has helped to build the U.S. economy and enrich U.S. society. And each wave of immigrants has provoked a chorus of dire warnings from nativists worried that the presence of too many immigrants will somehow dilute the American sense of identity.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) is one of the groups that routinely issue such warnings. One of the more subtle ways in which they do this is to present immigration statistics in as dramatic a way as possible, with the implication being that native-born Americans are in danger of being over-run by foreigners. In a recent report, for instance, CIS takes advantage of newly released Census data to sound the alarm over the size of the immigrant population in the United States.
Of course, CIS offers no context for this data; no discussion of the historical, economic, political, and social environment within which immigration occurs. Just panicked pronouncements that the immigrant population hit a “record” 43.7 million in 2016—or one out of every eight people in the country.
In fact, immigrants now make up 13.5 percent of the U.S. population, which is less than the 14.7 percent share in 1910. For good measure, CIS also throws in an estimate of how large the foreign-born population might be by 2060 (at which point 78 million immigrants may account for 18.8 percent of the population).
However, the real story is not the number of immigrants; it’s what immigrants do once they’re here. Specifically, the contributions they make to the U.S. economy and the degree to which they integrate into U.S. society.
For instance, based on data from 2015 and 2014, we know that nearly half of all immigrants are naturalized U.S. citizens and that seven out of ten speak English reasonably well. More than one-quarter have a college degree.
And immigrant business owners generate tens of billions of dollars in business income.
This is the kind of context that CIS fails to offer in its run-down of Census numbers. The not-so-subtle implication of the CIS report is that native-born Americans are drowning is a sea of foreigners.
But when you actually start to enumerate the many ways that immigrants (and their children) add value to the U.S. economy as workers, entrepreneurs, consumers, and taxpayers—and integrate into U.S. society while enriching U.S. culture—the numbers represent good news.
You can bet that the CIS false narrative about the “Alien Invasion” and the threat to our culture and our society will be picked up in speeches by Trump, Sessions, Miller, Bannon, and other restrictionists to justify cuts in legal immigration, reducing family immigration, removing undocumented Latino and African workers, cutting rights of asylum seekers (particularly those from Central America and predominantly Muslim countries), and “shutting out” so-called “unskilled immigrants” in favor of guys with college degrees who show up speaking English.
The whole “Immigration Is A Threat To America” that therefore must be reduced, artificially limited, and punished is bogus! It stands in the way of serious discussions of how to reform and re-design our legal immigration system to channel more of the historical flow of needed workers and refugees into legal channels, prevent exploitation of immigrant workers by unscrupulous employers, and thereby reduce the incentives and the flow of “extralegal” migration to levels that can be controlled by non-draconian immigration enforcement working with market forces rather than in opposition to them.
Mica Rosenberg, Read Levinson, & Ryan McNeill report:
“They fled danger at home to make a high-stakes bet on U.S. immigration courts
Threatened by gangs in Honduras, two women sought asylum in the United States. Their stories illustrate what a Reuters analysis of thousands of court decisions found: The difference between residency and deportation depends largely on who hears the case, and where.
OAKLAND, California – The two Honduran women told nearly identical stories to the immigration courts: Fear for their lives and for the lives of their children drove them to seek asylum in the United States.
They were elected in 2013 to the board of the parent-teacher association at their children’s school in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. They hoped that mothers working together could oust the violent gangs that plagued the campus.
Instead, they became targets. Weeks apart, in the spring of 2014, each of the women was confronted by armed gang members who vowed to kill them and their children if they didn’t meet the thugs’ demands.
Unaware of each other’s plight, both fled with their children, making the dangerous trek across Mexico. Both were taken into custody near Hidalgo, Texas, and ended up finding each other in the same U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Artesia, New Mexico. There, they applied for asylum.
That’s when their fates diverged.
Sandra Gutierrez joined her husband in California, where her case was heard by a San Francisco immigration court judge. At the end of her asylum hearing in September 2016, she received a one-page form, with an “X” in the box next to “granted.” She was free to settle into life with her family in the United States.
The other woman, Ana, joined her daughter’s father in the southeastern United States, and her case was assigned to an immigration court in Charlotte, North Carolina. The judge denied her petition and ordered her deported. She is now awaiting a court date after new lawyers got her case reopened.
Ana declined to be interviewed for this article. Through her lawyers, she asked that her full name not be used because of her uncertain status and her fear that Honduran gangs could find her.
The women’s lawyers framed their respective cases with some important differences. However, the women said their reasons for seeking asylum were the same: Gangs had targeted them because of their involvement in the parent-teacher association, and for that, they and their families had been threatened.
Taken together, the two cases – nearly indistinguishable in their outlines but with opposite outcomes – illustrate a troubling fact: An immigrant’s chance of being allowed to stay in the United States depends largely on who hears the case and where it is heard.
Judge Stuart Couch, who heard Ana’s case in Charlotte, orders immigrants deported 89 percent of the time, according to a Reuters analysis of more than 370,000 cases heard in all 58 U.S. immigration courts over the past 10 years. Judge Dalin Holyoak, who heard Gutierrez’s case in San Francisco, orders deportation in 43 percent of cases.
In Charlotte, immigrants are ordered deported in 84 percent of cases, more than twice the rate in San Francisco, where 36 percent of cases end in deportation.
Couch and Holyoak and their courts are not rare outliers, the analysis found. Variations among judges and courts are broad.
Judge Olivia Cassin in New York City allows immigrants to remain in the country in 93 percent of cases she hears. Judge Monique Harris in Houston allows immigrants to stay in just four percent of cases. In Atlanta, 89 percent of cases result in a deportation order. In New York City, 24 percent do.
The Reuters analysis used data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the U.S. Justice Department unit that oversees immigration courts. The count of deportations included cases in which judges allowed immigrants to leave the country voluntarily.
The analysis excluded immigrants who were in detention when their cases were heard because such cases are handled differently. It also excluded cases in which the immigrant did not appear in court, which nearly always end in a deportation order, and cases terminated without a decision or closed at the request of a prosecutor.
About half the cases in the analysis were filed by asylum seekers like the two Honduran women. The rest were requests for cancellation of deportation orders or other adjustments to immigration status.
Of course, other factors influence outcomes in immigration court. For example, U.S. government policy is more lenient toward people from some countries, less so for others.
Also, immigration judges are bound by precedents established in the federal appeals court that covers their location. Immigration courts in California and the Pacific Northwest fall under the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and they rule in favor of immigrants far more often than courts in the 4th Circuit, which includes North and South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia, Reuters found.
Even so, the Reuters analysis determined that after controlling for such factors, who hears a case and where it is heard remain reliable predictors of how a case will be decided. An immigrant was still four times as likely to be granted asylum by Holyoak in San Francisco as by Couch in Charlotte.
The Reuters analysis also found that an immigration judge’s particular characteristics and situation can affect outcomes. Men are more likely than women to order deportation, as are judges who have worked as ICE prosecutors. The longer a judge has been serving, the more likely that judge is to grant asylum.
“These are life or death matters. … Whether you win or whether you lose shouldn’t depend on the roll of the dice of which judge gets your case.”
The findings underscore what academics and government watchdogs have long complained about U.S. immigration courts: Differences among judges and courts can render the system unfair and even inhumane.
“It is clearly troubling when you have these kinds of gross disparities,” said Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings School of the Law in San Francisco. “These are life or death matters. … Whether you win or whether you lose shouldn’t depend on the roll of the dice of which judge gets your case.”
EOIR spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly said the agency does not comment on external analyses of its data.
Devin O’Malley, a Department of Justice spokesman, challenged the Reuters analysis, citing “numerous conflicting statements, miscalculations, and other data errors,” but declined to elaborate further.
Immigration judges, appointed by the U.S. attorney general, are not authorized to speak on the record about cases.
Dana Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said each case is like “a 1,000 piece puzzle.” While two cases might look identical on the surface, she said, each judge has to weigh the nuances of immigration law to allow someone to stay in the country, which could lead to different outcomes.
The question of equality of treatment among judges has gained urgency as the number of cases in immigration court has ballooned to record highs. Under President Barack Obama, the courts began efforts to hire more immigration judges to reduce the system’s burgeoning backlog, which now stands at more than 620,000 cases, nearly 100,000 of them added since last December.
The administration of President Donald Trump is continuing the effort. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in April that the Justice Department planned to hire more than 50 judges this year and 75 in 2018, which would put the total number of sitting judges above 400.
Of the 28 immigration judges Sessions has appointed so far, 16 are former ICE prosecutors. That experience, the Reuters analysis found, makes them 23 percent more likely to order deportation. (Neither Holyoak nor Couch worked as an ICE prosecutor, according to their EOIR biographies.)
In a wish list of immigration proposals sent to Congress on Oct. 8, the White House said that “lax legal standards” had led to the immigration court backlog and that “misguided judicial decisions have prevented the removal of numerous criminal aliens, while also rendering those aliens eligible to apply for asylum.” Among the proposals offered in exchange for a deal with Congress on the roughly 800,000 “dreamers” – children brought to the country illegally by their parents – the Trump administration said it wanted to hire even more immigration judges and 1,000 ICE attorneys, while “establishing performance metrics for Immigration Judges.”
CRISIS AT THE BORDER
In 2014, an unprecedented 68,000 parents and children, most of them fleeing violence and lawlessness in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, crossed into the United States from Mexico – a refugee crisis that has contributed to the bloated backlog of asylum petitions. Many of the migrants, including Gutierrez and Ana, convinced initial interviewers that they had a “credible fear” of returning home, the first step in filing an asylum claim.
Having come from a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world may have helped establish “credible fear.” But the two women were already at a disadvantage – precisely because they came from Honduras.
Country of origin is a big factor in determining who gets to stay in the United States because immigrants from some countries are afforded special protections. For example, courts ruled in favor of Chinese immigrants 75 percent of the time, the Reuters analysis found. A 1996 law expanded the definition of political refugees to include people who are forced to abort a child or undergo sterilization, allowing Chinese women to claim persecution under Beijing’s coercive birth-control policies.
Hondurans enjoy no special considerations. They were allowed to stay in the United States in just 16 percent of cases, the Reuters analysis found.
The mass exodus from Central America was under way when Gutierrez and Ana were elected to the board of the parent-teacher association at their children’s school in spring 2013.
Two rival gangs – the Barrio 18 and the Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13 – were operating brazenly in the neighborhood. The year before, according to police records in Honduras, gang members killed a school security guard. Now, they were extorting teachers, selling drugs openly and assaulting or killing anyone who confronted them.
The new six-member association board set about trying to improve security at the school, which sits on a dirt road behind a high wall topped with razor wire.
“Before, no one wanted to say anything about the gangs,” Gutierrez said. “We were the brave ones. The previous president was a man, so we thought, ‘We are women, they won’t do anything to us.’ ”
The school’s principal, who asked that he and the school not be identified out of fear of retaliation, worked with the board. They had early success, he said, when they persuaded police to provide officers to guard the school. But the patrols left after a few weeks, probably intimidated by the gangs.
One evening in April 2014, Gutierrez was watching television at home with her two sons, ages 5 and 11, when she heard banging at the front door. Her older boy recognized the three armed and heavily tattooed young men on the stoop as the same ones who had thrown him to the ground earlier that day, telling him, not for the first time, that they wanted him to join their ranks. Now they had come to deliver a message to Gutierrez.
“They said they knew I was involved in the parents’ association,” Gutierrez said. “They said they would kill me and my children.
“I began to panic and shake,” she said. “I thought, ‘I have to go now. I am not going to risk my child’s life.’ ”
She quickly packed some backpacks for her and her children and called the only friend she knew who had a car. They drove all night to her friend’s mother’s house in another town.
“NO POLICE HERE”
Two months later, according to court documents, Ana was walking her 7-year-old daughter home from school when three members of a rival gang confronted them. Two of them grabbed Ana and her daughter, pinned their wrists behind their backs, and pointed a gun at the child’s head. The third pointed a gun at Ana’s head. They demanded that a payment of more than $5,000 be delivered in 24 hours, a huge sum for a woman who sold tortillas for a living.
Ana testified in her asylum hearing that she knew they were gang members “because they were dressed in baggy clothing and they also had ugly tattoos … all over their bodies and faces.”
Ana and her daughter ran home and then, fearing the gang would come after them, fled out the back door. “We had to jump over a wall, and I hurt my foot doing so,” she said in an affidavit. “I was desperate and knew that I had to leave – my daughter’s life and mine were in danger.”
The school principal said he understands why Gutierrez and Ana left Honduras. “Because there were no police here, (the gangs) did what they wanted,” he said. “They said, ‘We’re going to kill the members of the parent-teacher association to get them out of here.’ So the women fled.”
Gutierrez hid for two months at her friend’s mother’s house outside Tegucigalpa. She joined another woman and, with their children, they set out to cross Mexico. On the journey, they were kidnapped – common for Central American migrants – and held for a $3,500 ransom. Gutierrez contacted relatives who wired the money. The kidnappers released her and her two sons near the U.S. border.
There they piled with another group of migrants into an inflatable raft and crossed the Rio Grande, the border between Mexico and the United States. They landed near Hidalgo, Texas.
After walking for an hour and a half, lost and desperate, Gutierrez and her sons sat down in the middle of a dirt road and waited for someone to pass. Two officials in uniforms picked them up. They were eventually transferred to the ICE detention center in Artesia.
Ana fled with her daughter the night the gang members threatened them on the street. “We bought a bus pass to go to Guatemala and from Guatemala to Mexico and to the U.S.-Mexico border,” according to her court testimony. The journey took three weeks. In Mexico, she hired a coyote – a smuggler – to help them cross into the United States and then turned herself in to Border Patrol agents near Hidalgo. She arrived at the Artesia detention center just weeks after Gutierrez.
“The other women in the center told me that there was someone else from Honduras who I might know, but I wasn’t sure who they were talking about,” Gutierrez said. “And then one day we went to lunch, and there they were.”
Gutierrez said that was when she first learned that her fellow parent-teacher association board member had been threatened and had fled from home.
Volunteer lawyers helped the women prepare and submit their applications for asylum.
In late 2014, the two women were released on bond. Gutierrez moved with her boys to Oakland, California, to join her husband, and petitioned to have her case moved to San Francisco. Ana moved with her daughter to live with her daughter’s father and petitioned to have her case moved to Charlotte.
“ASYLUM FREE ZONES”
Many immigrants released on bond before their cases are heard have no idea that where they settle could make the difference between obtaining legal status and deportation.
People familiar with the system are well aware of the difference. When Theodore Murphy, a former ICE prosecutor who now represents immigrants, has a client in a jurisdiction with a high deportation rate but near one with a lower rate, “I tell them to move,” he said.
The Charlotte court that would hear Ana’s case was one of five jurisdictions labeled “asylum free zones” by a group of immigrant advocates in written testimony last December before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The courts in Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas and Atlanta also received the designation.
The advocates testified that, while asylum is granted in nearly half of cases nationwide, Charlotte judges granted asylum in just 13 percent of cases in 2015. The Charlotte court was singled out for displaying a particular “bias against Central American gang and gender-related asylum claims.”
Couch is the toughest of Charlotte’s three immigration judges, according to the Reuters analysis.
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research organization at Syracuse University in New York, first sounded the alarm about disparities in immigration court decisions in 2006. The next year, researchers at Temple University and Georgetown Law School concluded in a study titled “Refugee Roulette” that “in many cases, the most important moment in an asylum case is the instant in which a clerk randomly assigns an application to a particular asylum officer or immigration judge.” In 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found similar disparities in its own study.
In response to the rising criticism, the Executive Office for Immigration Review began tracking decisions to identify judges with unusually high or low rates of granting asylum. Mattingly, the EOIR spokeswoman, said the agency held training sessions for judges to address the disparities in 2008 and 2009. It then created a system for the public to file complaints against immigration judges.
In a 2016 report, the GAO found that little had changed. EOIR held a two-day training session last year. There is no training on the 2017 calendar.
From 2012 to 2016, EOIR received 624 complaints against judges. The 138 complaints lodged in 2016 alone included allegations of bias, as well as concerns about due process and judges’ conduct within the courtroom. Of the 102 complaints that had been resolved when the data were published, only three resulted in discipline, defined as “reprimand” or “suspension” of the judge. “Corrective actions” such as counseling or training were taken in 39 cases. Close to half the complaints were dismissed.
The agency does not identify judges who were the subjects of complaints.
Mattingly, the EOIR spokeswoman, said the agency “takes seriously any claims of unjustified and significant anomalies in immigration judge decision-making and takes steps to evaluate disparities in immigration adjudications.”
DAY IN COURT
Asylum applicants cannot gain legal U.S. residency because they fled their countries in mortal fear of civil strife or rampant crime or a natural disaster. They must convince the court that they have well-founded fears of persecution in their country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinions or membership in a particular social group. The definition of a “particular social group” has been subject to conflicting interpretations in the courts, but in general, such a group comprises people who share basic beliefs or traits that can’t or shouldn’t have to be changed.
In the San Francisco court, Gutierrez’s lawyers argued that she qualified for asylum because as a leader of the parent-teacher association, she was at risk for her political opinion – her stand against gangs – and for belonging to a particular social group of Hondurans opposed to gang violence and recruitment in schools. The lawyers also argued that she was part of another particular social group as the family member of someone under threat, since the gangs had terrorized her son in trying to recruit him.
Holyoak was convinced. Gutierrez told Reuters that during her final hearing, the judge apologized for asking so many questions about what had been a painful time in her life, explaining that he had needed to establish her credibility.
In the Charlotte court, Ana’s lawyer focused more narrowly on her political opinion, arguing that she was at risk of persecution for her opposition to gangs in her position on the parent-teacher association board.
After hearing Ana’s case, Couch concluded in his written opinion that Ana was not eligible for asylum because she had “not demonstrated a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of a statutorily protected ground.” He wasn’t convinced that she risked persecution in Honduras because of her political opinion.
Well-established law recognizes family as a protected social group, according to the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies. Cases that claim opposition to gangs as a protected political opinion, the center says, have generated fewer precedent-setting decisions, making that argument a more difficult one to win in court, though it has prevailed in some cases.
Ana’s response to Couch’s extensive questioning played a part in the decision. In immigration court, the asylum seeker is typically the only witness. As a result, “credibility is really the key factor. Persecutors don’t give affidavits,” said Andrew Arthur, a former immigration judge who now works at the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit organization that supports lower levels of immigration.
Couch wrote in his opinion that Ana’s difficulty recounting the names of the women on the association board weighed against her credibility. He noted that she testified about her fears of the gang “with a flat affect and little emotion,” displaying a “poor demeanor” that “did not support her credibility.”
The judge also questioned why, in an early interview with an asylum officer, Ana never mentioned threats to the parent-teacher association, and instead said she thought the gangs were targeting her for the money her daughter’s father was sending from the United States to build a house in Honduras.
Ana’s assertion that she learned from Gutierrez in detention about gang threats to the parent-teacher association was not “persuasive,” Couch wrote. “The evidence indicates this is a case of criminal extortion that the respondent attempts to fashion into an imputed political opinion claim.”
“SOMEONE WANTS TO KILL THEM”
Gutierrez said Ana told her in one of their occasional phone conversations that she felt intimidated by the intense questioning of the ICE attorney. Gutierrez also said her friend “is very forgetful. … It’s not that she is lying. It’s just that she forgets things.”
Lisa Knox, the lawyer who represented Gutierrez, said judges where she practices tend to give applicants the benefit of the doubt. “They have more understanding of trauma survivors and the difficulty they might have in recounting certain details and little discrepancies,” she said.
Further, Knox said, asylum seekers aren’t thinking about the finer points of U.S. asylum law when they are fleeing persecution. “People show up in our office (and) they have no idea why someone wants to kill them. They just know someone wants to kill them.”
Ana’s lawyer appealed her case to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the first step in the appellate process. This time, her lawyer included arguments about her membership in a particular social group. She lost. In a three-page ruling, one board member said Ana’s lawyer could not introduce a new argument on appeal and agreed with Couch that Ana hadn’t proved a political motive behind the gang members’ attack.
Ana missed the deadline to appeal the BIA decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because her lawyer confused the deadline. She petitioned the BIA through new lawyers to reopen her case and send it back to the immigration court to allow her to present new evidence of her persecution. The new lawyers argued that her previous representation had been ineffective.
In July, the BIA granted Ana the right to a rehearing in immigration court, sending her case back to Charlotte, where it could be heard again by Couch.
Gutierrez can live and work legally in the United States and will ultimately be able to apply for citizenship. The 43-year-old, who worked as a nurse in Honduras, lives in a small one-bedroom apartment with her husband, her two sons – now 15 and 8 – her adult daughter and her grandson. She works as an office janitor and is taking English classes. Her boys are in school. The older one, once threatened by gangs in Honduras, likes studying history and math and is learning to play the cello.
Ana, 31, has had a baby since arriving in the United States and has been granted work authorization while she awaits a final decision on her case. She and her lawyers declined to share more detailed information about her situation because she remains fearful of the gangs in Honduras.
“I am very worried about her,” Gutierrez said. “The situation in our country is getting worse and worse.”
Last February, a 50-year-old woman and her 29-year-old son who were selling food at the school Gutierrez and Ana’s children attended were kidnapped from their home and decapitated, according to police records.
The head of the son was placed on the body of the mother and the head of the mother was placed on the body of the son. The murders, like more than 93 percent of crimes in Honduras, remain unsolved.
Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia and Kristina Cooke
A not-quite-independent judiciary
U.S. immigration courts are administrative courts within the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review. Unlike federal court judges, whose authority stems from the U.S. Constitution’s establishment of an independent judicial branch, immigration judges fall under the executive branch and thus are hired, and can be fired, by the attorney general.
More than 300 judges are spread among 58 U.S. immigration courts in 27 states, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. Cases are assigned to an immigration court based on where the immigrant lives. Within each court, cases are assigned to judges on a random, rotational basis.
The courts handle cases to determine whether an individual should be deported. Possible outcomes include asylum; adjustments of status; stay of deportation; and deportation. Decisions can be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, an administrative body within the Department of Justice. From there, cases can be appealed to federal appeals court.
The Federal Bar Association and the National Association of Immigration Judges have endorsed the idea of creating an immigration court system independent of the executive branch. The Government Accountability Office studied some proposals for reform in 2017, without endorsing any particular model.
By Mica Rosenberg in Oakland, California, and Reade Levinson and Ryan McNeill in New York, with additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco
Data: Reade Levinson and Ryan McNeill
Graphics: Ashlyn Still
Photo editing: Steve McKinley and Barbara Adhiya
Video: Zachary Goelman
Design: Jeff Magness
Edited by Sue Horton, Janet Roberts and John Blanton”
Go to the link at the beginning to get the full benefit of the “interactive” features of this report on Reuters.
Also, here is an interactive presentation on the Trump Administration’s overall immigration policies:
Interesting to note that the Arlington Immigration Court, where I sat for 13 years, has one of the most consistent “grant rates” in the country, ranging from approximately 54% to 60% grants. Compare that with the Charlotte Immigration Court at 11% to 28% grants within the same judicial circuit (the Fourth Circuit). Something is seriously wrong here. And, Jeff Sessions has absolutely no intent of solving it except by pushing for 100% denials everywhere! That’s the very definition of a “Kangaroo Court!”
It’s time for an Article I Court. But, not sure it will happen any time soon. Meanwhile Sessions is making a mockery out of justice in the Immigration Courts just as he has in many other parts of the U.S. Justice system.
“Washington (CNN)Democrats are raising alarms that more than a quarter of eligible recipients under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program have not yet filed to renew their status ahead of Thursday’s deadline.
According to data provided Wednesday by a senior Democratic congressional staffer and confirmed to CNN by US Citizenship and Immigration Services, 42,669 individuals nationwide — or 27.7% of the 154,234 people eligible — had not submitted their applications. That was slightly down from roughly 48,000 that the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday hadn’t yet submitted.
When President Donald Trump announced the end of the program, known as DACA, a month ago, he put in place a six-month delay on expiring protections by allowing any recipient whose DACA expires by March 5 until Thursday to apply for a two-year renewal. Otherwise, the program that protects young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation will begin to end on March 5, as the two-year permits of nearly 700,000 active protectees begin to run out.
Democrats have repeatedly implored DHS to extend the deadline, saying one month to gather paperwork — and the roughly $500 application fee — is not long enough for those affected.
Trump sketches out DACA deal with Republicans at White House dinner
They’ve been especially critical of DHS for not making special consideration for DACA recipients in states hit by hurricanes Irma and Harvey, though DHS did announce Tuesday it would make case-by-case decisions for recipients in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands affected by Maria.
The frustration bubbled up at a Senate hearing Tuesday, where Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin cited considerations the Internal Revenue Service was making for Texas, Louisiana and Florida residents.
“May I implore you, implore you, to do the same thing at DHS that our own Internal Revenue Service is doing,” Durbin said to the DHS officials testifying. “If it’s good enough for our tax collectors to have a heart, isn’t it good enough for DHS to have a heart?”
Senators’ frustration with Trump on DACA bubbles up at hearing
According to the Wednesday data, more than 2,600 of eligible recipients in Texas had yet to submit renewals, 28% of the total eligible in that state. In Florida, more than 2,000, or 35% of those eligible, had yet to renew. In the US islands hit by Irma, 16 of the 37 eligible hadn’t yet renewed.
Democrats have also been frustrated with DHS over its notification process, saying without individual notifications to those eligible for renewal, the administration should extend the deadline.
“We are very concerned that because DACA recipients were not individually notified of their eligibility for renewal, tens of thousands of DACA recipients could lose their work authorization and DACA status protections,” Congressional Hispanic Caucus leaders wrote in a letter to acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke on Tuesday repeating a request to meet about extending the deadline.
Trump said he was putting in place the six-month window to give Congress a sense of urgency to put the Obama administration executive action into law.
But despite Tuesday’s hearing, multiple working groups and meetings the President has had with lawmakers at the White House, little substantive progress has been made.
The fault lines have remained consistent. Democrats support the bipartisan Dream Act that would protect eligible young immigrants who arrived as children and put them on a path to citizenship. They say they could accept border security as a compromise with it, but insist they will not vote for anything that could put the families and friends of those protected at greater risk of deportation.
DACA deal: A list of just some of the things that could go wrong
But Republicans are also insistent that any DACA deal must include border security and likely immigration enforcement measures, and the more conservative members of the party are suggesting policies — like mandatory worker verification, cuts to the legal immigration system and expanded deportation authority — that would be almost impossible to get Democrats to agree to.
Any solution would likely have to include Democrats, as they’ll be needed for passage in the Senate and to make up for Republicans in the House who would never vote for any DACA deal. But House Speaker Paul Ryan has also pledged not to move any bill that doesn’t get the votes of a majority of Republicans, limiting the options.
Durbin was joined on Tuesday at the hearing by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, in urging lawmakers and the White House to not try to concoct too big a compromise. Tillis has sponsored legislation similar to Durbin’s Dream Act that he bills as a conservative DACA solution.
Responding to a wish list articulated by a DHS senior staff member testifying about the White House’s aims, Tillis grew frustrated and urged members to focus on a narrow deal as a starting point.
“It reads like a laundry list for comprehensive immigration reform, and if Congress has proven an extraordinary ability to do anything, it’s to fail at comprehensive immigration reform,” Tillis said.”
Bad news on all fronts for Dreamers, and for America. Over at the White House, notorious White Nationalist xenophobe racist and Sessions confidante Stephen Miller is plotting to destroy any chance of compromise legislation to aid Dreamers by attaching reductions in legal Immigraton and other parts of the White Nationalist agenda to the bill.
“The White House is finalizing a plan to demand hard-line immigration reforms in exchange for supporting a fix on the DACA program, according to three people familiar with the talks — an approach that risks alienating Democrats and even many Republicans, potentially tanking any deal.
The White House proposal is being crafted by Stephen Miller, the administration’s top immigration adviser, and includes cutting legal immigration by half over the next decade, an idea that’s already been panned by lawmakers in both parties.
The principles would likely be a political non-starter for Democrats and infuriate Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who have negotiated with President Donald Trump on immigration and left a White House meeting last month indicating a solution was near. They could also divide Republicans, many of whom oppose cutting legal immigration.
Miller was upset after Trump’s dinner last month with Schumer and Pelosi and has been working since to bring the president back to the tougher stance he took during his campaign.
Miller has begun talking with Hill aides and White House officials about the principles in recent days. The administration is expected to send its immigration wish-list to Congress in the coming days, perhaps as soon as this weekend, said the people familiar with the plan, who include two administration officials. They requested anonymity to discuss the ongoing negotiations.
A White House official cautioned that the plans have not been finalized and could still change. Miller didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Unless they change dramatically from their current form, the immigration principles could short-circuit congressional negotiations aimed at finding a fix to DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — the Obama-era initiative that grants work permits to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors.
“Handing Stephen Miller the pen on any DACA deal after the revolt from their base is the quickest way to blow it up,” said a senior Democratic Senate aide.
Lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol panned an earlier White House immigration proposal spearheaded by Miller, the RAISE Act, when the White House rolled it out in August. Republicans including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ron Johnson .)of Wisconsin all but declared the proposal dead on arrival.
Trump announced last month that he would end the DACA program, but he said he’d give Congress six months to come up with a legislative solution.
Despite Trump’s efforts to make nice with Schumer and Pelosi, Republican lawmakers signaled this week that the president is prepared to demand tough immigration measures as part of the negotiations.
In addition to provisions in the RAISE Act, the White House’s immigration principles also include parts of the Davis-Oliver Act, including measures that would give state and local law enforcement power to enforce immigration laws, allow states to write their own immigration laws and expand criminal penalties for entering the U.S. illegally.
The principles would also incorporate a provision from the Davis-Oliver Act that puts the onus on Congress to designate Temporary Protected Status, which allows immigrants to temporarily stay in the United States because they are unable to return to their home country as a result of a natural disaster or other dangerous circumstances.
The Davis-Oliver Act gives Congress 90 days to approve a measure extending TPS protections to a foreign state. If Congress does not act, the designation will be terminated. Lawmakers have raised concerns that Congress will be unable to agree on the designations, effectively killing the program.
In addition, the principles call for billions of dollars in border security, as well as money for detention beds and more immigration judges, according to the people familiar with them. Republicans are likely to support those moves.”
Miller’s proposals are right out of the White Nationalist restrictionist playbook. It will be a non-starter for Democrats. Additionally, no decent human being of any party should ever be associated, in any way, with any idea emanating from the arrogant racist Miller.
If Miller is involved, Dreamer relief is DOA. That means that Dreamers are likely to be left to fight out their future one case at a time in the Federal Courts and in the Immigraton Courts. Given the existing 630,000+ case backlog in the U.S. Imigration Courts, and the relatively cumbersome process for restoring “Dreamer” cases to the Immigraton Court Docket, not many will actually be removed from the United States before 2000.
I also think that Dreamers will have a reasonable chance of succeeding in the Article III Courts in barring DHS from relying on any evidence furnished as part of the DACA application and interview process as evidence of removability. That’s likely to throw a further monkey wrench into any enforcement initiative aimed at Dreamers.
So, the best strategy might prove to be working hard to remove the Trump regime and enough White Nationalist GOPers through the ballot box to create a climate for reasonable immigraton reform in 2021.
Sad, but probably true. A country that mistreats its youth in this manner can expect “very bad things” to happen in the future.
Judge Burman appeared at a panel discussion at the Center for Immigration Studies (“CIS”). CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian; Hon. Andrew Arthur, former U.S. Immigration Judge and CIS Resident Fellow; and former DOJ Civil Rights Division Official Hans von Spakovsky, currently Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation were also on the panel entitled “Immigration Court Backlog Causes and Solutions” held at the National Press Club on Aug. 24, 2017. Here’s a complete transcript furnished by CIS (with thanks to Nolan Rappaport who forwarded it to me).
Here’s the “meat” of Judge Burman’s remarks:
“First, the disclaimer, which is important so I don’t get fired. I’m speaking for the National Association of Immigration Judges, of which I am an elected officer. My opinions expressed will be my own opinions, informed by many discussions with our members in all parts of the country. I am not speaking on behalf of the Department of Justice, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the chief judge, or anybody else in the government. That’s important.
What is the NAIJ, the National Association of Immigration Judges? We’re a strictly nonpartisan organization whose focus is fairness, due process, transparency for the public, and judicial independence. We’re opposed to interference by parties of both administrations with the proper and efficient administration of justice. We’ve had just as much trouble with Republican administrations as Democratic administrations.
It’s been my experience that the people at the top really don’t understand what we do, and consequently the decisions they make are not helpful. For example, the – well, let me backtrack a little bit and talk about our organization.
Immigration judges are the – are the basic trial judges that hear the cases. Above us is the Board of Immigration Appeals, who function as if they were an appellate court. We, since 1996, have been clearly designated as judges by Congress. We are in the statute. We have prescribed jurisdiction and powers. Congress even gave us contempt authority to be able to enforce our decisions. Unfortunately, no administration has seen fit to actually give us the contempt authority. They’ve never done the regulations. But it’s in the statute.
The Board of Immigration Appeals is not in the statute. It has no legal existence, really. It’s essentially an emanation of the attorney general’s limitless discretion over immigration law. The members of the Board of – Board of Immigration Appeals are – in some cases they’ve got some experience. Generally, they don’t have very much. They’re a combination of people who are well-respected in other parts of the Department of Justice and deserve a well-paid position. Very often they’re staff attorneys who have basically moved up to become board members, skipping the immigration judge process. Very few immigration judges have ever been made board members, and none of them were made board members because they had been immigration judges. If they were, it was largely a coincidence.
The administration of the Executive Office for Immigration Review in which we and the BIA are housed is basically an administrative agency. We are judges, but we don’t have a court. We operate in an administrative agency that’s a lot closer to the Department of Motor Vehicles than it is to a district court or even a bankruptcy court, an Article I type court.
Our supervisors – I’m not sure why judges need supervisors, but our supervisors are called assistant chief immigration judges. Some of them have some experience. Some of them have no experience not only as judges, but really as attorneys. They were staff attorneys working in the bowels of EOIR, and gradually became temporary board members, and then permanent board members.
Interestingly, when a Court of Appeals panel is short a judge, they bring up a district judge. EOIR used to do that, by bringing up an immigration judge to fill out a panel at the board. They don’t do that anymore. They appoint their staff attorneys as temporary board members, a fact that is very shocking when we tell it to federal judges. They can’t imagine that a panel would be one member short and they’d put their law clerk on the panel, but that’s what goes on.
The top three judges until recently – the chief judge and the two primary deputies – had no courtroom experience that I’m aware of. Two of them have gone on. Unfortunately, one of them has gone on to be a BIA member. The other retired.
Our direct supervisors are the assistant chief immigration judges. Some are in headquarters, and they generally have very little experience. Others are in the field, and they do have some experience – although, for example, the last two ACIJs – assistant chief immigration judges – who were appointed became judges in 2016. So they don’t have vast experience. Well, they may be fine people with other forms of experience, but this agency is not run by experienced judges, and I think it’s important to understand that.
There’s a severe misallocation of resources within EOIR. I think Congress probably has given us plenty of money, but we misuse it. In the past administration, the number of senior executive service – SES – officials has doubled. Maybe they needed some more administrative depth, although I doubt it. The assistant chief immigration judges are proliferating. I think there’s 22 of them now. These are people who may do some cases. Some of them do no cases. They generally don’t really move the ball when it comes to adjudicating cases. Somehow, the federal courts are able to function without all of these intermediaries and supervisory judges, and I think that we would function better without them as well.
To give you a few examples – I could give you thousands of examples, and if you want to stick around I’ll be happy to talk about it. Art was talking about the juvenile surge. I think it was approximately 50,000 juveniles came across the border. To appear to be tough, I guess, they were prioritized. The official line is, you know, we’re going to give them their asylum hearings immediately. I’m not sure what kind of asylum case that a 6-year-old might have, but we would hear the case and do it quickly, and then discourage people from coming to our country. But, in fact, what’s actually happened is the juvenile docket is basically a meet-and-greet. The judges are not – first of all, I’m not allowed to be a juvenile judge. The juvenile judges are carefully selected for people who get along well with children, I guess. (Laughter.) Really, what they do is they just – they see the kids periodically, and in the meantime the children are filing their asylum cases with the asylum office, where they’re applying for special immigrant juvenile status, various things. But judge time is being wasted on that.
Another example is the current surge. I have a really busy docket. Art was talking about cases being scheduled in 2021. The backlog for me is infinite. I cannot give you a merits hearing on my docket unless I take another case off. My docket is full through 2020, and I was instructed by my assistant chief immigration judge not to set any cases past 2020. So they’re just piling up in the ether somewhere.
As busy as I am, they send me to the border, but these border details are politically oriented. First of all, we probably could be doing them by tele-video. But assuming that they want to do them in person, you would think that they would only send the number of judges that are really needed. But, in fact, on my last detail of 10 business days, two-week detail, two days I had no cases scheduled at all. And back home having two cases off the docket, which almost never happens – or two days off the docket, which almost never happens, would be useful because I could work on motions and decisions. But when I’m in Jena, Louisiana, I can’t really work on my regular stuff. So I’m just reading email and hanging out there.
The reason for that is because there’s been no attempt to comply with the attorney general’s request that we rush judges to the border with, at the same time, making sure that there’s enough work or not to send more judges than is really necessary to do the work. I assume the people that run our agency just want to make the attorney general happy, and they send as many judges to the border as possible.
One particularly bizarre example was in San Antonio. The San Antonio judges were doing a detail to one of the outlying detention facilities by tele-video. But they wanted to rush judges to the border, so they assigned a bunch of judges in the country that had their own dockets to take over that docket by tele-video on one week’s notice. Well, one week’s notice meant that the judges in San Antonio couldn’t reset cases. You’ve got to give at least 10 days’ notice of a hearing by regulation. So we had judges taken away from their regular dockets to do that; judges who normally would have done that who already were on the border – San Antonio is pretty closer to the border – didn’t have anything to do.
Now, those may be extreme cases, but this happens all too much, and it’s because of political interference. And like I say, it’s got nothing to do with party. We’ve had the same problem with Democratic and Republican administrations. It comes from political decisions animating the process and people who don’t really understand what they’re managing, just attempting to placate the guy on the top. So that’s basically what’s been happening.
Am I over my 10 minutes here?
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yeah. Well, I mean, you’re right at it. If you’ve got a couple more minutes, that’s fine.
JUDGE BURMAN: Well, let me just go over some possible suggestions.
Let judges be judges – immigration judges that control their own courts and their own dockets. We should be able to supervise our own law clerks and our own legal assistants, which currently we don’t. And the contempt authority we were given in 1996 should eventually – should finally get some regulations to implement it.
EOIR’s overhead needs to be reduced. There’s too many positions at headquarters and too few positions in the field. When EOIR was originally set up, the idea was that each judge would need three legal assistants to docket the cases and find the files and make copies and all that. At one point last year we were down to less than one legal assistant per judge in Arlington, where I am, and in Los Angeles it was even worse. When you do that, the judge is looking for files, the judge is making copies, the judge doesn’t have the evidence that’s been filed. There’s nothing more annoying than to start a hearing and to find that evidence was filed that I don’t have. The case has to be continued. I have to have a chance to find the evidence and review it.
It would be nice if our management were more experienced than they are, or at least have some more courtroom experience.
We need an electronic filing system like all the other courts have. Fortunately, that’s one thing that Acting Director McHenry has said is his top priority, and I think that he will take care of that.
The BIA is a problem. The BIA doesn’t have the kind of expertise that the federal courts would defer to. Consequently, I think a lot of the bad appellate law that Art was referring to is caused by the fact that the BIA really doesn’t have any respect in the federal court system. They’re not immigration experts. They want their Chevron deference, but they are not getting it. They’re not getting it from the Court of Appeals. They’re not getting it from the Supreme Court, either.
The BIA also remands way too many cases. When we make a decision, we send it up to the BIA. We don’t really care what they do. They could affirm us. They could reverse us. We don’t want to see it back. We’ve got too much stuff to see them back. And this happens all the time. If they remand the case, they don’t ever have to take credit for the decision that they make. I assume that’s why they’re doing it, to try to make us do it.
We need a proper judicial disciplinary system. Starting in 2006, which is where the backlog problem began, the attorney general first of all subjected us to annual appraisals, evaluations, which previously OPM had waived due to our judicial function. So that’s a waste of time. Judges were punished for the – for things that are not punishment. Judges were punished because a Court of Appeals would say that you made a mistake or he was rude or – it’s just crazy. Judges were punished or could be punished for granting – for not granting continuances. No judge was ever punished for granting a continuance. So it’s no surprise that, as I pointed out, continuances have been granted at a much greater level – in fact, too great a level. But when in doubt, we continue now because if we don’t do that we’re subject to punishment, and nobody really wants that.
And finally, the ultimate solution, I think, is an Article I court like the bankruptcy court – a specialized court, could be in the judicial branch, could be in the executive branch – to give us independence, to ensure that we have judges and appellate judges who are appointed in a transparent way, being vetted by the private bar, the government, and anybody else.
And I’m way over my 10 minutes, so I’ll be – I’ll be sure to babble on later if you want me to. Thank you.”
Judge Arthur’s kind opening words about the late Juan Osuna were a nice touch. One of Juan’s great strengths as person, executive, judge, and teacher was his ability to maintain good friendships with and respect from folks with an assortment of ideas on immigration.
Judge Burman’s “no BS” insights are as timely as they are unusual. That’s because U.S. Immigration Judges are not encouraged to speak publicly and forthrightly about their jobs.
The Supervisory Judge and the EOIR Ethics Office must approve all public appearances by U.S. Immigration Judges including teaching and pro bono training. A precondition for receiving permission is that the judge adhere to the DOJ/EOIR “party line” and not say anything critical about the agency or colleagues. In other words, telling the truth is discouraged.
As a result, most Immigration Judges don’t bother to interact with the public except in their courtrooms. A small percentage of sitting judges do almost all of the outreach and public education for the Immigration Courts.
While EOIR Senior Executives and Supervisors often appear at “high profile events” or will agree to limited press interviews, they all too often have little if any grasp of what happens at the “retail level” in the Immigration Courts. Even when they do, they often appear to feel that their job security depends on making things sound much better than they really are or that progress is being made where actually regression is taking place.
In reality, the system functioned better in the 1990s than it does two decades later. Due Process protection for individuals — the sole mission of EOIR — has actually regressed in recent years as quality and fairness have taken a back seat to churning numbers, carrying out political priorities, not rocking the boat, and going along to get along. Such things are typical within government agency bureaucracies, but atypical among well-functioning court systems.
I once appeared on a panel with a U.S. District Judge. After hearing my elaborate, global disclaimer, he chuckled. Then he pointedly told the audience words to the effect of “I’m here as a judge because you asked me, and I wanted to come. I didn’t tell the Chief Judge I was coming, and I wouldn’t dream of asking his or anyone else’s permission to speak my mind.”
I hope that everyone picked up Judge Burman’s point that “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” or “ADR” is still in full swing at EOIR. Cases are shuffled, moved around, taken off docket, and then restored to the docket to conceal that the backlog in Arlington goes out beyond the artificial “2020 limit” that Judge Burman has been instructed to use for “public consumption.” But there are other cases out there aimlessly “floating around the ether.” And, based on my experience, I’m relatively certain that many courts are worse than Arlington.
Judge Burman also makes another great “inside baseball” point — too many unnecessary remands from the BIA. Up until the very ill-advised “Ashcroft Reforms” the BIA exercised de novo factfinding authority. This meant that when the BIA disagreed with the Immigration Judge’s disposition, on any ground, they could simply decide the case and enter a final administrative order for the winning party.
After Ashcroft stripped the BIA of factfinding authority, nearly every case where the BIA disagrees with the lower court decision must be returned to the Immigration Court for further proceedings. Given the overloaded docket and lack of e-filing capability within EOIR, such routine remands can often take many months or even years. Sometimes, the file gets lost in the shuffle until one or both parties inquire about it.
The Immigration Courts are also burdened with useless administrative remands to check fingerprints in open court following BIA review. This function should be performed solely by DHS, whose Counsel can notify the Immigration Court in rare cases where the prints disclose previously unknown facts. In 13 years as an Immigration Judge, I had about 3 or 4 cases (out of thousands) where such “post hoc” prints checks revealed previously unknown material information. I would would have reopened any such case. So, the existing procedures are unnecessary and incredibly wasteful of limited judicial docket time.
I agree completely with Judge Burman that the deterioration of the Immigration Courts spans Administrations of both parties. Not surprisingly, I also agree with him that the only real solution to the Courts’ woes is an independent Article I Court. Sooner, rather than later!
“The government does not offer any argument on the merits of this petition; therefore, it has waived any challenge to the arguments Martinez raised. See Clem v. Lomeli, 566 F.3d 1177, 1182 (9th Cir. 2009) (holding that an appellee who did not address an argument in the answering brief had waived that issue). On remand, the agency is directed: (1) to give proper consideration to Martinez’s testimony about police corruption and acquiescence in MS-13 violence; (2) to accord proper weight to the Department of State Country Report on El Salvador, and in particular, evidence of corruption and inability or unwillingness to prosecute gang violence; and (3) to apply the correct legal standards to Martinez’s Convention Against Torture claim.”
PANEL: Morgan Christen and Paul J. Watford, Circuit Judges, and James Alan Soto, District Judge.
OPINION BY: Judge Soto
Read the full opinion at the link. It’s short. Three things stand out.
First, the Respondent’s credible testimony clearly established a plausible claim for CAT relief. If he gets representation, he will be able to show that the authorities in El Salvador do often cooperate with gangs and that the government is willfully blind to the many instances of torture of citizens by gangs. The Asylum Officer’s incorrect analysis along with that by the Immigration Judge show a fundamental misunderstanding of CAT law and the reasonable fear process. How does an Immigration Court system faced with such glaring problems eliminate training and the guidance provided through the former Benchbook?
Second, the 9th Circuit highlights the Byzantine nature of the regulations in this area. How many unrepresented individuals who been treated in this unfair manner are hustled out of the country because they can’t figure out how to get meaningful review?
Third, this decision shows that there might well be ways to penetrate the general unwillingress of Appellate Courts to review the gross miscarriages of justice and denials of due process going on every day in the expedited removal process which is administered by the DHS and inadequately reviewed by the Immigration Judges. Once they take a look, they will be appalled at what they find!
Read Ari Berman’s shocking profile of a minor politician who wields outsized influence within the GOP and is out to put a “White’s Only” sign on the American Dream. For Kobach, the “Jim Crow Era” was the glory day of the “rule of law” in the U.S. When Kobach talks about the “rule of law” it’s code for using the legal system to cement the rule of a disproportionately white GOP minority over the rest of us, and particularly Americans of color. Will the “sleeping majority” wake up before we’re all disenfranchised by this racist in a suit hiding behind his Yale law degree and ability to spin legal gobbledygook? Kobach isn’t just “the ACLU’s worst nightmare,” as he smugly touts himself. He’s American Democracy’s worst nightmare!
Here’s a sample of what Kobach has in store for the rest of us:
“Kobach’s plans represent a radical reordering of American priorities. They would help preserve Republican majorities. But they could also reduce the size and influence of the country’s nonwhite population. For years, Republicans have used racially coded appeals to white voters as a means to win elections. Kobach has inverted the priorities, using elections, and advocating voting restrictions that make it easier for Republicans to win them, as the vehicle for implementing policies that protect the interests and aims of a shrinking white majority. This has made him one of the leading intellectual architects of a new nativist movement that is rapidly gaining influence not just in the United States but across the globe.”
Read Berman’s lengthy article, and think about what YOU can do to put the kibosh on the plans of this self-proclaimed “fanatic” and his dream of turning America into a “White GOP Folks Only Club.” Even Republicans who might remember enough to know that the GOP in the far, far distant past was the “Party of Lincoln” might want to rethink their party’s support of and association with this dangerous extremist. Act before it’s too late and Kobach steals YOUR American Dream and turns it into a nightmare!
“In the middle of May, paper notices were posted on the walls of the federal building in lower Manhattan announcing the absence of several immigration judges. Some were out for a week or two, while others were away for six weeks. The flyers said their cases would be rescheduled.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the immigration courts, would not comment on the judges’ whereabouts. It cited the confidentiality of personnel matters. But after WNYC asked about these missing judges, many of the paper notices were taken off the walls of the 12th and 14th floors, where hearings are held in small courtrooms.
It’s no secret that President Donald Trump’s administration has been redeploying judges to detention centers near the southern border to speed up the processing of cases. After contacting numerous immigration attorneys down south, as well as retired judges and others, WNYC was able to crowdsource the judges’ locations. At least eight of New York City’s 29 immigration judges had been sent to Texas and Louisiana since March to conduct hearings in person or by video. Six judges were out for different parts of the month of May, alone.
“I don’t really think that they need all these judges,” said Ken Mayeaux, an immigration lawyer in Baton Rouge.
Mayeaux said what’s really needed there are more immigration attorneys. As federal agents arrest an increasing number of immigrants who are already in the U.S. without legal status, they’re sending them to southern detention centers that are pretty isolated. The ones in Oakdale and Jena, Louisiana, are hours west of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, where the vast majority of the state’s immigration advocates are concentrated, said Mayreaux.
“To ramp things up in one of the places that has the lowest representation rates in the United States, that’s a due process disaster,” he said.
So why move judges from a clogged and busy court system in New York to the border region, where immigration cases are already moving swiftly?
“In this particular instance, it’s a virtuous circle from the perspective of the administration,” explained Andrew Arthur, a former immigration judge.
Arthur is a resident fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies. It’s a think tank that wants to limit immigration, though it’s been branded a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. During the Obama administration, Arthur said too many immigrants were let out of detention and waited years for their cases to be heard. He said moving more judges to the border will prevent that from happening.
“Because the quicker that you hear the cases the less likely that an individual is to be released,” Arthur said. “Therefore the less likely another group of individuals are to attempt to make the journey to the United States.”
Another former immigration judge, Paul Wickham Schmidt, said the Obama administration tried something similar by fast-tracking the cases of Central American migrants in 2014. But he said it wound up scrambling the judges’ dockets and was counterproductive. He was redeployed from his home court in Virginia and estimates he had to reschedule a hundred cases in a week.
“Nobody cares what’s happening on the home docket,” he said. “It’s all about showing presence on the border.”
Not all judges assigned to the border are physically present. Mana Yegani, an immigration lawyer in Houston, said she’s seen several judges — including a few from New York — at a detention center where cases are done by video teleconference.
“We never see the prosecutor’s face, it’s just a voice in the background,” she explained. “It’s just not a fair process for our clients and I don’t think the judges can be efficient the way they’re supposed to. They take an oath to be fair and to uphold the Constitution and due process, and I think the way the system is set up it really hinders that.”
A new audit of the immigration courts by the Government Accountability Office questioned whether video teleconferences have an impact on outcomes and said more data should be collected.
Some attorneys believe the reassignments are temporary to see if border crossings continue to ebb. The Executive Officer for Immigration Review won’t comment on that, but spokesman John Martin said the agency will hire 50 new judges and “plans to continue to advertise and fill positions nationwide for immigration judges and supporting staff.”
In the meantime, there’s no question that shifting judges away from New York is having an impact on real people.”
Read Beth’s entire article, including the story of one “real” asylum applicant waiting patiently for a hearing that almost didn’t happen.
The due process farce continues, at taxpayer expense, while the U.S. Immigration Courts are being treated as an enforcement arm of the DHS. Aimless Docket Reshuffling (“ADR”) denies due process at both the “sending courts” and “receiving courts.” When, if ever, will Congress or the Federal Courts step in and put an end to this travesty of justice and mockery of our constitutional requirement for due process! In the meantime, what’s happening in the Immigration Courts is a continuing national disgrace.
“Lee Francis Cissna, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the federal agency that handles applications for visas, refugee status, and citizenship, has put little on the public record in his 20 years as a lawyer, government employee, diplomat, and Capitol Hill aide.
But it turns out he has left many clues about how he could reverse Obama-era policies if he becomes director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, a non-enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security.
On Wednesday, May 24th, Cissna, 50, who has worked on immigration policy at Homeland Security for much of his career, is scheduled to appear at a confirmation hearing chaired by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley. From 2015 until earlier this year, Cissna worked for Grassley on immigration issues, having been detailed to his staff by Homeland Security. During that time, he remained on the agency’s payroll.
While there, he drafted dozens of letters under the senator’s name to Homeland Security officials, helping Grassley, an Iowa Republican, to intensify his oversight of immigration and creating a blueprint for dismantling President Barack Obama’s initiatives, according to a dozen current and former agency and congressional staff members.
ProPublica reviewed more than 60 of the letters sent by Grassley during the time Cissna worked in his office. Among the policies they criticized were:
An emergency program for Central American children to reunite with parents in the U.S. The system “unquestionably circumvents the refugee program established by Congress,” according to a November of 2015 letter.
The system for granting asylum to people claiming persecution in their home countries. A November of 2016 letter claimed thousands of immigrants were “amassing” in Mexican border cities with the intention of “asserting dubious claims of asylum, which will practically guarantee their entry.”
Giving so-called “Dreamers”—undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children—the chance to obtain travel documents on top of work permits. This program would “open the door to undocumented immigrants to gain U.S. citizenship,” a March of 2016 letter said.
A program allowing undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime to stay in the U.S. even if there are no visa slots available. A December of 2016 letter said the policy is “being exploited by those wishing to defraud the system and avoid deportation.”
Dude seems to oppose many of the best things that USCIS has done to improve the immigration situation. Also appears that like Senator Grassley he has a habit of repeating largely “fact free” restrictionist, white nationalist dogma. Grassley is right on a few things (allowing cameras in court is one of them) but none of the items mentioned in this article.
A group of immigration experts on both sides of the issue interviewed by CNN all doubted that the Trump Administration would be able to carry out mass removals on the scale Trump alluded to on the campaign trail. Among the problems: Congressional funding for more enforcement and detention, severely backlogged U.S. Immigration Courts, practical problems of locating and processing undocumented individuals within the United States, and potential large scale resistance by states, cities, counties, and universities to overly aggressive enforcement efforts.
Here’s an excerpt (full article posted above):
“Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center For Immigration Studies, a non-partisan think tank in Washington, said Trump’s campaign pledges to deport millions amounted to an “Archie Bunker moment” that should not have been taken seriously.
“He’s not going to be snapping his fingers and deporting millions of people over night,” said Krikorain, whose group’s motto is “Low-Immigration, pro-immigrant.”
“That’s not realistic,” Krikorian said. “No one thinks that’s going to happen.”
But Krikorian said “it’s very plausible” that Trump could ramp up deportations by 25% or more in 2017 and return to levels seen under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, which he said reached about 400,000 a year when Bush left office.
That, he said, could be done without significant budgetary increases and despite resistance from sanctuary cities.
“I think the other side is making it seem more complicated than it needs to be,” he said.
Stephen Yale-Loehr, who teaches immigration law at Cornell Law School, agreed that Trump would be able to have meaningful impact during the first year of his presidency, but not to the extent suggested during the campaign.
“On the campaign trail things are not nuanced. They’re black and white,” Yale-Loehr said. “It takes a while to turn the battleship of bureaucracy around.”