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.
In the next few weeks, four young men 16 to 24 years old were fatally shot by police during two incidents. Police on both occasions reported an “enfrentamiento,” or confrontation, in which gangsters fired on them. Relatives of the dead said that the officers killed the young men unprovoked.
As with much of the violence here, getting to the truth is difficult. Investigations are often cursory. Some residents said they are too afraid of the police to provide testimony. What is clear is many residents’ deep resentment of the security forces.
“We see the police as terrorists,” said an aunt of one of the four victims, 16-year-old Bryan Rodrigo Santos Arevalo.
The aunt, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing a fear of authorities, said that a witness who escaped told her that police had executed the teenager. The right side of Santos Arevalo’s face was blown off, morgue photos show.
If police were using lethal force, so were the gangs. On July 3, 2015, four local police officers were returning from a call when “they attacked us from both sides,” recalled a police supervisor who was present, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Gang members positioned on earthen mounds overlooking the road sprayed gunfire at the officers’ truck, he said. The police sped off, firing frantically, but the driver was hit in his left side. The supervisor was shot in the right knee.
“It’s a miracle that I am alive to tell this story,” the supervisor said.
Three days later, local police along with members of a San Salvador-based SWAT team shot and killed two members of the Tiny Malditos outside a farmhouse in Santa Teresa. The police reported taking gunfire on arrival. Morena Leiva de Silva, the mother of one of the dead, said a farmworker who was present told her that the officers shot the two gang members as they fled.
“They ran from the police because they were terrified,” she said. “They panicked.”
A truce ends
President Salvador Sánchez Cerén was a Marxist guerrilla in the 1980s. Now he is the one defending the state.
“Although some say we are at war, there is no other road,” Sánchez Cerén said in March.
The government of Sánchez Cerén’s predecessor, Mauricio Funes, had engineered a truce between major gangs, transferring their leaders into more lax prisons where they could coordinate with their followers. The homicide rate fell, although critics argued that the respite allowed the gangs to grow stronger.
On taking office in June 2014, Sánchez Cerén brought a swift end to the truce. His government transferred the leaders back to maximum-security lockups, banned visits and cut off cellphone access. He called up military reservists to join the fight against the gangs. The director of the national police announced that officers should feel free to use their weapons to protect themselves. New legislation made it harder to investigate police when they alleged self-defense.
Homicides shot up. Last year, police were responsible for an estimated 1,000 of the country’s 6,600 killings, a steep increase, experts say.
The gangs began targeting police, soldiers, prosecutors and their families in a way unseen. Gang members killed more than 60 police officers last year, nearly doubling the total the year before. Police have confiscated an increasing number of military-style assault rifles from gang members. The attorney general’s office recently accused one of the biggest gangs, Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, of planning to assemble a 500-man unit of trained gang members to attack security forces. Last fall, a car rigged with explosives detonated outside the Finance Ministry.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights warned in June that allegations of assassinations by El Salvador’s security forces are “intolerable and are likely to fuel even greater violence.”
The national human rights prosecutor’s office, an independent agency, has compiled a registry of nearly 100 cases of alleged assassinations by security forces or shadowy “extermination groups,” which often include off-duty police, since mid-2013. But the agency acknowledges that there may be many more.
Walter Gerardo Alegria, a deputy head of the office, said it wasn’t clear whether such killings were ordered by authorities. “However, from the quantity of cases that we have, one can assume that this is a systematic practice,” he said.
The director of the national police, Howard Cotto, said he couldn’t rule out that some officers may have taken part in summary executions, but he denied that such behavior was permitted.
“We are not willing to tolerate that under the guise of solving security problems we cover up for people who commit crimes or summary executions,” he said.
The campaign against gangs has been popular among many Salvadorans. But it may come at a terrible cost to this young democracy, said Hector Silva Avalos, who has written a book on the Salvadoran police.
“If between death squads, citizen squads, rough police officers, they kill enough gang members to actually diminish the territorial control of the gangs — then who’s going to be in charge?” he asked. “Police commanders with no respect for human rights?”
This is only a small part of a lengthy article which is available at the above link.
This, not Gonzo’s bogus “Blame DACA Narrative” or his fabricated fraud narrative, is why women and children are fleeing from the Northern Triangle and are likely to continue to do so regardless of how much “deterrence” Gonzo & Gang throw at them. And, these folks have potentially legitimate claims that should be fully and impartially heard in Immigration Court with the assistance of counsel and full appeal rights. Even those who do not fit the “technical requirements” for legal protection under U.S. law might well have strong humanitarian claims for temporary refuge under Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”) (which the last tow Administration ministrations have stubbornly refused to acknowledge) or prosecutorial discretion. We are hardly a “disinterested party” in the rampant violence that is now gripping Central America.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton ruled Thursday that the pardon wasn’t a reason to erase Arpaio’s guilty verdict.
“The power to pardon is an executive prerogative of mercy, not of judicial record-keeping,” she wrote. “The Court found Defendant guilty of criminal contempt. The President issued the pardon. Defendant accepted. The pardon undoubtedly spared defendant from any punishment that might otherwise have been imposed. It did not, however, revise the historical facts of this case.”
Read the rest of the story at the above link.
You can lie to your heart’s content, but you can’t rewrite history, as Joe and the rest of his racist/White Nationalist cronies in the Trump Administration are finding out.
“An alien who seeks admission to the United States without valid documents can be sent home without a hearing, and, this does not apply just to aliens at the border. An undocumented alien may be viewed as “seeking admission” even if he has been living here for more than a year.
But for immigration purposes, words mean whatever the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) says they mean.
Section 235(a)(1) of the INA says that an alien who is in the United States but has not been “admitted” shall be viewed as an applicant for admission for purposes of this Act. And section 101(a)(13) of the INA says that the terms “admission” and “admitted” mean a lawful entry into the United States after an inspection and authorization by an immigration officer.
This makes it possible for DHS to use expedited removal proceedings to deport undocumented aliens who already are in the United States without giving them hearings before an immigration judge, which is necessary now because the immigration court is experiencing a backlog crisis.As of the end of August 2017, the immigrant court’s backlog was 632,261 cases, and the immigration court has only 330 immigration judges. The backlog is getting larger every year because the judges are not even able to keep up with the new cases they receive each year.
. . . .
In expedited removal proceedings, which are conducted by immigration officers, an alien who lacks proper documentation or has committed fraud or a willful misrepresentation to enter the country, can be deported without a hearing before an immigration judge, unless he has a credible fear of persecution.
Previous administrations limited these proceedings to aliens at the border and aliens who had entered without inspection but were apprehended no more than 100 miles from the border after spending less than 14 days in the country.
Trump opted to use expedited removal proceedings to the full extent authorized by law. In his Executive Order, “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” he orders the DHS Secretary to use the proceedings for the aliens designated in section 235(b)(1)(A)(iii)(II)of the INA, i.e., aliens who are in the United States but were not lawfully admitted and cannot establish that they have been here continuously for two years.
If an alien wants an asylum hearing before an immigration judge, he has to establish to the satisfaction of an asylum officer that he has a credible fear of persecution. If the asylum officer is not persuaded, the alien can request an abbreviated review by an immigration judge, which usually is held within 24 hours.
Immigration officers should not be making unreviewable decisions about whether to deport someone who has lived in the United States for up to two years. I would prefer replacing the immigration officers with immigration judges for proceedings involving aliens who are already in the United States.
Expedited removal proceedings are not used for unaccompanied alien children.
Trump has asked Congress to amend the TVRPA to restrict the unaccompanied alien children protections. In the meantime, steps are being taken to deter parents from bringing their children here illegally.
ICE will be putting the parents of UACs in removal proceedings if they are undocumented aliens too, and if a smuggler was paid, they might be prosecuted for human trafficking.
Immigrant advocates still have time to work with Trump on immigration reform legislation, but once Trump has implemented an expanded expedited removal proceedings program, he is not going to be inclined to stop it. And it could start soon. He recently issued a Request for Information to identify multiple possible detention sites for holding criminal aliens and other immigration violators.”
Read Nolan’s full article over on The Hill at the above link.
I have no doubt that the Trump Administration will attempt to “max out’ the use of expedited removal. Interestingly, however, although the Executive Order referenced by Nolan was issued at the beginning of the Administration, the regulatory changes necessary to expand the use of expedited removal have not yet been published in the Federal Register. A change of this nature is likely to require full notice and comment, which will take some time. If the Administration tries to avoid the notice and comment process, that will be likely to give advocates a valid ground for challenging the revised regulation under the Administrative Procedures Act.
I also doubt that expedited removal can successfully address the current Immigration Court backlog, which is, after all, largely the result of incompetent management, poor enforcement choices, and “ADR” by politicos at the DOJ, including particularly in this Administration. Without removing the political influence over the Immigration Courts and placing them in an independent structure that can be professionally administered in an unbiased manner, no “docket reform” is likely to succeed..
Second, nearly all of the 10-11 million individuals currently in the U.S. without documentation have been here more than two years and can prove it. Indeed, the vast majority of the 630,000+ cases pending in Immigration Court have probably been on the docket for more than two years!
Third, like Nolan, I believe that “Immigration officers should not be making unreviewable decisions about whether to deport someone who has lived in the United States for up to two years.” Individuals living in the United States are entitled to constitutional due process under Supreme Court decisions. A fair hearing before an impartial adjudicator normally is a minimum requirement for due process. A DHS Immigration Officer is not an impartial judicial or quasi-judicial adjudicator.
The situations in which the Federal Courts have permitted DHS Immigration Officers to enter final removal orders against individuals who are “in the United States” (as opposed to at the border, in fact or “functionally”) are fairly limited. One is the situation of an individual who was never admitted as a Lawful Permanent Resident and who committed an aggravated felony. This doesn’t apply to most individuals in the U.S. without documentation.
As Nolan points out, the Federal Courts have also approved “expedited removal” under the current regulations which limit applicability to those who have been here fewer than 14 days and are apprehended within 100 miles of the border — in other words, those who have very minimal connection with the U.S. and have not established any type of “de facto” residence here. In making those limited (but still probably wrong from a constitutional standpoint) decisions some courts have indicated that they would have reservations about reaching the same result in the case of someone who had actually been here for a considerable period of time and had established a residence in the United States.
For example, in Castro v. DHS, 835 F.3d 433 (3rd Cir. 2016), cert. denied, a case upholding expedited removal under the current regulations, the court states:
Of course, even though our construction of § 1252 means that courts in the future will almost certainly lack statutory jurisdiction to review claims that the government has committed even more egregious violations of the expedited removal statute than those alleged by Petitioners, this does not necessarily mean that all aliens wishing to raise such claims will be without a remedy. For instance, consider the case of an alien who has been living continuously for several years in the United States before being ordered removed under § 1225(b)(1). Even though the statute would prevent him from seeking judicial review of a claim, say, that he was never granted a credible fear interview, under our analysis of the Suspension Clause below, the statute could very well be unconstitutional as applied to him (though we by no means undertake to so hold in this opinion). Suffice it to say, at least some of the arguably troubling implications of our reading of § 1252 may be tempered by the Constitution’s requirement that habeas review be available in some circumstances and for some people.
Here’s a link to the full Castro opinion and my previous blog on the decision:
I predict that, as in other areas, by “pushing the envelope” on the expedited removal statute, the Trump Administration will eventually force the Federal Courts, including the Supreme Court, to find it unconstitutional at least in some applications.
The Administration would be smarter to go about Immigration Court docket reduction by limiting new enforcement actions to recent arrivals and those who have engaged in activities that endanger the public health and safety, similar to what the Obama Administration did. This should be combined with a realistic legalization proposal and return to a robust use of prosecutorial discretion (“PD”) that would remove many of the older, nonprioty cases from the docket.
Eliminating rights, “fudging” due process, and pretending like judicial and quasi-judicial resources are infinitely expandable will not solve the problem in the long run. It’s time for some “smart” immigration enforcement and action to reform the Immigration Courts into an independent court system. But, I’d ever accuse the Trump Administration of being “smart,” particularly in the area of immigration policy.
Mark Joseph Stern and Perry Grossman report for Slate:
THE LAW, LAWYERS, AND THE COURT.OCT. 19 2017 6:32 PM
Trump’s Dred Scott
In a case about the abortion rights of undocumented minors, the Department of Justice evokes the worst Supreme Court decision of all time.
By Perry Grossman and Mark Joseph Stern
Jeff Sessions and Roger B. Taney
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, left, and Chief Justice Roger B. Taney
Saul Loeb/Getty Images and Library of Congress
Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump maligned undocumented immigrants as violent criminals and sexual predators who deserved to be rounded up and deported. Once in office, Trump transformed this rhetoric into policy, implementing a nationwide crackdown on immigrant communities. Now, the president’s dehumanizing disparagement of undocumented people has now seeped into his administration’s legal positions. This week, the Department of Justice is arguing in court that undocumented, unaccompanied minors have no right to abortions—and that undocumented immigrants may have no constitutional rights at all. This argument does not only contravene Supreme Court precedent. It also draws upon an inhuman notion of constitutional liberty most notoriously espoused in Dred Scott v. Sandford.
The Justice Department’s radical new theory arose out of a disturbing case in Texas that revolves around a 17-year-old referred to as Jane Doe in court filings. Doe arrived in the United States several months ago, unaccompanied by her parents and lacking documentation. She was placed in a federally funded Texas shelter, at which point she learned she was pregnant. Doe requested an abortion, but under state law, minors cannot receive the procedure without either parental consent or judicial approval. So Doe obtained what’s known as a judicial bypass and asked permission to attend a state-mandated counseling session before undergoing the procedure.
Her shelter refused to allow her to attend that counseling session, citing federal regulations promulgated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a wing of the Department of Health and Human Services. In March, ORR announced that federally funded shelters could not take “any action that facilitates” abortion for unaccompanied minors, including “scheduling appointments, transportation, or other arrangement,” without “direction and approval” from Scott Lloyd, the agency’s director. A Trump appointee and longtime anti-abortion activist, Lloyd has refused to allow minors to access abortion services. Instead, he has directed shelters to take these women to “crisis pregnancy centers,” which “counsel” them not to get abortions. At least once, Lloyd himself called a pregnant minor to talk her out of terminating her pregnancy. If a minor still wants to get an abortion after navigating these obstacles, ORR instructs its shelters to block her from attending her appointment.
Doe’s shelter followed these guidelines, taking her to a crisis pregnancy center and calling her mother to tell her Doe was pregnant. But Doe persisted, and in October, her court-appointed attorneys filed suit along with the American Civil Liberties Union in a federal district court in Washington, where ORR is headquartered. Doe argues that ORR’s rules violate her constitutional rights by placing an undue burden on her access to abortion.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan held a hearing in the case. While defending the government, Department of Justice attorney Scott Stewart strongly implied that undocumented women do not have a right to abortion. Here, Stewart was echoing an amicus brief filed by the Texas attorney general’s office, which proclaimed that “unlawfully present aliens” living in the United States have no constitutional right to abortion access. Chutkan then asked Stewart whether Doe has any constitutional rights; Stewart declined to make that “concession.”
Chutkan ruled against the government and issued a temporary restraining order guaranteeing Doe the ability to terminate her pregnancy. (She is currently 15 weeks pregnant, and abortion is illegal after 20 weeks in Texas.) The DOJ appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which will hear arguments in the case on Friday morning. In its motion, the agency argued that the government’s “interest in promoting fetal life and childbirth over abortion” justified its refusal to let a minor go to an abortion clinic. It also claimed that, even if undocumented minors have a constitutional right to abortion care, the administration was not unduly burdening that right, because minors who want to terminate their pregnancies can leave the country. This argument is merely another way of stating that women like Doe have no right to an abortion in the United States.
By excluding undocumented immigrants from the protections of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Trump administration is essentially asserting that they do not qualify as “person[s]” under the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and 14th Amendments. The Supreme Court has ruled that the liberty component of the Due Process Clause protects a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy without a substantial obstacle. If arbitrary regulations that severely burden clinics qualify as such an unconstitutional obstacle, as the Supreme Court has held, then surely self-deportation does as well. Thus, the sole plausible interpretation of the DOJ’s posture is that the Due Process Clause does not protect undocumented women like Doe. Put simply, undocumented women are not people for constitutional purposes.
If the government can force Doe to carry her pregnancy to term, what can’t it do?
This theory parallels the Supreme Court’s most infamous ruling. Dred Scott was a black man born into slavery who moved with his “master” from a slave state to a free state. Upon his master’s death, Scott sued for his freedom. In 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney—a virulent racist whose statue was removed from the grounds of the Maryland State House in August—wrote an opinion dismissing Scott’s suit. Taney held that black people were not “persons” based on the language of the Constitution and that Scott, as a black man, therefore had no right to sue in the federal courts. Black men, Taney wrote, were “so far inferior” to whites that they had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
Following the Civil War, Dred Scott was overturned by the 13th and 14th Amendments. These amendments ensured that everyone born in the United States would be a citizen. They also granted all “person[s]”—not just citizens—due process and equal protection under the law. Trump has already raised the specter of Dred Scott through his call to end birthright citizenship, the constitutional command that lay at the heart of the Civil War amendments. Now his administration is invoking the decision again in its attempt to deprive undocumented immigrants of their personhood under the Constitution.
The government has rarely alleged that undocumented immigrants may be deprived of rights protected by the liberty component of due process, what’s also known as “substantive” due process. Its few attempts have been unsuccessful. In 2003, the Bush administration argued that substantive due process does not apply to immigrants who reside in the country illegally. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, emphatically rejected this claim, explaining
If excludable aliens were not protected by even the substantive component of constitutional due process, as the government appears to argue, we do not see why the United States government could not torture or summarily execute them. … [W]e do not believe that our Constitution could permit persons living in the United States—whether they can be admitted for permanent residence or not—to be subjected to any government action without limit.
Perhaps recognizing the extremism of its argument, the Trump administration has left open the possibility that undocumented immigrants are entitled to some unspecified “minimal standards” of constitutional protection. But if those minimal standards don’t include the basic right to bodily autonomy, then the 6th Circuit’s query still stands. If the government can force Doe to carry her pregnancy to term against her will, what can’t it do? The administration’s attempt to exert complete control over Doe’s reproductive system is a straightforward deprivation of constitutional liberty that opens the door to equally egregious future abuses.
On Friday morning, the Justice Department will return to court once more to argue, in effect, that Jane Doe is not a “person” worthy of due process protections. It might as well cite Dred Scott for the proposition that the government may strip undocumented immigrants of their constitutionally protected liberty. The 14th Amendment was designed to end such capricious discrimination against individuals living in the United States. But to the Trump administration, immigrants like Doe aren’t even people—just possessions of the state, awaiting deportation.”
Just when you think that Gonzo Apocalypto can’t sink any lower, he manages to achieve new depths!
“A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the U.S. government to allow an undocumented immigrant teenager in its custody to have an abortion and said she was “astounded” that the Trump administration was trying to block the procedure.
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the pregnant teen, cheered the judge’s ruling as a major victory for abortion and immigrant rights.
The Justice Department, which is defending the Department of Health and Human Services, declined to comment on whether it would appeal.
“We never should have had to fight this in the first place,” said Brigitte Amiri, a senior ACLU staff attorney who argued the case on Wednesday. “It should never have been something that we needed to go to court over.”
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered the government to allow the 17-year-old to visit an abortion provider closest to her shelter in Texas on Thursday and undergo state-mandated counseling before having the procedure on Friday or Saturday.
Play Video 2:15
Everything you need to know about Roe v. Wade in 2 minutes
Here’s what abortion was like in the United States before and after the landmark Supreme Court case, and where it may be headed next. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)
“Failure to comply with the terms of this Order may result in a finding of contempt,” wrote Chutkan, who was appointed by President Barack Obama and is assigned to U.S. District Court in Washington.
[Read Chutkan’s order]
The case of the Central American teenager, identified in court papers as Jane Doe, has attracted national attention from both advocates for and opponents of abortion rights. Democrats in Congress have expressed opposition to the government’s stance, while Texas and seven other states filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting it.
“Today’s ruling is outrageous and sets a dangerous precedent,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List. She said government officials were trying to “protect the life and dignity of the teenage girl and her unborn child while in their care.”
Court filings in the case made clear that the Trump administration is actively trying to prevent minors in its custody from having abortions, a departure from federal practice under Obama.
Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which cares for unaccompanied minors caught crossing the border until they can be reunited with family members, said in an email in March that federally funded shelters “should not be supporting abortion services pre or post-release; only pregnancy services and life-affirming options counseling.”
During the hearing Wednesday, Chutkan asked Justice Department lawyer Scott Stewart whether he thought illegal immigrants had constitutional rights and whether he believes that the 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade , which guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion, is still the “law of the land.”
Stewart acknowledged the ruling but said the government views this case differently because the teen is an undocumented immigrant in federal custody.
He signaled that undocumented minors do not have a constitutional right to an elective abortion in federal custody, unless it is a medical emergency, and also said immigrants here illegally have “minimal” protections in this country. “I’m not going to give you a concession on that, Your Honor,” he said.
The judge laughed. “This is remarkable,” she said.
Chutkan said the teen’s immigration status was irrelevant and that she still had constitutional rights.
In her ruling, Chutkan wrote that the teen will “suffer irreparable injury,” including health risks, if the government interferes with her abortion plans. Chutkan also barred the government from forcing the teen to reveal her abortion to anyone and from retaliating against her or the federally funded shelter housing her in Texas.
The judge has not yet ruled on an ACLU request to apply her ruling to other minors in federal custody.
Chutkan said that by refusing to allow the girl to be transported from her detention facility to have an abortion, the government appeared to be offering the teenager two options: voluntarily return to a nation she fled to have an abortion; or carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
“I am astounded by that position,” Chutkan said.
In court filings, the Justice Department said the government has “strong and constitutionally legitimate interests in promoting childbirth, in refusing to facilitate abortion, and in not providing incentives for pregnant minors to illegally cross the border to obtain elective abortions while in federal custody.”
Chutkan countered during the hearing that the teenager does not need a medical emergency to exercise her right to an abortion. She said the teen had followed state and federal rules: She obtained permission from a state judge in Texas to have an abortion and would cover the expenses herself or with help through her court-appointed guardian.”
“Astounded” by the Administration’s position that the Constitution is meaningless? Shouldn’t be! That’s “business as usual” in the age of Trump and Sessions.
“The Attorney General’s Jaundiced–and Inaccurate–View of Asylum
by JASON DZUBOW on OCTOBER 17, 2017
In a speech last week to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (the office that administers the nation’s immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals), Attorney General and living Confederate Civil War monument, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, set out his views on the asylum system, asylum seekers, and immigration attorneys.
Jeff Sessions speaks to an audience at the Executive Office for Immigration Review.
Sad to say, Mr. Sessions described the asylum system in largely negative terms, and said not a word about the benefits that our country derives from offering asylum.
While he views our asylum policy as “generous,” and designed to “protect those who, through no fault of their own, cannot co-exist in their home country no matter where they go because of persecution based on fundamental things like their religion or nationality,” Mr. Sessions feels that our generosity is being “abused” and that “smart attorneys have exploited loopholes in the law, court rulings, and lack of resources to substantially undermine the intent of Congress.”
Mr. Sessions also lambasts “dirty immigration lawyers who are encouraging their otherwise unlawfully present clients to make false claims of asylum providing them with the magic words needed to trigger the credible fear process.”
Indeed, Mr. Sessions believes that our asylum system is “subject to rampant abuse and fraud.” Because the system is “overloaded with fake claims, it cannot deal effectively with just claims.”
First, it’s quite sad that our nation’s chief law enforcement officer would have such a jaundiced view of asylum. The idea that asylum is merely a generous benefit we offer to refugees, and that we receive nothing in return, is simply false. I’ve written about this point before, but it bears repeating. Asylum was created during the Cold War as a tool against the Soviet Union. We offered refuge to people fleeing Communism, and each person who defected to the West served as a testament to our system’s superiority over our adversary.
Now that the Cold War has ended, asylum still serves our strategic interests. It demonstrates our commitment to those who support and work for the values we believe in. It is tangible evidence that America stands with our friends. It gives our allies confidence that we will not let them down when times become tough. It shows that our foundational principles–free speech, religious liberty, equality, rule of law–are not empty words, but are ideals we actually stand behind.
And of course, there are the asylees themselves, who contribute to our country with their energy, enthusiasm, and patriotism, often born of their experience living in places that are not safe, and that are not free.
None of this came up during Mr. Sessions’s talk. Perhaps he does not know how our nation has benefited from the asylum system. Or maybe he doesn’t care. Or–what I suspect–he views asylum seekers as a threat to our security and a challenge to our country’s (Christian and Caucasian) culture.
The shame of it is that Mr. Sessions is demonstrably wrong on several points, and so possibly he reached his conclusions about asylum based on incorrect information.
The most obvious error is his claims that “dirty immigration lawyers… are encouraging their otherwise unlawfully present clients to make false claims of asylum providing them with the magic words needed to trigger the credible fear process.” Aliens who are “unlawfully present” in the U.S. are not subject to the credible fear process. That process is generally reserved for aliens arriving at the border who ask for asylum. Such applicants undergo a credible fear interview, which is an initial evaluation of eligibility for asylum. While this may be a technical point, Mr. Sessions raised the issue in a talk to EOIR, and so his audience presumably understands how the system works. That Mr. Sessions would make such a basic mistake in a speech to people who know better, demonstrates his ignorance of the subject matter (or at least the ignorance of his speech writers), and casts doubt on his over-all understanding of the asylum system.
Mr. Sessions also says that our asylum system is “overloaded with fake claims.” But how does he know this? And what exactly is a fake claim? In recent years, something like 40 to 50% of asylum cases have been granted. Are all those adjudicators being fooled? And what about denied cases? Are they all worthy of denial? There is, of course, anecdotal evidence of fraud—and in his talk, Mr. Sessions cites a few examples of “dirty” attorneys and applicants. But a few anecdotes does not compel a conclusion that the entire system is “subject to rampant abuse and fraud.” I can point to anecdotes as well. I’ve seen cases granted that I suspected were false, but I’ve also seen cases denied that were pretty clearly grant-worthy. While I do think we need to remain vigilant for fraud, I have not seen evidence to support the type of wide-spread fraud referenced by the Attorney General.
Finally, Mr. Sessions opines that “smart attorneys have exploited loopholes in the law, court rulings, and lack of resources to substantially undermine the intent of Congress.” So court rulings undermine the intent of Congress? Any attorney who makes such a statement casts doubt on that lawyer’s competence and devotion to the rule of law, but when the Attorney General says it, we have real cause for concern. Thousands of federal court rulings—including from the U.S. Supreme Court—have interpreted our nation’s immigration laws (and all our other laws too). That is what courts do, and that is how the intent of Congress is interpreted and implemented in real-world situations. Attorneys who rely on court decisions are not “exploit[ing] loopholes in the law,” we are following the law.
These are all pretty basic points, and it strikes me that when it comes to asylum, Mr. Sessions doesn’t get it. He seems not to understand the role of Congress, the courts, and lawyers in the asylum process. And he certainly doesn’t understand the benefits our country receives from the asylum system.
I’ve often said that President Trump’s maliciousness is tempered by his incompetence. With Attorney General Sessions, it is the opposite: His maliciousness is exacerbated by his incompetence. And I fear that asylum seekers–and our country’s devotion to the rule of law–will suffer because of it.”
Yup, sure got this one pegged right, Jason! “Maliciousness and incompetence” seem to be two of the key requirements for political appointees in the Trump Administration. I’ve pointed out before that Sessions demonstrates little legal knowledge — his memos, which disingenuously claim to be “law not policy,” are in fact almost pure policy largely devoid of legal reasoning.
Gonzo obviously arrived at the DOJ with a briefcase full of homophobic, xenophobic, White Nationalist memos already “pre-drafted” for him by folks like Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council and restrictionist immigration groups. In addition to lack of legal knowledge and basic honesty (his explanation today to Senator Franken about how his “Russia lie” during confirmation didn’t pass the “straight face” test), Sessions shows no visible signs of compassion, humanity, understanding of other viewpoints, fairness, or objectivity. He consistently smears immigrants (and by extension the entire Hispanic community), denies their achievements and contributions to America, and, like any bully, picks on the already limited rights of the most vulnerable in our community, gays, children, women, and asylum seekers.
Sessions doesn’t understand asylum because he makes no attempt to understand it. He merely approaches it from a position of bias, fear, and loathing.
“Amicus Invitation No. 17-10-17 AMICUS INVITATION (EXCEPTION TO THE 1-YEAR ASYLUM BAR), DUE November 16, 2017
OCTOBER 17, 2017
The Board of Immigration Appeals welcomes interested members of the public to file amicus curiae briefs discussing the below issue:
(1) Whether respondents who file an asylum application based on religion and coercive population control grounds more than 1 year after their arrival in the United States and demonstrate that they filed within a reasonable period of the changed circumstances as to their religion claim would be eligible to seek asylum based on both grounds, or whether they must also demonstrate that they filed within a reasonable period of the changed circumstances relating to their coercive population control claim in order to be eligible to seek asylum on that ground.
Request to Appear as Amicus Curiae: Members of the public who wish to appear as amicus curiae before the Board must submit a Request to Appear as Amicus Curiae (“Request to Appear”) pursuant to Chapter 2.10, Appendix B (Directory), and Appendix F (Sample Cover Page) of the Board of Immigration Appeals Practice Manual. The Request to Appear must explicitly identify that it is responding to Amicus Invitation No. 17-10-17. The decision to accept or deny a Request to Appear is within the sole discretion of the Board. Please see Chapter 2.10 of the Board Practice Manual.
Filing a Brief: Please file your amicus brief in conjunction with your Request to Appear pursuant to Chapter 2.10 of the Board of Immigration Appeals Practice Manual. The brief accompanying the Request to Appear must explicitly identify that it is responding to Amicus Invitation No. 17-10-17. An amicus curiae brief is helpful to the Board if it presents relevant legal arguments that the parties have not already addressed. However, an amicus brief must be limited to a legal discussion of the issue(s) presented. The decision to accept or deny an amicus brief is within the sole discretion of the Board. The Board will not consider a brief that exceeds the scope of the amicus invitation.
Request for Case Information: Additional information about the case may be available. Please contact the Amicus Clerk by phone or mail (see contact information below) for this information prior to filing your Request to Appear and brief.
Page Limit: The Board asks that amicus curiae briefs be limited to 30 double-spaced pages.
Deadline: Please file a Request to Appear and brief with the Clerk’s Office at the address below by November 16, 2017. Your request must be received at the Clerk’s Office within the prescribed time limit. Motions to extend the time for filing a Request to Appear and brief are disfavored. The briefs or extension request must be RECEIVED at the Board on or before the due date. It is not sufficient simply to mail the documents on time. We strongly urge the use of an overnight courier service to ensure the timely filing of your brief.
Service: Please mail three copies of your Request to Appear and brief to the Clerk’s Office at the address below. If the Clerk’s Office accepts your brief, it will then serve a copy on the parties and provide parties time to respond.
Joint Requests: The filing of parallel and identical or similarly worded briefs from multiple amici is disfavored. Rather, collaborating amici should submit a joint Request to Appear and brief. See generally Chapter 2.10 (Amicus Curiae).
Notice: A Request to Appear may be filed by an attorney, accredited representative, or an organization represented by an attorney registered to practice before the Board pursuant to 8 C.F.R. § 1292.1(f). A Request to Appear filed by a person specified under 8 U.S.C. § 1367(a)(1) will not be considered.
Attribution: Should the Board decide to publish a decision, the Board may, at its discretion, name up to three attorneys or representatives. If you wish a different set of three names or you have a preference on the order of the three names, please specify the three names in your Request to Appear and brief.
Clerk’s Office Contact and Filing Address:
To send by courier or overnight delivery service, or to deliver in person:
Board of Immigration Appeals Clerk’s Office
5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 2000 Falls Church, VA 22041 703-605-1007
Business hours: Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Fee: A fee is not required for the filing of a Request to Appear and amicus brief.”
Few Americans know about our nation’s system of immigrant detention centers. Each year, the US government locks up roughly 440,000 immigrants in over 200 immigrant prisons. These facilities have grown into a highly privatized, lucrative, and abusive industry that profits off the misery of immigrants awaiting deportation.
Here at Brave New Films, we’re doing everything we can to expose the abuses of the deportation-industrial complex. In our new film, Immigrant Prisons, we explore conditions inside the detention centers, exposing substandard medical care, widespread physical and sexual abuse, virtual slave-labor working conditions and more. These abuses happen behind closed doors with little to no oversight.
Our film, created in partnership with advocates for detainee rights, is shining a light on a particularly dark corner of the American justice system. Watch now and share with friends.
It’s important to remember that immigration detention is a civil form of confinement. “This is not criminal custody, this is not someone who’s been convicted of a crime,” says attorney James Fife of the Federal Defenders of San Diego. “This is just someone who’s being held for the government’s convenience so that the person’s available” for processing, said Fife.
Unlike with criminals who have been convicted of a crime, there’s no time limit on how long people can be held at immigration detention centers. It’s hard to believe, but immigrants can be locked up indefinitely without a criminal offense or bond hearing. In the film we highlight the case of a Kenyan immigrant, Sylvester, who spent nine years and four months in immigration detention. Another immigrant describes her time in detention as being “like a legal kidnapping.”
Immigrant detention centers are overseen by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. Since ICE was created in 2003, there have been 177 confirmed deaths in detention centers. Medical neglect is the greatest contributing factor.
In the film, we speak with Gerard, a former detainee who almost died during his 11 months at a California facility. He was denied medical care for two weeks as a severe infection spread in his body. The private-facility managers kept ignoring his requests until it was nearly too late. Such medical neglect contributed to nearly half of all deaths in immigrant prisons.
Christina Fialho, the executive director of CIVIC and a leading advocate for detainee rights, says that “denial of medical care at immigration-detention facilities is routine.” This substandard medical care is often accompanied by substandard food, unsanitary water, and generally unhygienic living conditions.
Fialho says that immigrant-detention centers are also plagued by abuse. “Guards with little to no training are kicking, hitting, sexually assaulting people in immigration detention,” she says. Each year thousands of complaints alleging sexual and physical abuse and substandard medical care are filed with authorities, but very few cases are ever investigated.
Adding insult to injury, detainees at for-profit detention centers are often coerced into working for virtually no money. The for-profit companies that run the facilities have all the wrong incentives and a captive workforce at their disposal. The food they provide detainees is frequently so inadequate that detainees feel they have no choice but to work for $1 a day to buy additional food from the commissary, often at inflated prices. Fialho doesn’t mince words about this practice: “Detention centers are starving people into working in order to then cut staff salaries.”
The two largest private detention-center operators, CCA and Geo Group, got started in the 1980s. In fact, CCA’s very first contract was for locking up immigrants. In the past 20 years, the two companies have made over $12 billion in profits, largely from immigrant detention.
Wrongful-death lawsuits and class-action lawsuits alleging forced labor have helped expose abuses at private immigrant prisons, but systemic reforms are needed. Stock in CCA and Geo Group slid after the Obama administration moved to end the use of private prisons by the federal government, but the stocks rocketed up after the 2016 election. President Trump, who received major contributions from the private-prison industry, reversed President Obama’s order on private prison use and has proposed a 25 percent increase in ICE’s budget.
Immigrant Prisons is our first film on the deportation industrial complex. In future films we’ll explore how private-prison companies promote policies and procedures that line their own pockets, and profile the individuals who are working to perpetuate our abusive immigration-enforcement system.
Unlike the private prison industry, we don’t have millions to spend on advertising and lobbying. But there is a powerful grassroots movement rising up in this country to take on abuses in our immigration system.
I hope you will join the movement and share Immigrant Prisons with your networks. You can also screen the film for free at schools, houses of worship, and community meetings for local media and elected officials through our Brave New Educators program. Together we can bring detained immigrants out from the darkness and provide them with the respect and dignity that we owe to all people.
We premiered the film last night in Santa Monica with our friends at The Young Turks. Cenk Uygur moderated a panel which included Pastor Noe who was recently released from an immigrant prison. If you or someone you know has a powerful story about immigrant prisons, please get in touch.
“Washington (CNN)The administration’s top immigration enforcement official on Tuesday said his agency will vastly step up crackdowns on employers who hire undocumented immigrants — a new front in President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration agenda.
Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Tom Homan spoke at the conservative Heritage Foundation and was asked whether his agency would do more to target not just undocumented workers, but their places of work.
Homan said he has instructed Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative unit of ICE, to potentially quintuple worksite enforcement actions next year.
He said he recently asked HSI to audit how much of their time is spent on work site enforcement, and said he has ordered that to increase “by four to five times.”
“We’ve already increased the number of inspections in work site operations, you will see that significantly increase this next fiscal year,” Homan promised, saying the goal is to remove the “magnet” drawing people to enter the US illegally.
And he said his agency would approach the task in a way that’s “a little different” than in the past, by going just as aggressively after employees.
“Not only are we going to prosecute the employers that hire illegal workers, we’re going to detain and remove the illegal alien workers,” Homan said.
“When we find you at a work site, we’re no longer going to turn our heads,” Homan elaborated after the event. “We’ll go after the employer who knowingly hires an illegal alien … but we’re always going to arrest a person who is here illegally. That is our job.”
ICE still has posted the previous administration’s policy on work site enforcement, which prioritizes targeting employers that use undocumented labor as a business model, engage in human smuggling, mistreat employees, commit identity fraud, launder money or are otherwise involved in criminal activity.
ICE spokeswoman Liz Johnson said the strategy “continues to address both” employers and employees.
“While we focus on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, under the current administration’s enforcement priorities, workers encountered during these investigations who are unauthorized to remain in the United States are also subject to administrative arrest and removal from the country,” Johnson said.
According to a 2015 Congressional Research Service report, ICE arrested 541 individuals on immigration charges and 362 individuals on criminal charges in work site actions in 2014, continuing a downward trend in actions from a peak in 2011.”
Been there, done that, likely to be just as unsuccessful and wasteful as ever. Indeed, back in the late 1970’s while I was INS Deputy General Counsel we developed the famous (or infamous, depending on which side one was on) “Blackie’s Warrants” (referencing the then well-known but now defunct Washington, D.C. eatery “Blackie’s House of Beef” a noted employer of undocumented workers) for entry into workplaces for civil immigration enforcement purposes. Workplace operations were a fertile source of Federal Court litigation, alleged constitutional violations, some class actions and injunctions, but not many final orders of removal.
Compounding the problem — lots of the employers whose workers will be hauled off in cuffs are likely to be GOP donors who aren’t going to like it when the law is enforced against them, rather than just food cart operators and lawn mowers. My recollection is that politicos of both parties weren’t too happy either, particularly when key industries like tourism, restaurants, and hotels were hit during “prime season.” But, why not keep repeating the same failed “strategies” over and over again just to prove that they still don’t work?
Let’s see, with 630,000+ pending cases in U.S. Immigration Court and counting, some of these new “employee cases” might come up for trial by the end of 2020, with luck. That is, unless under Sessions the DOJ does yet another round of “ADR.” But, since many of the folks now working in the U.S. probably have at least arguable avenues for relief, most cases probably will take even longer. And, of course, in a “saturated” court system, every “low priority” case mindlessly placed on the docket displaces another case, which might be older or higher priority. But, that’s what “Gonzo enforcement” and wasting Government resources is all about.
Oh yeah, we also happen to have extremely low unemployment. That probably means that no “other U.S. workers” are going to be rushing in to fill those jobs supposedly vacated by Homan’s operations. Been there, done that too — never saw it work successfully in the long run — particularly since the Trumpsters seem determined to cut off or diminish legal work visa opportunities.
Matter Of TAVDIDISHVILI, 27 I&N Dec. 142 (BIA 2017).
“Criminally negligent homicide in violation of section 125.10 of the New York Penal Law is categorically not a crime involving moral turpitude, because it does not require that a perpetrator have a sufficiently culpable mental state.”
BIA PANEL: Appellate Immigration Judges COLE, PAULEY, and WENDTLAND.
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.
“The Department of Justice (DOJ) is reportedly intending to implement numerical quotas on Immigration Judges as a way of evaluating their performance. This move would undermine judicial independence, threaten the integrity of the immigration court system, and cause massive due process violations.
As it currently stands, Immigration Judges are not rated based on the number of cases they complete within a certain time frame. The DOJ – currently in settlement negotiations with the union for immigration judges, the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) – is now trying to remove those safeguards, declaring a need to accelerate deportations to reduce the court’s case backlog and ensure more individuals are deported.
This move is unprecedented, as immigration judges have been exempt from performance evaluations tied to case completion rates for over two decades. According to the NAIJ, the basis for the exemption was “rooted in the notion that ratings created an inherent risk of actual or perceived influence by supervisors on the work of judges, with the potential of improperly affecting the outcome of cases.”
If case completion quotas are imposed, Immigration Judges will be pressured to adjudicate cases more quickly, unfairly fast-tracking the deportation of those with valid claims for relief. Asylum seekers may need more time to obtain evidence that will strengthen their case or find an attorney to represent them. Only 37 percent of all immigrants (and merely 14 percent of detained immigrants) are able to secure legal counsel in their removal cases, even though immigrants with attorneys fare much better at every stage of the court process.
If judges feel compelled to dispose of cases quickly decreasing the chances that immigrants will be able to get an attorney, immigrants will pay the price, at incredible risk to their livelihood.
The Justice Department has expressed concern in recent weeks about the enormous backlog of 600,000 cases pending before the immigration courts and may see numerical quotas as an easy fix. Just this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called on Congress to tighten up rules for people seeking to “game” the system by exploiting loopholes in a “broken” and extremely backlogged process. However, punishing immigration judges with mandatory quotas is not the solution.
The announcement, however, has sparked condemnation by immigration judges and attorneys alike; in fact, the national IJ Union maintains that such a move means “trying to turn immigration judges into assembly-line workers.”
Tying the number of cases completed to the evaluation of an individual immigration judge’s performance represents the administration’s latest move to accelerate deportations at the expense of due process. Judges may be forced to violate their duty to be fair and impartial in deciding their cases.”
The backlog problems in U.S. Immigration Court have nothing to do with “low productivity” by U.S. Immigration Judges.
It’s a result of a fundamentally flawed system created by Congress, years of inattention and ineffective oversight by Congress, political interference by the DOJ with court dockets and scheduling, years of “ADR,” and glaringly incompetent so-called judicial management by DOJ. There are “too many chefs stirring the pot” and too few “real cooks” out there doing the job.
The DOJ’s inappropriate “Vatican style” bureaucracy has produced a bloated and detached central administrative staff trying unsuccessfully to micromanage a minimalist, starving court system in a manner that keeps enforcement-driven politicos happy and, therefore, their jobs intact.
How could a court system set up in this absurd manner possibly “guarantee fairness and due process for all?” It can’t, and has stopped even pretending to be focused on that overriding mission! And what competence would Jeff Sessions (who was turned down for a Federal judgeship by members of his own party because of his record of bias) and administrators at EOIR HQ in Falls Church, who don’t actually handle Immigration Court dockets on a regular basis, have to establish “quotas” for those who do? No, it’s very obvious that the “quotas” will be directed at only one goal: maximizing removals while minimizing due process
When EOIR was established during the Reagan Administration the DOJ recognized that case completion quotas would interfere with judicial independence. What’s changed in the intervening 34 years?
Two things have changed: 1) the overtly political climate within the DOJ which now sees the Immigration Courts as part of the immigration enforcement apparatus (as it was before EOIR was created); and 2) the huge backlogs resulting from years of ADR, “inbreeding,” and incompetent management by the DOJ. This, in turn, requires the DOJ to find “scapegoats” like Immigration Judges, asylum applicants, unaccompanied children, and private attorneys to shift the blame for their own inappropriate behavior and incompetent administration of the Immigration Courts.
In U.S. Government parlance, there’s a term for that: fraud, waste, and abuse!
The Oct. 13 news article “Citing ‘rampant abuse and fraud,’ Sessions urges tighter asylum rules” quoted Attorney General Jeff Sessions as saying that many asylum claims “lacked merit” and are “simply a ruse to enter the country illegally.” As one of the “dirty immigration lawyers” who has represented hundreds of asylum seekers, I find these claims wildly inaccurate and dangerous. When I ask my clients, the majority of them children, why they came to the came to the United States, they invariably tell me the same thing: I had no choice — I was running for my
life. Indeed, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 58 per cent of Northern Triangle and Mexican children displaced in the United States suffered or faced harms that indicated need for international protection. These children are not gaming the system; they are seeking refuge from rampant gender based violence, MS-13 death threats and child abuse.
While I like to think I am a “smart” attorney, even immigrants represented by the smartest attorneys do not stand a chance in places such as Atlanta, where the asylum grant rate is as low as 2 per cent. Yes, reform is needed, but the only reform we should consider is one that provides more robust protections and recognizes our moral and legal obligation to protect asylum seekers.
Nickole Miller, Baltimore The writer is a lawyer with the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Nickole speaks truth. Almost all of the “credible fear” reviews involving folks from the Northern Triangle that I performed as a U.S. Immigration Judge, both at the border and in Arlington, presented plausible claims for at least protection under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”) if the rules were properly applied (which they often are not in Immigration Court — there is a strong bias against granting even the minimal protection that CAT provides). Many also had plausible gender-based, religious, or political asylum claims if they were allowed to gather the necessary evidence.
Whether ultimately successful or not, these individuals were clearly entitled to their day in court, to be listened to by an unbiased judicial decision maker, to have the reasons for the decision to accept or reject them carefully explained in language they can understand, and to have a right to appeal to a higher authority.
Of course, without a lawyer and some knowledge of the complicated CAT regulations and administrative and Federal Court case-law, a CAT applicant would have about “0 chance” of success. The same is true of asylum which requires proof not only of the possibility of future harm, but also proof of causal relationship to a “protected ground” an arcane concept which most unfamiliar with asylum law cannot grasp.
In other words, our system sends back individuals who have established legitimate fears of death, rape, or torture, just because they fail to show that it is “on account” of race, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. These concepts are often applied, particularly in Immigration Court where respondents are unrepresented, in the manner “most unfavorable” to the claimant. This is in direct violation of the U.N. guidance which holds that credible asylum seekers should be given “the benefit of the doubt.”
Moreover, assuming that we have the “right” to send good folks, who have done no wrong, back to be harmed in the Northern Triangle, that doesn’t mean that we should be doing so as either a legal or moral matter. That’s what devices like Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”), Deferred Enforced Departure (“DED”), and just “plain old Prosecutorial Discretion (“PD”) are for: to save lives and maintain the status quo while deferring the more difficult decisions on permanent protection until later. Obviously, this would also allow at least minimal protections to be granted by DHS outside the Immigration Court system, thus relieving the courts of thousands of cases, but without endangering lives, legal rights, or due process.
I agree with Nickole that the “asylum reform” needed is exactly the opposite of that being proposed by restrictionist opportunists like Trump and Sessions. The first step would be insuring that individuals seeking protections in Immigration Court have a right to a hearing before a real, impartial judicial official who will apply the law fairly and impartially, and who does not work for the Executive Branch and therefore is more likely to be free from the type of anti-asylum and anti-migrant bias overtly demonstrated by Sessions and other enforcement officials.
“An alien “has previously been admitted to the United States as an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence” within the meaning of section 212(h) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1182(h) (2012), if he or she was inspected, admitted, and physically entered the country as a lawful permanent resident at any time in the past, even if such admission was not the alien’s most recent acquisition of lawful permanent resident status.”
BIA PANEL: APPELLATE IMMIGRATION JUDGES PAULEY, WENDTLAND, and GREER