REUTERS: Neither Rhyme Nor Reason Apparent In DHS Decisions to Undo Prosecutorial Discretion

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-deportations-exclusiv-idUSKBN1902I4

Mica Rosenberg and  Reade Levinson report from Reuters:

“In September 2014, Gilberto Velasquez, a 38-year-old house painter from El Salvador, received life-changing news: The U.S. government had decided to shelve its deportation action against him.

The move was part of a policy change initiated by then-President Barack Obama in 2011 to pull back from deporting immigrants who had formed deep ties in the United States and whom the government considered no threat to public safety. Instead, the administration would prioritize illegal immigrants who had committed serious crimes.

Last month, things changed again for the painter, who has lived in the United States illegally since 2005 and has a U.S.-born child. He received news that the government wanted to put his deportation case back on the court calendar, citing another shift in priorities, this time by President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration has moved to reopen the cases of hundreds of illegal immigrants who, like Velasquez, had been given a reprieve from deportation, according to government data and court documents reviewed by Reuters and interviews with immigration lawyers.

Trump signaled in January that he planned to dramatically widen the net of illegal immigrants targeted for deportation, but his administration has not publicized its efforts to reopen immigration cases.

It represents one of the first concrete examples of the crackdown promised by Trump and is likely to stir fears among tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who thought they were safe from deportation.

While cases were reopened during the Obama administration as well, it was generally only if an immigrant had committed a serious crime, immigration attorneys say. The Trump administration has sharply increased the number of cases it is asking the courts to reopen, and its targets appear to include at least some people who have not committed any crimes since their cases were closed.

Between March 1 and May 31, prosecutors moved to reopen 1,329 cases, according to a Reuters’ analysis of data from the Executive Office of Immigration Review, or EOIR. The Obama administration filed 430 similar motions during the same period in 2016.

Jennifer Elzea, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed the agency was now filing motions with immigration courts to reopen cases where illegal immigrants had “since been arrested for or convicted of a crime.”

It is not possible to tell from the EOIR data how many of the cases the Trump administration is seeking to reopen involve immigrants who committed crimes after their cases were closed.

Attorneys interviewed by Reuters say indeed some of the cases being reopened are because immigrants were arrested for serious crimes, but they are also seeing cases involving people who haven’t committed crimes or who were cited for minor violations, like traffic tickets.

“This is a sea change, said attorney David Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “Before, if someone did something after the case was closed out that showed that person was a threat, then it would be reopened. Now they are opening cases just because they want to deport people.”

Elzea said the agency reviews cases, “to see if the basis for prosecutorial discretion is still appropriate.”

 

POLICY SHIFTS

After Obama announced his shift toward targeting illegal immigrants who had committed serious crimes, prosecutors embraced their new discretion to close cases.

Between January 2012 and Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, the government shelved some 81,000 cases, according to Reuters’ data analysis. These so-called “administrative closures” did not extend full legal status to those whose cases were closed, but they did remove the threat of imminent deportation.

Trump signed an executive order overturning the Obama-era policy on Jan. 25. Under the new guidelines, while criminals remain the highest priority for deportation, anyone in the country illegally is a potential target.

In cases reviewed by Reuters, the administration explicitly cited Trump’s executive order in 30 separate motions as a reason to put the immigrant back on the court docket. (For a link to an excerpted document: tmsnrt.rs/2sI6aby)

Since immigration cases aren’t generally public, Reuters was able to review only cases made available by attorneys.

In the 32 reopened cases examined by Reuters:

–22 involved immigrants who, according to their attorneys, had not been in trouble with the law since their cases were closed.

–Two of the cases involved serious crimes committed after their cases were closed: domestic violence and driving under the influence.

–At least six of the cases involved minor infractions, including speeding after having unpaid traffic tickets, or driving without a valid license, according to the attorneys.

In Velasquez’s case, for example, he was cited for driving without a license in Tennessee, where illegal immigrants cannot get licenses, he said.

“I respect the law and just dedicate myself to my work,” he said. “I don’t understand why this is happening.”

Motions to reopen closed cases have been filed in 32 states, with the highest numbers in California, Florida and Virginia, according to Reuters’ review of EOIR data. The bulk of the examples reviewed by Reuters were two dozen motions sent over the span of a couple days by the New Orleans ICE office.

 

PUMPKIN SEED ARREST

Sally Joyner, an immigration attorney in Memphis, Tennessee said one of her Central American clients, who crossed the border with her children in 2013, was allowed to stay in the United States after the government filed a motion to close her case in December 2015.

Since crossing the border, the woman has not been arrested or had trouble with law enforcement, said Joyner, who asked that her client’s name not be used because of the pending legal action.

Nevertheless, on March 29, ICE filed a two-page motion to reopen the case against the woman and her children. When Joyner queried ICE, an official said the agency had been notified that her client had a criminal history in El Salvador, according to documents seen by Reuters.

The woman had been arrested for selling pumpkin seeds as an unauthorized street vendor. Government documents show U.S. authorities knew about the arrest before her case was closed.

Dana Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said that revisiting previously closed matters will add to a record backlog of 580,000 pending immigration cases.

“If we have to go back and review all of those decisions that were already made, it clearly generates more work,” she said. “It’s a judicial do-over.”

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I remember that during his confirmation hearings in the Senate, Secretary Kelly came across as someone who understood law enforcement priorities and the futility of “enforcement for enforcement’s sake.” But the “hallmarks” of the “Kelly DHS” have  been arbitrary and irrational enforcement, lack of transparency, lack of planning, general disregard of humane values, disrespect for migrants, waste of taxpayer dollars, and gross abuse of the U.S. Immigration Court’s docket.

PWS

06-09-17

David Leopold Warns About Possible Five-Point Attack On Immigrants By Attorney General Sessions

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/five-chilling-ways-senator-jeff-sessions-could-attack-immigrants-as-attorney-general_us_5870022ce4b099cdb0fd2ef7

“As the nation’s top lawyer, head of the immigration court, and civil rights officer, Jeff Sessions would have access to multiple tools to harm immigrants and undermine due process. Given his rhetoric and record as a United States Senator, as well as his association with anti-immigrant extremists, there is every reason to believe he would use all of them.

Here are five ways Sessions could attempt to undermine immigrants and immigration policy if confirmed as Attorney General:

Impose his radical, anti-immigrant ideology on decisions by the federal immigration courts;

Expand the number of immigrants who are deported even though they qualify for a green card or asylum;

Reduce access to legal counsel and information about immigrants’ legal rights;

Criminalize immigrants by bringing trumped up charges against ordinary workers; and

Strong arm state and local police to become Trump deportation agents

Of course, any attempt Sessions would make to undermine civil and due process rights will be met by strong litigation from the outside. But the U.S. Senate should block his confirmation from the start, as Senator Sessions is highly unqualified for this position and has showed a profound disregard for civil and human rights.”

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Sorry, David, but Jeff Sessions has the votes to be confirmed as the next Attorney General.  Those who don’t like that can rant, but that’s not going to change the reality that Donald Trump won the Presidential election and the Republicans firmly control both Houses of Congress.

When you lose elections at the national and state levels, like the Democrats did, you end up with next to no leverage on appointments or policies unless you can reach across the aisle and strike a chord with at least some Republicans.  Right now, it appears that all Republican Senators, and probably a few Democrats, ewill vote for Senator Sessions’s confirmation.  Whatever his pros and cons, Senator Sessions appears to have had the wisdom to be polite and cordial to his colleagues and to occasionally reach across the aisle on issues of common interest.  Rightly or wrongly, that seems to count for a lot when current or former Senators come up for confirmation to Executive Branch positions.

So barring a “bombshell” next week, and I must say his record has been “flyspecked” — regardless of what he put in the Judiciary Committee questionnaire — that’s unlikely.  For better or worse, Senator Session’s views on a wide variety of subjects and his conduct as a public servant over many decades are a matter of public record.  Nothing in that record seems to have given pause to any of his Republican Senate colleagues.

That being said, it woulds be nice to think that upon hearing some of the criticisms, Jeff Sessions will reflect on the huge differences between being a Senator from Alabama, the Attorney General of Alabama, and a U.S. Attorney for Alabama, and the wider responsibilities of being the chief law enforcement official, legal adviser, and litigator representing all of the People of the United States, not just the Trump Administration.

David is, of course, correct to focus on Attorney General Session’s vast authority over immigration.  He will control a huge and critically important U.S. Immigration Court System currently sporting a backlog of more than one-half million cases and suffering from chronically inadequate judicial administration and lack of basic technology like e-filing.  While there certainly is an interrelationship among civil rights, human rights, and due process in the Immigration Courts, there is every reason to believe that Attorney General Session’s biggest impact will be in the field of immigration.

If things go as David predicts, then the battle over fundamental fairness and due process in immigration policy and the Immigration Courts is likely to be fought out in the Article III Federal Courts, which, unlike the Immigration Courts, aren’t under Executive control.  That will have some drawbacks for everyone, but particularly for the Trump Administration.

And, if Sessions is wise, he’ll look back at what happened when the Bush Administration tried to promote a “rubber stamp” approach to justice and due process in the Immigration Courts.  The U.S. Courts of Appeals were outraged at the patent lack of due process and fundamental fairness as “not quite ready for prime time” cases were “streamlined” and thrown into the Courts of Appeals for review with glaring factual errors and remarkable legal defects. Not totally incidentally, this also dramatically increased their workload, with judicial review of immigration matters occupying a majority of the docket in several prominent circuits.

As a result, cases were returned to the Board of Immigration Appeals, who then returned them to the Immigration Courts for “re-dos,” in droves. The Courts of Appeals lost faith in the Executive’s ability to run a fundamentally fair, high quality Immigration Court System, and basically placed the Immigration Courts into “judicial receivership” until things stabilized at least somewhat. The waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars caused by this “haste makes waste” approach was beyond contemplation and, for a time, threatened to paralyze the entire American justice system.

Additionally, it would be a huge mistake for the Trump Administration to view the Bush Administration’s Immigration Court debacle as the product of “bleeding heart liberal appellate judges” appointed by President Bill Clinton.  The criticism from Article III Judges cut across political lines.  Two of the most outspoken judicial critics of the Bush Administration’s handling of the U.S. Immigration Courts were Republican appointees:  then Chief Judge John M. Walker, Jr. of the Second Circuit and Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit. Indeed, Judge Walker is a cousin of former President George H.W. Bush.

Obviously, those who favor greater immigration enforcement won the election and are going to have a chance to try out their policies. But, “enhanced enforcement” is likely to be effective only if we have a fair, impartial, and totally due process oriented Immigration Court System.

In other words, the Immigration Courts must be a “level playing field” with judges who, in the words of Chief Justice Roberts, play the role of “impartial umpires” between those seeking to stay in our country and those seeking to remove them.  Results from such a due-process oriented system would be more likely to inspire confidence from the U.S. Courts of Appeals, thereby increasing the stature of the Immigration Courts and their ability to achieve final resolutions at the initial, and most cost-efficient, level of our justice system.  Due process and fairness in the Immigration Court System should be a nonpartisan common interest no matter where one stands on other aspects of  the “immigration debate.”

We are about to find out what Attorney General Jeff Sessions has in mind for the U.S. Immigration Courts and the rest of the U.S. justice system.  I’m hoping for the best, but preparing to assert the essential constitutional requirement for due process in the Immigration Courts if, as David predicts, it comes under attack.

Due Process Forever!

PWS

01/07/16