It was a great conference in a great location — Denver. Lots of restaurants and things to do (although I was actually too busy to get out much).
Hats off to Conference Co-Chairs Barry Frager and the Honorable Lawrence O. (“The Burmanator”) Burman for putting the whole thing together and pulling it off without a hitch. Judge Burman, one of the few real judicial leaders at EOIR, also serves as the Chair of the Immigration Law Section (“ILS”) and editor of the outstanding newsletter, The Green Card.
An impressive group of approximately 400 attended, consisting of private practitioners, NGO lawyers, government attorneys, and several Federal Judges. They came from across the country. They heard from a faculty of dozens of experts covering 60 separate learning sessions over two days.
I particularly enjoyed catching up with old friends like fellow retired U.S. Immigration Judges Joan Churchill, Eliza Klein, and Bill Joyce and my former BIA colleague, Judge Lory Rosenberg. I was pleased to serve with Lory as the other member of the Due Process Panel, and I want to thank her for her very kind remarks about me.
A number of folks commented that they had never seen a happier and more relaxed group of Immigration Judges than our “Gang of Four” retired jurists. I should add that Bill and Eliza are both still actively practicing law, while Joan and I have chosen different retirement paths.
I loved the tremendous energy and spirit that the many younger practitioners brought to the conference. As I pointed out in my three presentations, never has the need for skilled immigration lawyers, ready to strongly and courageously fight the battle for due process, been greater. As one panelist put it, this is the time to show off and improve real legal skills and display creativity and toughness in conducting aggressive litigation in an era where the Government is seeking and intentionally provoking confrontation. Enjoy the moment! And these folks are ready to step up to the plate and give the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant agenda all it can handle on every front.
It was heartening to see many “charter members” of the “New Due Process Army” (“NDPA”) — folks like Alex Ribe, Claudia Cubas, Eileen Blessinger, Jillian Blake, Robyn Barnard, Paromita Shah, and others — participating in the activities. I believe I also got some “new recruits” for the NDPA.
I’m already looking forward to next year in Memphis!
Although The Office of Immigration Litigation (“OIL”), the DHS, U.S. Attorneys, and U.S. Magistrates participated in the panels, not a single current EOIR employee was on the faculty, although a number had been invited. The local U.S. Immigration Judges were “no shows,” although they would have had much to offer the group and vice versa.
Only a handful of EOIR employees attended, in their “personal capacities” and at their own expense. A troubling performance from an agency that amazingly cancelled their badly needed judicial training conference. And, the FBA is the only nationwide bar association concentrating on Federal Practice that encourages and makes possible full membership by both Federal employees and private sector attorneys.
In three words: “The Immigration Courts.” Everyone there, including government attorneys, has been affected in one way or another by the ridiculous backlog of non-detained cases. My references to “ADR” – aimless docket reshuffling – and feeling like I was in “Clown Court” some days struck a real chord with the audience.
Almost every session I attended was replete with descriptions of inappropriate behavior from several courts, Charlotte and Atlanta in particular. Things like Immigration Judges going off record and saying that they didn’t believe in A-R-C-G- (asylum for domestic violence) or asylum for Central Americans. Rude and intimidating treatment of counsel, failure to listen to arguments, unwillingness to grant bond, applying wrong legal standards, and inappropriately going “off record” were among the “horror stories” mentioned. It’s quite obvious that Atlanta and Charlotte, among others, are failing to follow the generous standards for granting asylum set forth by the Supreme Court in Cardoza-Fonseca and reinforced by the BIA in Mogharrabi.
It’s not about what an Immigration Judge personally believes. It’s about fairly and impartially applying the law, particularly to those needing protection. Gosh, I often had to apply BIA precedents that I not only disagreed with, but where I had actually dissented from the majority decision. But, the job of a judge is to follow the law, whether one likes it or not.
Much of the blame goes to the BIA. It sometimes appears to me that certain BIA Appellate Immigration Judges and panels are committed neither to enforcing due process nor their own precedent in Mogharrabi. Some folks are fortunate enough to be in Circuits that hold the BIA to the appropriate standards; others labor away in Circuits that have “blown off” their judicial review function by ”over-deferring” to the BIA. Clearly, the BIA has lost sight of its vision of “being the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.”
In any event, while some of the behavior issues could perhaps be addressed by EOIR management through the complaint system, that won’t solve the problem. Only the BIA has the ability to correct incorrect applications and attitudes about the law and due process in the U.S. Immigration Courts. Only the BIA can bring “outlier courts” – those with far too many asylum denials – into line with the law.
As I gave my keynote speech involving the history of EOIR, it occurred to me that EOIR, quite sadly, was actually returning to what the Immigration Courts were before the “spinoff” from the “Legacy INS:” inbred, staffed almost exclusively with former prosecutors, not user friendly, mismanaged, lacking necessary technology, and essentially being used as a tool for immigration enforcement. In other words, there is a notable lack of judicial independence. Very sad. It appears that as an due process oriented court system, EOIR has “run its course” in the DOJ and is now returning to it’s origins as a captive of the enforcement system.
The Immigration Courts’ problems have been aggravated by DHS leadership’s apparent decision to limit “prosecutorial discretion,” discourage cooperation and stipulation, and to “go to the mat” on everything. At a time when DHS should be looking for ways to get cases off the dockets, they instead appear to be looking for ways to jam the docket even fuller with cases, many of which are unlikely to be resolved in the next decade.