Raphael Choi To Join Arlington Immigration Bench!

Congrats to fellow Badger Law grad Raphael Choi, currently the ICE Chief Counsel in Arlington. Our careers have been intertwined in a number of ways. As an Assistant Chief Counsel in NY, Raphael was the DHS attorney in the first case I heard as a U.S. Immigration Judge back in 2003. My colleagues at the NY Immigration Court had told me in advance that Raphael was one of the best in skills, demeanor, and commitment to fairness and due process.

As a Judge in Arlington, I always appreciated Raphael’s work and leadership, first as an Assistant Chief Counsel and then as Chief Counsel. During my tenure, he consistently took an effective, practical, humane approach to the prosecutor’s role. He also gave the ACCs  working for him a wide range of discretion in settling cases, waiving appeals, and offering PD. The Arlington OCC attracted some truly top flight legal talent, a number of whom went on to important positions at DHS, EOIR, DOJ, the Department of State, and the private sector.

Congrats again and good luck, Raphael. Due Process Forever!

 

PWS

08-08-17

 

 

THE ASYLUMIST: The Importance Of Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect & Collegiality In Immigration Court

http://www.asylumist.com/2017/06/08/us-versus-them-in-immigration-court/#comments

Jason Dzubow writes in The Asylumist:

“Unlike perhaps some areas of law, immigration law has a strong ideological component. Many of the attorneys who represent immigrants do so because they believe in human rights and they want to keep families together. For such attorneys—and I include myself among them—our work represents an expression of our moral and/or religious values. In other words, it’s more than just a job; it’s a mission.

Does this make it harder for us to work cooperatively with opposing counsel (DHS)? Is it more urgent that we do so? For me, the answer to both these questions is yes. When our clients’ lives and futures are on the line, it can be very difficult to maintain a cordial relationship with a government attorney who is fighting to have that client deported. But even in the hardest-fought case, there is value in maintaining lines of communication. For example, even where the DHS attorney will not compromise and is fighting all-out for removal, there still exists the possibility of stipulating to evidence and witnesses, and of a post-order stay of removal. Severing the connection does not serve the client (though it may satisfy the ego), and certainly won’t help future clients, and so to me, there is little value in burning bridges, even when I believe DHS’s position is unjust.

All that said, there is no doubt that we will often disagree with our opposing counsel, and that we will fight as hard as we can for our clients. This is also a duty under the Rules of Professional Conduct (zealous advocacy), and for many of us, it is an expression of our deeply held belief in Justice.

With the ascension of the Trump Administration, and its more aggressive approach towards non-citizens, I believe it is more important than ever for us lawyers to keep good relationships with our DHS counterparts. While some government attorneys are glad to be “unleashed” and to step-up deportation efforts, many others are uncomfortable with the Administration’s scorched-Earth strategy. These DHS attorneys (and I suspect they are the majority) take seriously their obligation to do justice; not simply to remove everyone that ICE can get their hands on.

While the environment has become more difficult, I plan to continue my Old School approach. It works for me, it has worked for my clients, and I think it is particularly crucial in the current atmosphere. We lawyers–the immigration bar and DHS–should continue to lead by example, and continue to maintain the high ethical standards that our profession sets for us. In this way, we can help serve as a counter-balance to our country’s leaders, whose divisive, ends-justify-the-means approach has no use for the basic principles of morality or comity that have long served our profession and our democracy.”

**********************************************

Read Jason’s complete blog at the link.

This is terrific advice for lawyers and judges, particularly those just starting out.

Fairness, scholarship, timeliness, respect and teamwork are the things I have tried to promote throughout my career. I found all of them at the Arlington Immigration Court. “No way” I would have lasted 13 years on the trial bench  without lots of help and cooperation from the whole “court team.”

PWS

06-14-17

 

Here’s My Keynote Address From Today’s FBA Immigration Law Conference In Denver, CO!

LIFE AT EOIR – PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE

By

Paul Wickham Schmidt

Retired U.S. Immigration Judge

Keynote Address

2017 Immigration Law Conference

Denver, CO

May 12, 2017

INTRODUCTION

Good afternoon. Thank you so much for inviting me. Its an honor to appear before you.

Funny thing happened to me on the way to this conference. When I arrived at the airport yesterday afternoon, my good friend Judge Lory Rosenberg rushed up to me at baggage claim and said “Oh, I see we’re having you for lunch!” I said “What?” She said “You’re our keynote speaker at lunch tomorrow.” I scoffed at the idea, saying I might be on the after lunch panel with her, but that was it. However, when I actually took the time to look at the program I saw that certainly not for the first time, Lory was right. Unbeknownst to me I was, in fact, listed as the keynote speaker.

I’ve composed this speech on my I-pad, which I’m using as a teleprompter. As you know, those of us who worked at EOIR aren’t used to this new-fangled technology. So, please bear with me.

As we get started, I’d like all of you to join me in recognizing my friend and former colleague Judge Larry Burman for his tireless efforts to make the ILS the best section in the FBA. In the later years, I tried very hard to avoid being at court at nights, weekends, and holidays. But, occasionally I had to go pick up my cellphone or something else I had inadvertently left in my office. And, who should be there but Larry. And he was always working on a FBA project, the Green Card, Conference Planning, recruiting new members, etc. So, please join me in a round of applause for Judge Burman for all he has done for promoting productive dialogue and improving the practice of immigration law.

Now, this is when I used to give my comprehensive disclaimer providing plausible deniabilityfor everyone in the Immigration Court System if I happened to say anything inconvenient or controversial. But, now that Im retired, we can skip that part.

My speech is entitled: Life At EOIR, Past Present, and Future.I will start by introducing myself to you and telling you a bit about how my life and career have been intertwined with EOIR. Then I will briefly address five things: the court systems vision, the judges role, my judicial philosophy, what needs to be done to reclaim the due process vision of the Immigration Courts, and how you can get involved.

CAREER SUMMARY

I graduated in 1970 from Lawrence University a small liberal arts college in Appleton, Wisconsin, where I majored in history. My broad liberal arts education and the intensive writing and intellectual dialogue involved were the best possible preparation for all that followed.

I then attended the University of Wisconsin School of Law in Madison, Wisconsin, graduating in 1973. Go Badgers!

I began my legal career in 1973 as an Attorney Advisor at the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) at the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) under the Attorney Generals Honors Program. Admittedly, however, the BIAs Executive Assistant culled my resume from the Honors Program reject pile.One of my staff colleagues at that time, now retired U.S Immigration Judge Joan Churchill, is right here in the audience.

At that time, before the creation of the Executive Office for Immigration Review – “EOIR” for you Winnie the Pooh fans — the Board had only five members and nine staff attorneys, as compared to todays cast of thousands. Among other things, I worked on the famous, or infamous, John Lennon case, which eventually was reversed by the Second Circuit in an opinion by the late Chief Judge Irving Kaufman.[1] As an interesting historical footnote, that case was argued in the Circuit by then Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Maguire Dunne, who went on to become a distinguished Member of the BIA and one of my Vice Chairs during my tenure as Chairman.

I also shared an office with my good friend, the late Lauri Steven Filppu, who later became a Deputy Director of the Office of Immigration Litigation (OIL) in the DOJs Civil Division and subsequently served with me on the BIA. The Chairman of the BIA at that time was the legendary immigration guru” Maurice A. “Maury” Roberts. Chairman Roberts took Lauri and me under this wing and shared with us his love of immigration law, his focus on sound scholarship, his affinity for clear, effective legal writing, and his humane sense of fairness and justice for the individuals coming before the BIA.

In 1976, I moved to the Office of General Counsel at the “Legacy” Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”). There, I worked for another legendary figure in immigration law, then General Counsel Sam Bernsen. Sam was a naturalized citizen who started his career as a 17-year-old messenger at Ellis Island and worked his way to the top of the Civil Service ranks. Perhaps not incidentally, he was also a good friend of Chairman Roberts.

At that time, the Office of General Counsel was very small, with a staff of only three attorneys in addition to the General Counsel and his Deputy, another mentor and immigration guru, Ralph Farb. At one time, all three of us on the staff sat in the same office! In 1978, Ralph was appointed to the BIA, and I succeeded him as Deputy General Counsel.   I also served as the Acting General Counsel for several very lengthy periods in both the Carter and Reagan Administrations.

Not long after I arrived, the General Counsel position became political. The incoming Administration encouraged Sam to retire, and he went on to become a name and Managing Partner of the Washington, D.C. office of the powerhouse immigration boutique Fragomen, Del Rey, and Bernsen. He was replaced by my good friend and colleague David Crosland, now an Immigration Judge in Baltimore, who selected me as his Deputy. Dave was also the Acting Commissioner of Immigration during the second half of the Carter Administration, one of the periods when I was the Acting General Counsel.

The third General Counsel that I served under was one of my most unforgettable characters:the late, great Maurice C. “Mike” Inman, Jr. He was known, not always affectionately, as Iron Mike.His management style was something of a cross between the famous coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, and the fictional Mafia chieftain, Don Corleone. As my one of my colleagues said of Iron Mike:” “He consistently and unreasonably demanded that we do the impossible, and most of the time we succeeded.Although we were totally different personalities, Mike and I made a good team, and we accomplished amazing things. It was more or less a good cop, bad coproutine, and Ill let you guess who played which role. You can check the “Inman era” out with retired Immigration Judge William P. Joyce, who is sitting in the audience and shared the experience with me.

Among other things, I worked on the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Cuban Boatlift, the Refugee Act of 1980, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (“IRCA”), the creation of the Office of Immigration Litigation (OIL), and establishing what has evolved into the modern Chief Counsel system at Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”).

I also worked on the creation of EOIR, which combined the Immigration Courts, which had previously been part of the INS, with the BIA to improve judicial independence. Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, the leadership and impetus for getting the Immigration Judges into a separate organization came from Mike and the late Al Nelson, who was then the Commissioner of Immigration. Prosecutors by position and litigators by trade, they saw the inherent conflicts and overall undesirability, from a due process and credibility standpoint, of having immigration enforcement and impartial court adjudication in the same division. I find it troubling that officials at todays DOJ arent able to understand and act appropriately on the glaring conflict of interest currently staring them in their collective faces.

By the time I left in 1987, the General Counsels Office, largely as a result of the enactment of IRCA and new employer sanctions provisions, had dozens of attorneys, organized into divisions, and approximately 600 attorneys in the field program, the vast majority of whom had been hired during my tenure.

In 1987, I left INS and joined Jones Days DC Office, a job that I got largely because of my wife Cathy and her old girl network.I eventually became a partner specializing in business immigration, multinational executives, and religious workers. Among my major legislative projects on behalf of our clients were the special religious worker provisions added to the law by the Immigration Act of 1990 and the “Special Immigrant Juvenile” provisions of the INA with which some of you might be familiar.

Following my time at Jones Day, I succeeded my former boss and mentor Sam Bernsen as the Managing Partner of the DC Office of Fragomen, Del Rey & Bernsen, the leading national immigration boutique, where I continued to concentrate on business immigration. You will note that immigration is a small community; you need to be nice to everyone because you keep running into the same folks over and over again in your career. While at Fragomen, I also assisted the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) on a number of projects and was an adviser to the LawyersCommittee, now known as Human Rights First.

In 1995, then Attorney General Janet Reno appointed me Chairman of the BIA. Not surprisingly, Janet Reno, who recently died, was my favorite among all of the Attorneys General I worked under. I felt that she supported me personally, and she supported the concept of an independent judiciary, even though she didnt always agree with our decisions and vice versa.

She was the only Attorney General who consistently came to our Investitures and Immigration Judge Conferences in person and mixed and mingled with the group. She was also kind to our clerical staff and invited them downtown to meet personally with her. She had a saying equal justice for allthat she worked into almost all of her speeches, and which I found quite inspirational. She was also hands down the funniest former Attorney General to appear on Saturday Night Live,doing her famous Janet Reno Dance Partyroutine with Will Farrell immediately following the end of her lengthy tenure at the DOJ.

Among other things, I oversaw an expansion of the Board from the historical five members to more than 20 members, a more open selection system that gave some outside experts a chance to serve as appellate judges on the Board, the creation of a supervisory structure for the expanding staff, the establishment of a unified Clerks Office to process appeals, implementation of a true judicial format for published opinions, institution of bar coding for the tens of thousands of files, the establishment of a pro bono program to assist unrepresented respondents on appeal, the founding of the Virtual Law Library, electronic en banc voting and e-distribution of decisions to Immigration Judges, and the publication of the first BIA Practice Manual, which actually won a Plain Language Awardfrom then Vice President Gore.

I also wrote the majority opinion in my favorite case, Matter of Kasinga, establishing for the first time that the practice of female genital mutilation (“FGM”) is persecution” for asylum purposes.[2] As another historical footnote, the losingattorney in that case was none other than my good friend, then INS General Counsel David A. Martin, a famous immigration professor at the University of Virginia Law who personally argued before the Board.

In reality, however, by nominally losingthe case, David actually won the war for both of us, and more important, for the cause of suffering women throughout the world. We really were on the same side in Kasinga. Without Davids help, who knows if I would have been able to get an almost-united Board to make such a strong statement on protection of vulnerable women.

During my tenure as Chairman, then Chief Immigration Judge (now BIA Member) Michael J. Creppy and I were founding members of the International Association of Refugee Law Judges (“IARLJ”). This organization, today headquartered in The Hague, promotes open dialogue and exchange of information among judges from many different countries adjudicating claims under the Geneva Convention on Refugees. Since my retirement, I have rejoined the IARLJ as a Vice President for the Americas.

In 2001, at the beginning of the Bush Administration, I stepped down as BIA Chairman, but remained as a Board Member until April 2003. At that time, then Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was not a fan of my opinions, invited me to vacate the Board and finish my career at the Arlington Immigration Court, where I remained until my retirement on June 30 of last year. So, Im one of the few ever to become an Immigration Judge without applying for the job. Or, maybe my opinions, particularly the dissents, were my application and I just didnt recognize it at the time. But, it turned out to be a great fit, and I truly enjoyed my time at the Arlington Court.

I have also taught Immigration Law at George Mason School of Law in 1989 and Refugee Law and Policyat Georgetown Law from 2012 through 2014. Ive just agreed to resume my Adjunct position with Georgetown Law for a compressed summer course” in “Immigration Law & Policy.

Please keep in mind that if everyone agreed with me, my career wouldnt have turned out the way it did. On the other hand, if nobody agreed with me, my career wouldnt have turned out the way it did. In bureaucratic terms, I was a “survivor.” I have also, at some point in my career, probably been on both sides of many of the important issues in U.S. immigration law.

One of the challenges that lawyers will face in Immigration Court is that different judges have distinct styles, philosophies, and preferences.   I always felt that although we might differ in personality and approach, at least in Arlington we all shared a commitment to achieving fairness and justice.

As a sitting judge, I encouraged meticulous preparation and advance consultation with the DHS Assistant Chief Counsel to stipulate or otherwise narrow issues. In Arlington, for example, even with a new high of 10 Immigration Judges, the average docket is still 3,000 cases per judge. There currently are more than 30,000 pending cases at the Arlington Court. Because of this overwhelming workload, efficiency and focusing on the disputed issues in court are particularly critical. 

THE DUE PROCESS VISION

Now, lets move on to the other topics: First, vision.   The “EOIR Vision” is: “Through teamwork and innovation, be the worlds best administrative tribunals, guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.In one of my prior incarnations, I was part of the group that developed that vision statement. Perhaps not surprisingly given the timing, that vision echoed the late Janet Reno’s “equal justice for alltheme.

Sadly, the Immigration Court System is moving further away from that due process vision. Instead, years of neglect, misunderstanding, mismanagement, and misguided priorities imposed by the U.S. Department of Justice have created judicial chaos with an expanding backlog now approaching an astounding 600,000 cases and no clear plan for resolving them in the foreseeable future.   There are now more pending cases in Immigration Court than in the entire U.S. District Court System, including both Civil and Criminal dockets, with fewer than half as many U.S. Immigration Judges currently on board as U.S. District Judges.

And, the new Administration promises to add hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of new cases to the Immigration Court docket, again without any transparent plan for completing the half million already pending cases consistent with due process and fairness. In fact, notably, and most troubling, concern for fairness and due process in the immigration hearing process has not appeared anywhere in the Administrations many pronouncements on immigration.

Nobody has been hit harder by this preventable disaster than asylum seekers, particularly scared women and children fleeing for their lives from the Northern Triangle of Central America. In Immigration Court, notwithstanding the life or death issues at stake, unlike criminal court there is no right to an appointed lawyer. Individuals who cant afford a lawyer must rely on practicing lawyers who donate their time or on nonprofit community organizations to find free or low cost legal representation. Although the Government stubbornly resists the notion that all asylum seekers should be represented, studies show that represented asylum seekers are at least five times more likely to succeed than those who must represent themselves. For recently arrived women with children, the success differential is an astounding fourteen times![3]

You might have read about the unfortunate statement of an Assistant Chief Judge for Training who claimed that he could teach immigration law to unrepresented toddlers appearing in Immigration Court. Issues concerning representation of so-called vulnerable populationscontinue to challenge our Court System. Even with Clinics and Non-Governmental Organizations pitching in, there simply are not enough free or low cost lawyers available to handle the overwhelming need. In fact, soon to be former EOIR Director Juan Osuna once declared in an officially-sanctioned TV interview that the current system is “broken.”[4]

Notwithstanding the admitted problems, I still believe in the EOIR vision. Later in this speech Im going to share with you some of my ideas for reclaiming this noble due process vision.

THE ROLE OF THE IMMIGRATION JUDGE

Changing subjects, to the role of the Immigration Judge: Whats it like to be an Immigration Judge? As an Immigration Judge, I was an administrative judge. I was not part of the Judicial Branch established under Article III of the Constitution. The Attorney General, part of the Executive Branch, appointed me, and my authority was subject to her regulations.

We should all be concerned that the U.S. Immigration Court system is now totally under the control of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has consistently taken a negative view of immigrants, both legal and undocumented, and has failed to recognize the many essential, positive contributions that immigrants make to our country.  

Perhaps ironically, the late Judge Terence T. Evans of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals offered one of the best descriptions of what its like to be an Immigration Judge. Judge Evans was not one of us, but saw plenty of our work during his lifetime. Judge Evans said:

“Because 100 percent of asylum petitioners want to stay in this country, but less than 100 percent are entitled to asylum, an immigration judge must be alert to the fact that some petitioners will embellish their claims to increase their chances of success. On the other hand, an immigration judge must be sensitive to the suffering and fears of petitioners who are genuinely entitled to asylum in this country. A healthy balance of sympathy and skepticism is a job requirement for a good immigration judge. Attaining that balance is what makes the job of an immigration judge, in my view, excruciatingly difficult.”[5]

My Arlington Immigration Court colleague Judge Thomas G. Snow also gives a very moving and accurate glimpse of an Immigration Judges life in a recent article from USA Today:

” Immigration judges make these decisions alone. Many are made following distraught or shame-filled testimony covering almost unimaginable acts of inhumanity. And we make them several times a day, day after day, year after year.

We take every decision we make very seriously. We do our best to be fair to every person who comes before us. We judge each case on its own merits, no matter how many times weve seen similar fact patterns before.

We are not policymakers. We are not legislators. We are judges. Although we are employees of the U.S. Department of Justice who act under the delegated authority of the attorney general, no one tells us how to decide a case. I have been an immigration judge for more than 11 years, and nobody has ever tried to influence a single one of my thousands of decisions

And finally, because we are judges, we do our best to follow the law and apply it impartially to the people who appear before us. I know I do so, even when it breaks my heart.[6]

My good friend and colleague, Judge Dana Leigh Marks of the San Francisco Immigration Court, who is the President of the National Association of Immigration Judges, offers a somewhat pithier description: [I]mmigration judges often feel asylum hearings are like holding death penalty cases in traffic court.’”[7]

Another historical footnote: as a young lawyer, then known as Dana Marks Keener, Judge Marks successfully argued the landmark Supreme Court case INS v. Cardoza Fonseca, establishing the generous well-founded fearstandard for asylum, while I helped the Solicitor Generals office develop the unsuccessful opposing arguments for INS.[8] Therefore, I sometimes refer to Judge Marks as one of the founding mothers” of U.S. asylum law.

From my perspective, as an Immigration Judge I was half scholar, half performing artist. An Immigration Judge is always on public display, particularly in this age of the Internet.His or her words, actions, attitudes, and even body language, send powerful messages, positive or negative, about our court system and our national values. Perhaps not surprisingly, the majority of those who fail at the job do so because they do not recognize and master the performing artistaspect, rather than from a lack of pertinent legal knowledge.

One of the keys to the Immigration Judges job is issuing scholarly, practical, well-written opinions in the most difficult cases. That ties directly into the job of the Immigration Courts amazing Judicial Law Clerks (“JLCs”) assisted by all-star legal interns from local law schools. The JLC’s job is, of course, to make the judge look smart,no matter how difficult or challenging that might be in a particular case.  

MY JUDICIAL PHILOSOPHY

Next, I’ll say a few words about my philosophy. In all aspects of my career, I have found five essential elements for success: fairness, scholarship, timeliness, respect, and teamwork.

Obviously, fairness to the parties is an essential element of judging. Scholarship in the law is what allows us to fairly apply the rules in particular cases. However, sometimes attempts to be fair or scholarly can be ineffective unless timely. In some cases, untimeliness can amount to unfairness no matter how smart or knowledgeable you are.

Respect for the parties, the public, colleagues, and appellate courts is absolutely necessary for our system to function. Finally, I view the whole judging process as a team exercise that involves a coordinated and cooperative effort among judges, respondents, counsel, interpreters, court clerks, security officers, administrators, law clerks and interns working behind the scenes, to get the job done correctly. Notwithstanding different roles, we all share a common interest in seeing that our justice system works.

Are the five elements that I just mentioned limited to Immigration Court? They are not only essential legal skills, they are also necessary life skills, whether you are running a courtroom, a law firm, a family, a PTA meeting, a book club, or a soccer team. As you might imagine, I am a huge fan of clinical experience as an essential part of the law school curriculum. Not only do clinical programs make important actual contributions to our justice system due process in action but they teach exactly the type of intellectual and practical values and skills that I have just described.

RECLAIMING THE VISION

Our Immigration Courts are going through an existential crisis that threatens the very foundations of our American Justice System. Earlier, I told you about my dismay that the noble due process vision of our Immigration Courts has been derailed. What can be done to get it back on track?

First, and foremost, the Immigration Courts must return to the focus on due process as the one and only mission. The improper use of our due process court system by political officials to advance enforcement priorities and/or send “don’t comemessages to asylum seekers, which are highly ineffective in any event, must end. Thats unlikely to happen under the DOJ as proved by over three decades of history, particularly recent history. It will take some type of independent court. I think that an Article I Immigration Court, which has been supported by groups such as the ABA and the FBA, would be best.

Clearly, the due process focus was lost during the last Administration when officials outside EOIR forced ill-advised prioritizationand attempts to “expedite” the cases of frightened women and children from the Northern Triangle who require lawyers to gain the protection that most of them need and deserve. Putting these cases in front of other pending cases was not only unfair to all, but has created what I call aimless docket reshuffling— “ADR” — that has thrown the Immigration Court system into chaos and dramatically increased the backlogs.  

Although those misguided Obama Administration priorities have been rescinded, the reprieve is only fleeting. The Trump Administration has announced plans to greatly expand the prioritytargets for removal to include even those who were merely accused of committing any crime. The Administration also plans a new and greatly expanded immigration detention empire,likely to be situated in remote locations near the Southern Border, relying largely on discredited private for profitprisons. The Administration also wants to make it more difficult for individuals to get full Immigration Court hearings on asylum claims and to expand the use of so-called expedited removal,thereby seeking to completely avoid the Immigration Court process.

Evidently, the idea, similar to that of the Obama Administration, is to remove most of those recently crossing the border to seek protection, thereby sending a “don’t come, we dont want youmessage to asylum seekers.

Second, there must be structural changes so that the Immigration Courts are organized and run like a real court system, not a highly bureaucratic agency. This means that sitting Immigration Judges, like in all other court systems, must control their dockets. The practice of having administrators in Falls Church and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., none of whom are sitting judges responsible for daily court hearings, manipulate and rearrange local dockets in a vain attempt to achieve policy goals unrelated to fairness and due process for individuals coming before the Immigration Courts must end.  

If there are to be nationwide policies and practices, they should be developed by an Immigration Judicial Conference,patterned along the lines of the Federal Judicial Conference. That would be composed of sitting Immigration Judges representing a cross-section of the country, several Appellate Immigration Judges from the BIA, and probably some U.S. Circuit Judges, since the Circuits are one of the primary consumersof the court’s “product.”

Third, there must be a new administrative organization to serve the courts, much like the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. This office would naturally be subordinate to the Immigration Judicial Conference. Currently, the glacial hiring process, inadequate courtroom space planning and acquisition, and unreliable, often-outdated technology are simply not up to the needs of a rapidly expanding court system.  

In particular, the judicial hiring process over the past 16 years has failed to produce the necessary balance because judicial selectees from private sector backgrounds particularly those with expertise in asylum and refugee law have been so few and far between. Indeed, during the last Administration nearly 90% of the judicial appointments were from Government backgrounds. And, there is no reason to believe that pattern will change under the current Administration. In fact, only one of the seven most recent appointments by Attorney Generals Sessions came from a private sector background.

Fourth, I would repeal all of the so-called Ashcroft reformsat the BIA and put the BIA back on track to being a real appellate court.   A properly comprised and well-functioning BIA should transparently debate and decide important, potentially controversial, issues, publishing dissenting opinions when appropriate. All BIA Appellate Judges should be required to vote and take a public position on all important precedent decisions. The BIA must also “rein in” those Immigration Courts with asylum grant rates so incredibly low as to make it clear that the generous dictates of the Supreme Court in Cardoza-Fonseca[9] and the BIA itself in Mogharrabi[10] are not being followed.

Nearly a decade has passed since Professors Andy Schoenholtz, Phil Shrag, and Jaya Ramji-Nogales published their seminal work Refugee Roulette, documenting the large disparities among Immigration Judges in asylum grant rates.[11] While there has been some improvement, the BIA, the only body that can effectively establish and enforce due process within the Immigration Court system, has not adequately addressed this situation.

For example, let’s take a brief “asylum magical mystery tour” down the East Coast.[12] In New York, 84% of the asylum applications are granted. Cross the Hudson River to Newark and that rate sinks to 48%, still respectable in light of the 47% national average but inexplicably 36% lower than New York. Move over to the Elizabeth Detention Center Court, where you might expect a further reduction, and the grant rate rises again to 59%. Get to Baltimore, and the grant rate drops to 43%. But, move down the BW Parkway a few miles to Arlington, still within the Fourth Circuit like Baltimore, and it rises again to 63%. Then, cross the border into North Carolina, still in the Fourth Circuit, and it drops remarkably to 13%. But, things could be worse. Travel a little further south to Atlanta and the grant rate bottoms out at an astounding 2%.

In other words, by lunchtime some days the Immigration Judges sitting in New York granted more than the five asylum cases granted in Atlanta during the entire Fiscal Year 2015!   An 84% to 2% differential in fewer than 900 miles! Three other major non-detained Immigration Courts, Dallas, Houston, and Las Vegas, have asylum grants rates at or below 10%.

Indeed a recent 2017 study of the Atlanta Immigration Court by Emory Law and the Southern Poverty Law Center found:

[S]ome of the Immigration Judges do not respect rule of law principles and maintain practices that undermine the fair administration of justice. During the course of our observations, we witnessed the following [issue, among others]. Immigration Judges made prejudicial statements and expressed significant disinterest or even hostility towards respondents in their courts. In at least one instance, an Immigration Judge actively refused to listen to an attorney’s legal arguments. In another instance, an Immigration Judge failed to apply the correct standard of law in an asylum case. [13]

This is hardly “through teamwork and innovation being the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all!” These unusually low asylum grant rates are impossible to justify in light of the generous standard for well-founded fear established by the Supreme Court in Cardoza-Fonseca and the BIA in Mogharrabi, and the regulatory presumption of future fear arising out of past persecution that applies in many asylum cases.[14] Yet, the BIA has only recently and fairly timidly addressed the manifest lack of respect for asylum seekers and failure to guarantee fairness and due process for such vulnerable individuals in some cases arising in Atlanta and other courts with unrealistically low grant rates.[15]    

Over the past 16 years, the BIA’s inability or unwillingness to aggressively stand up for the due process rights of asylum seekers and to enforce the fair and generous standards required by American law have robbed our Immigration Court System of credibility and public support, as well as ruined the lives of many who were denied protection that should have been granted.   We need a BIA which functions like a Federal Appellate Court and whose overriding mission is to ensure that the due process vision of the Immigration Courts becomes a reality rather than an unfulfilled promise.

Fifth, and finally, the Immigration Courts need e-filing NOW! Without it, the courts are condemned to files in the aisles,misplaced filings, lost exhibits, and exorbitant courier charges. Also, because of the absence of e-filing, the public receives a level of service disturbingly below that of any other major court system. That gives the Immigration Courts an amateur nightaura totally inconsistent with the dignity of the process, the critical importance of the mission, and the expertise, hard work, and dedication of the judges and court staff who make up our court. 

GETTING INVOLVED 

Keep these thoughts in mind. Sadly, based on actions to date, I have little hope that Attorney General Sessions will support due process reforms or an independent U.S. Immigration Court, although it would be in his best interests as well as those of our country if he did. However, eventually our opportunity will come. When it does, those of us who believe in the primary importance of constitutional due process must be ready with concrete reforms.

So, do we abandon all hope? No, of course not!   Because there are hundreds of newer lawyers out there who are former Arlington JLCs, interns, my former student, and those who have practiced before the Arlington Immigration Court.       

They form what I call the New Due Process Army!And, while my time on the battlefield is winding down, they are just beginning the fight! They will keep at it for years, decades, or generations — whatever it takes to force the U.S. immigration judicial system to live up to its promise of guaranteeing fairness and due process for all!        

What can you do to get involved now? The overriding due process need is for competent representation of individuals claiming asylum and/or facing removal from the United States. Currently, there are not nearly enough pro bono lawyers to insure that everyone in Immigration Court gets represented.     

And the situation is getting worse. With the Administrations expansion of so-called expedited removal,lawyers are needed at earlier points in the process to insure that those with defenses or plausible claims for relief even get into the Immigration Court process, rather than being summarily removed with little, if any, recourse.

Additionally, given the pressure that the Administration is likely to exert through the Department of Justice to movecases quickly through the Immigration Court system with little regard for due process and fundamental fairness, resort to the Article III Courts to require fair proceedings and an unbiased application of the laws becomes even more essential. Litigation in the U.S. District and Appellate Courts has turned out to be effective in forcing systemic change. However, virtually no unrepresented individual is going to be capable of getting to the Court of Appeals, let alone prevailing on a claim.

I have been working with groups looking for ways to expand the accredited representativeprogram, which allows properly trained and certified individuals who are not lawyers to handle cases before the DHS and the Immigration Courts while working for certain nonprofit community organizations, on either a staff or volunteer basis. Notwithstanding some recently publicized problems with policing the system, which I wrote about on my blog immigrationrcourtside.com, this is a critically important program for expanding representation in Immigration Courts. The accredited representativeprogram is also an outstanding opportunity for retired individuals, like professors, who are not lawyers to qualify to provide pro bono representation in Immigration Court to needy migrants thorough properly recognized religious and community organizations.        

Even if you are not practicing or do not intend to practice immigration law, there are many outstanding opportunities to contribute by taking pro bono cases. Indeed, in my experience in Arlington, big lawfirms were some of the major contributors to highly effective pro bono representation. It was also great hands onexperience for those seeking to hone their litigation skills.

Those of you with language and teaching skills can help out in English Language Learning programs for migrants.   I have observed first hand that the better that individuals understand the language and culture of the US, the more successful they are in navigating our Immigration Court system and both assisting, and when necessary, challenging their representatives to perform at the highest levels. In other words, they are in a better position to be informed consumersof legal services.        

Another critical area for focus is funding of nonprofit community-based organizations and religious groups that assist migrants for little or no charge. Never has the need for such services been greater.

But, many of these organizations receive at least some government funding for outreach efforts. We have already seen how the President has directed the DHS to “defund” outreach efforts and use the money instead for a program to assist victims of crimes committed by undocumented individuals.

Undoubtedly, with the huge emphases on military expansion and immigration enforcement, to the exclusion of other important programs, virtually all forms of funding for outreach efforts to migrants are likely to disappear in the very near future. Those who care about helping others will have to make up the deficit. So, at giving time, remember your community nonprofit organizations that are assisting foreign nationals. 

Finally, as an informed voter and participant in our political process, you can advance the cause of Immigration Court reform and due process. For the last 16 years politicians of both parties have largely stood by and watched the unfolding due process disaster in the U.S. Immigration Courts without doing anything about it, and in some cases actually making it worse.

The notion that Immigration Court reform must be part of so-called comprehensive immigration reformis simply wrong. The Immigration Courts can and must be fixed sooner rather than later, regardless of what happens with overall immigration reform. Its time to let your Senators and Representatives know that we need due process reforms in the Immigration Courts as one of our highest national priorities.

Folks, the U.S Immigration Court system is on the verge of collapse. And, there is every reason to believe that the misguided enforce and detain to the maxpolicies being pursued by this Administration will drive the Immigration Courts over the edge. When that happens, a large chunk of the entire American justice system and the due process guarantees that make American great and different from most of the rest of the world will go down with it.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, I have introduced you to one of Americas largest and most important, yet least understood and appreciated, court systems: the United States Immigration Court. I have shared with you the Courts noble due process vision and my view that it is not currently being fulfilled. I have also shared with you my ideas for effective court reform that would achieve the due process vision and how you can become involved in improving the process. Now is the time to take a stand for fundamental fairness’! Join the New Due Process Army! Due process forever!        

Thanks again for inviting me and for listening. Have a great conference!

 

 

(05/12/17)

        

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Matter of Lennon, 15 I&N Dec. 9 (BIA 1974), rev’d Lennon v. INS, 527 F.2d 187 (2d Cir. 1975).

[2] Matter of Kasinga, 21 I&N Dec. 357 (BIA 1996).

[3] TRAC Immigration, “Representation is Key in Immigration Proceedings Involving Women with Children,” Feb. 18, 2015, available online at http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/377/.

[4] “Immigration Director Calls for Overhaul of Broken System,” NBC Bay Area News, May 27, 2015, available online.

[5] Guchshenkov v. Ashcroft, 366 F.3d 554 (7th Cir. 2004) (Evans, J., concurring).
[6] Hon. Thomas G. Snow, “The gut-wrenching life of an immigration judge,” USA Today, Dec. 12, 2106, available online at http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2016/12/12/immigration-judge-gut-wrenching-decisions-column/95308118/

[7] Julia Preston, “Lawyers Back Creating New Immigration Courts,” NY Times, Feb. 6, 2010.

[8] INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987).

[9] INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987).

[10] Matter of Mogharrabi, 19 I&N Dec. 4379(BIA 1987).

[11] Jaya Ramji-Nogales, Andrew I. Schoenholtz, and Philip G. Schrag, Refugee Roulette: Disparities in Asylum Adjudication, 60 Stan. L. Rev. 295 (2007);

[12] All statistics are from the EOIR FY 2015 Statistics Yearbook, available online at https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/fysb15/download,

[13] See Emory Law/SPLC Observation Study Rips Due Process Violations At Atlanta Immigration Court — Why Is The BIA “Asleep At The Switch” In Enforcing Due Process? What Happened To The EOIR’s “Due Process Vision?” in immigrationcourtside.com, available online at http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/03/02/emory-lawsplc-observation-study-rips-due-process-violations-at-atlanta-immigration-court-why-is-the-bia-asleep-at-the-switch-in-enforcing-due-process-what-happened-to-the-eoirs-due-proces/

[14] See 8 C.F.R. § 1208.13(b)(1).

[15] See, e.g., Matter of Y-S-L-C-, 26 I&N Dec. 688 (BIA 2015) (denial of due process where IJ tried to bar the testimony of minor respondent by disqualifying him as an expert witness under the Federal Rules of Evidence). While the BIA finally stepped in with this precedent, the behavior of this Judge shows a system where some Judges have abandoned any discernable concept of “guaranteeing fairness and due process.” The BIA’s “permissive” attitude toward Judges who consistently deny nearly all asylum applications has allowed this to happen. Indeed the Washington Post recently carried a poignant story of a young immigration lawyer who was driven out of the practice by the negative attitudes and treatment by the Immigration Judges at the Atlanta Immigration Court. Harlan, Chico, “In an Immigration Court that nearly always says no, a lawyer’s spirit is broken,” Washington Post, Oct. 11, 2016, available online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/in-an-immigration-court-that-nearly-always-says-no-a-lawyers-spirit-is-broken/2016/10/11/05f43a8e-8eee-11e6-a6a3-d50061aa9fae_story.html

How does this live up to the EOIR Vision of “through teamwork and innovation being the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all?”   Does this represent the best that American justice has to offer?

These Are The Guys That Trump, Sessions, And Kelly Are Purporting To “Protect” Us Against!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/maryland-news/he-picked-up-a-paint-brush–and-discovered-a-world-of-opportunity/2017/05/07/bfac6d22-26cc-11e7-bb9d-8cd6118e1409_story.html?utm_term=.a44db669c584

Arelis R. Hernández writes in the Washington Post:

“The still life of rotting fruit captured the attention of Jon Rudnicki, an admissions counselor for the Maine College of Art who came to Washington last fall to review the portfolios of prospective students. So did the dark self-portrait titled “Slave With Agreement,” which shows artist Rafael Rodriguez, his hands tied with rope.

Before Rudnicki realized it, he had spent more than 20 minutes listening to the skinny young man from Prince George’s County talk about isolation, frustration and optimism — far longer than the five minutes he typically allows for student meetings.

“The intentionality behind the work was profound. He has a story to tell,” Rudnicki said of Rodriguez, a senior at Northwestern High School who is set to graduate next month. “I literally see thousands of kids and thousands of pieces of art, and it says something when a student’s face and artwork sticks out. I wanted to help him find his voice.”

Rudnicki lobbied for his college to admit Rodriguez, 21, who fled violence in his native El Salvador four years ago and entered the United States illegally, eventually coming to live with an aunt in Maryland.

The school offered him a scholarship that would pay nearly half of the annual $35,000 cost for four years.

And unlike thousands of other undocumented immigrants of college age, Rodriguez has a chance of being able to seek federal student loans to cover the rest, thanks to a little-known but increasingly in-demand program that will give him legal residency — and is easier for young people to access in Maryland than in most of the rest of the country.

“When I make art, I feel free,” said Rodriguez, who never painted before coming to the United States. “I want to get my education to be an art teacher, have my own art studio and teach people from my country the importance of getting an education. That’s the only way things will change there.”

******************************************

Read the complete story at the link.

Rodriguez’s attorney, Diane McHugh Martinez, is one of the best!  She appeared before me many times at the U.S. Immigration Court in Arlington, Virginia, and always had creative ideas on how to use the law to save lives and make our country better. She helped many wonderful young people and families to achieve a new start and contribute to the greatness of America. And, she was always able to “reach across the aisle” and enlist the assistance of the fine DHS Assistant Chief Counsel in Arlington in “making the system work.”

As I used too say, “Building America, one case at a time!”

PWS

05-08-17

 

 

REUTERS: Mica Rosenberg Reports On Trump’s “Under The Radar” Plan To Bar “Freedom Fighters” & “Victims Of Terrorism” From The U.S.!

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-terrorism-exceptions-idUSKBN17N13C

Mica and Yegenah Torbati report:

“Now the Trump administration is debating whether to rescind the waivers that have allowed Raj, and tens of thousands of others, to immigrate to the United States in the past decade (See graphic on waivers: tmsnrt.rs/2oPssIo). Some immigration hardliners are concerned the exemptions could allow terrorists to slip into the country.

U.S. President Donald Trump directed the secretaries of State and Homeland Security, in consultation with the attorney general, to consider abolishing the waivers in an executive order in March. That directive was overshadowed by the same order’s temporary ban on all refugees and on travelers from six mostly Muslim nations.

The bans on refugees and travel were challenged in lawsuits, and their implementation has been suspended pending full hearings in court. But the waiver review was not included in the court rulings, so that part of the order remains in effect.

Rules governing the waivers have been hammered out over the last decade with both Democratic and Republican support. But in recent years they have drawn fire from some conservative lawmakers, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he was a senator.

A State Department official said this week the department is working with DHS to review the waivers and is “looking at actually pulling them back in accordance with the executive order.”

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to give details on the timing of the review or its likely outcome. The Department of Justice declined to comment.

KURDS, KAREN, HMONG

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Congress expanded the definition of who could be considered a terrorist and what constituted “material support” to terrorism in rules now known as the Terrorism Related Inadmissibility Grounds.

Those changes ensnared people like Raj who were coerced or inadvertently provided support to terrorists, as well as members of persecuted ethnic groups that supported rebel organizations, and even U.S.-allied groups fighting against authoritarian regimes.

Without an exemption, members of Kurdish groups that battled Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq, Hmong groups who fought alongside U.S. troops in Vietnam, or some Cubans who fought Fidel Castro’s regime would not be allowed to immigrate to the United States.

Under the exemptions, U.S. authorities have the discretion to grant people residency in the United States after they have passed background checks and are found to pose no threat to national security.

Congress initially passed waivers to the terrorism bars in 2007 with bipartisan support, and in the years that followed both the Bush and Obama administrations added additional groups and circumstances to the exemptions.

“PHANTOM PROBLEM”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has granted nearly 22,000 TRIG exemptions in total over the last decade, according to the latest data available, which goes through September 2016. The State Department also grants TRIG exemptions, but a spokesman could not provide data on how many.

Refugees from Myanmar are the largest single group of beneficiaries to date of TRIG exemptions granted by USCIS, with more than 6,700 waivers.

The wave of Myanmar refugees dates to 2006, when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ruled that thousands of members of the Karen ethnic group, then living in a camp in Thailand, could resettle in the United States, even if they had supported the political wing of an armed group that had fought the country’s military regime.

One high-profile supporter of scrapping the waivers is House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia whose staffers were instrumental in drafting Trump’s travel ban. Goodlatte told Reuters he was “pleased that the Trump Administration is reviewing the dangerous policy.”

Groups favoring stricter immigration laws have also applauded the review. Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations at NumbersUSA, called the waivers “a potential security risk.”

“I personally don’t think that a bureaucrat should be deciding how much support for terrorism is enough to be barred,” she said.

A USCIS spokeswoman, when asked if a recipient of an exemption had ever been involved in a terrorism-related case after arriving in the United States, referred Reuters to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which said it was a question for the State Department to answer.

“I don’t know of any cases where beneficiaries of exemptions have gotten into trouble after arriving,” the State Department official said, noting that the department does not typically track people after they arrive in the United States.

Trump’s order to review the waivers “is another example of an attempt to address a non-existent phantom problem,” said Eric Schwartz, who served in the State Department during the Obama administration.

Schwartz and immigration advocates say the waivers are granted after lengthy review and are extremely difficult to get.

“These are case-by-case exemptions for people who represent no threat to the United States but rather have been caught in the most unfortunate of circumstances,” said Schwartz.

For Raj, the initial ruling that his ransom payment supported a terrorist group led to more than two years in U.S. immigration detention, followed by more years of electronic monitoring. His waiver allowed him to bring his wife to the United States after nine years apart. She now studies nursing.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Additional reporting by Julia Edwards in Washington and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Sue Horton and Ross Colvin)”

*************************************

Just to illustrate the lunacy of the already over-broad definition of “terrorist,” all of our “founding fathers” would be “terrorists” under this definition.

I heard a number of so-called”terrorist cases” over my time as a trial judge at the Arlington Immigration Court. A few of the folks on the detained docket (during the years I was assigned to that docket) might have potentially been dangerous.

But, most so-called “terrorists” were basically harmless individuals who actually appeared on my non-detained docket even during the “last years” when I was handling the “non-priority docket” (which was actually the overwhelming majority of cases at Arlington).

Most were folks who had supposedly provided “material support” like giving a ride to a rebel who commandeered the respondent’s car at gun point, carrying supply bags a few miles for guerrillas under threat of death, allowing rebels to ransack the family kitchen at gunpoint (sometimes called the “taco rule”), or giving money to a dissident group that was actually being supported by the U.S. in a battle against an oppressive government” (otherwise referred to as “freedom fighters”).

Most of them had lived in the U.S. for years without incident and were stunned to find out that being a victim of terrorism or helping a dissident group that the U.S. supported could be a bar to immigration. For example, anyone assisting rebels in the fight against the Assad Government or against ISIS would be considered a “terrorist” by our definition. And, ask yourself, why would any “real” terrorist have appeared on my non-detained, non-priority docket?

Of course, as a mere Immigration Judge I could not grant the “waiver” discussed in Mica’s article. But, I was required to make essentially an “advisory holding” that “but for” the “terrorist bar” I would have granted the respondent’s application.

I am aware that some of the cases I handled were referred to USCIS by the Office of Chief Counsel (the respondent can’t initiate the waiver process on her or his own) and eventually granted. Thereafter, I “vacated” on “joint motion” the removal order I had previously entered against the respondent. The whole process seemed convoluted.

Just another example of how the xenophobes in the Trump Administration are wasting time and taxpayer money making an already bad situation even worse.

A further example of how pointless the “terrorist bar” is in it’s current form: many of the individuals covered by the bar would also be entitled to “Deferral of Removal” under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”). The “terrorist bar” can’t be applied to “CAT deferral.” Therefore, individuals who are denied asylum but qualify for CAT deferral can’t be removed from the country. In effect, all that the terrorist bar does in such cases is keep individuals who are no threat to the U.S. in “limbo,” rather than allowing them to regularize their immigration status.

PWS

04-21-17

 

 

PETULA DVORAK IN THE WashPost: Forget The Administration’s Fear-Mongering — There Are Many Amazing Kids In Our Midst Seeking Survival & A Chance To Contribute! These Are The Kids I Met In Immigration Court — And I Am Still Moved & Inspired By What Many Of Them Have Achieved & Their Potential!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/theyve-survived-untold-horrors-undocumented-teens-dont-deserve-to-be-demonized/2017/03/27/518dcebe-09b5-11e7-a15f-a58d4a988474_story.html?hpid=hp_regional-hp-cards_rhp-card-columnists%3Ahomepage%2Fcard&utm_term=.346ab2350bee

Petula Dvorak writes in her regular local column in the Washington Post:

“Their dreams — to become a lawyer, an interior decorator, a sailor in the Navy — are a lot like the dreams that other kids at their Maryland high school have.

It’s their nightmares — seeing relatives killed, paying off coyotes, being raped at the border, spending weeks in a detention center, being homeless in a new country — that make them so different.

“They’ve survived untold horrors,” said Alicia Wilson, the executive director at La Clinica Del Pueblo, which is working with Northwestern High School to help these teenagers.

The Hyattsville school has absorbed dozens of these students — part of a wave of more than 150,000 kids who have crossed the U.S. border over the past three years fleeing violence in Central America.

We usually hear about these young immigrants only when they’re accused of committing heinous crimes — such as the two undocumented students charged with raping a 14-year-old classmate in a bathroom at Rockville High School. Or when they become victims of heinous crimes — such as Damaris Reyes Rivas, 15, whose mother wanted to protect her from MS-13 in El Salvador but lost her to the gang in Maryland.

In country with a growing compassion deficit, plenty of people resent these kids, demonizing them along with other undocumented immigrants. But I wish those folks got to spend the time with them that I did. They’re funny, vulnerable, hard-working and stunningly resilient.”

*************************************

Exactly what I found  in more than a decade as a trial judge at the Arlington Immigration Court. The young people were among the most memorable of the thousands of lives that passed through my courtroom. “Funny, vulnerable, hard-working and stunningly resilient,” yes they were all of those things. To that, I would add smart, courageous, talented, motivated, and caring.

Many appeared at the first Master Calendar speaking only a few words of English. By the time the second Master rolled around (often 9-12 months on my overcrowded docket) they were basically fluent.  And, they often were assisting others in the family to understand the system, as well as taking on major family responsibilities with parents or guardians holding down two, or sometimes three jobs.

I checked their grades and urged/cajoled them to turn the Cs into Bs and the Bs into As. Many brought their report cards to the next haring to show me that they had done it.

I recognized the many athletes, musicians, chess players, science clubbers, and artists who were representing their schools. But, I also recognized those who were contributing by helping at home, the church, with younger siblings, etc.

Just lots of very impressive young people who had managed to put incredible pain, suffering, and uncertainty largely behind them in an effort to succeed and fit in with an strange new environment. They just wanted a chance to live in relative safety and security and to be able to lead productive, meaningful lives, contributing to society. Pretty much the same things that most off us want for ourselves and our loved ones.

More often than not, with the help of talented, caring attorneys, many of them serving in a pro bono capacity, and kind, considerate Assistant Chief Counsel we were able to fit them into “the system” in a variety of ways. Not always, But, most of the time. Those who got to stay were always grateful, gracious, and appreciative.

Even those we had to turn away I hope left with something of value — perhaps an education — and the feeling that they had been treated fairly and with respect, that I had carefully listened and considered their claim to stay, and that I had explained, to the best of my ability, in understandable language, why I couldn’t help them. Being a U.S. Immigration Judge was not an easy job.

Overall, I felt very inspired when I could play a positive role in the lives of these fine young people. “Building America’s future, one life at a time, one case at a time,” as I used to say.

PWS

03/28/17

 

Michele Waslin, Immigration Impact: Trump Administration Ditches “Common Sense Priorities” In Adopting a Max Enforcement Program!

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/02/15/trump-immigration-enforcement-policies/

“The Trump administration is quickly unraveling the last administration’s efforts to prioritize those for deportation who pose a serious threat over those who don’t. The new administration is ignoring priorities that were put into place by the Obama Administration as a way to manage limited law enforcement resources. The priorities recognized that there is a finite budget available for immigration enforcement, thus making prioritization important. The approach now being pursued by the Trump Administration casts a wide net and will result in an aggressive and unforgiving approach to immigration enforcement moving forward.

The most significant indications of this shift came through the “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the U.S.” executive order, issued January 25, 2017, which prioritizes for deportation those noncitizens who:

Have been convicted of any criminal offense;
Have been charged with any criminal offense;
Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a government agency;
Have abused any program related to the receipt of public benefits;
Are subject to a final order of removal but have not departed;
Otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.
In addition, unauthorized immigrants with no criminal history will likely fit under the third bullet because entering without inspection is a chargeable criminal offense (illegal entry or re-entry). And since the executive order states that many immigrants without immigration status or who overstayed their visas are a risk to public safety and national security, it appears the final bullet is a catch-all category for many others. In other words, the president has “prioritized” everyone, which means in reality he’s prioritized no one, making everyone a target for enforcement. Furthermore, legal immigrants—even green card holders–who are convicted of aggravated felonies or crimes of moral turpitude could also be subject to deportation.

Yet despite the more aggressive approach, it is still unclear from where the resources to identify, arrest, detain, and deport all of these individuals will come. For example, the U.S. is already over-capacity in detention, and immigration courts are seriously backlogged.

In the past, the government has stated that budget realities make it impossible to remove everyone who is in the country without authorization or who is otherwise deportable. This meant the agency had to set priorities and focus on a subset of deportable immigrants.

The Obama administration released a series of memos designed to prioritize those who pose a threat to public safety and national security and other categories of individuals.”

**********************************

The Obama Administration made a total mess out of the already stressed U.S. Immigration Court dockets by unwisely and unnecessarily “prioritizing” cases of recently arrived unaccompanied children, women, and families fleeing violence and corruption in the Northern Triangle.

Nevertheless, thorough programs such as DACA, stateside processing, closing cases with possible relief pending before USCIS, and frequent wise use of prosecutorial discretion (“PD”) in “clean” cases with difficult legal issues but strong humanitarian factors, the Obama Administration was the first Administration I have seen make progress on developing a system that could eventually have helped “rationalize” Immigration Court dockets. If freed from politicized and unrealistic “priorities” from above, this eventually could have allowed the courts to focus on cases that really needed to be litigated, as is the case with almost all other high-volume court systems.

By contrast, the Trump Administration seems intent on “torquing” the Immigration Court system until it breaks apart. Even the Obama Administration used an overly broad concept of “criminal alien.” They included too many individuals who, while technically removable under the law, were doing useful things in the community and presented no real threat to the safety or security of the U.S.

Certainly the Trump Administration could have focused on those whose removals should be prioritized by “fine tuning” the Obama enforcement priorities. Instead, they have embarked on an expensive and ill-planned “mission impossible” to make everybody a priority (and, hence, nobody a priority) without any regard to the capacity or the best uses of court time and resources within our judicial system.

Additionally, the Trump Administration seems to be going out of its way to “disempower” those who are closest to the problem and are actually in the best position to determine which cases should be prosecuted:  the local Offices of Chief Counsel of the DHS (the “immigration equivalent” of the U.S. Attorney). In Arlington, the Office of Chief Counsel was well-respected by all and had an excellent grasp of how to make the justice system work for all involved. Their main problem, like that of the Immigration Courts, was unrealistic priorities and directives imposed on them by political officials “up the chain.”

Sadly, the Trump Administration seems determined not to build on those things that have been successful in the past and instead to embark on a new “blunderbuss” approach to immigration enforcement that is almost guaranteed to get tied up with both legal challenges and practical impossibilities.

PWS

02/19/17

Arlington Immigration Court “Chatter” — Local Immigration Attorney Says “New Sheriff In Town” — The End of “PD”

From today’s e-mail “chatter:”

“For all those who said ‘he doesn’t mean what he says’ or ‘it will not be that bad’ that is now officially bullshit. As of this afternoon all DHS Office of Chief Counsel prosecutors have been instructed not to exercise prosecutorial discretion in removal cases. The most recent executive order from the White House lists as enforcement priorities for removal those who have been CHARGED with a criminal offense whether that offense is resolved or not. In immigration offices and courts throughout the US ‘there’s a new Sheriff in town’ is driving denials and deprivation of rights. We have closed our doors to refugees and now will embark on an interior campaign against immigrants. And it is day 6.”

****************************

Sad, but predictable, based on yesterday’s Interior Enforcement Executive Order.  While it lasted, prosecutorial discretion (“PD”) was one of the best and smartest policies ever applied by immigration prosecutors.

It was a “quadruple winner:”  prosecutors got low priority cases off their overcrowded dockets; overtaxed Immigration Courts could concentrate on more important cases; respondents with equities, good records, who had lived productive lives, and paid taxes got (limited, but potentially life-saving) humanitarian relief that the courts could not offer; and communities, employers, and families in the United States got to retain individuals who were contributing to our country in large and small ways.

But, as I’ve indicated before, sometimes philosophical roadblocks (including bias and prejudice) blind folks to their own self interest. And, I’m NOT talking about the DHS Counsel here;  their hands are tied and clearly nobody asked them before the politicos changed the policies.  They are just the “messengers” for policies that they don’t necessarily endorse.

PWS

01/26/17

Why The U.S. Immigration Court In NYC Is Overwhelmed: Listen & Read WNYC/NPR Senior Reporter Beth Fertig’s Report (Quoting Me) Here! Without Reforms, Due Process Is In Peril! Why Not “Give Due Process A Chance?”

http://www.wnyc.org/story/why-new-yorks-immigration-courts-are-so-busy/

“This is why experts say it’s hard to imagine Donald Trump deporting more criminal immigrants than Obama. “I think this administration already takes a fairly broad view of who is a criminal,” said Paul Wickham Schmidt, who was an immigration judge in Arlington, Virginia for 13 years.

Trump has claimed there are two to three million undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions. The government has said that number is actually just below 2 million and includes non-citizens who are in the country legally (like Bilanicz), as well as undocumented immigrants.

The government has put more resources into immigration enforcement. But Schmidt said it hasn’t done enough to help the court system meet the growing demand. There were fewer than 300 immigration judges for the whole country last year, and they were hearing more than 220,000 cases. Schmidt said even 100 additional judges would barely keep up with incoming cases, let alone the backlog.

“If you start doing the half million cases that are pending then you’re going to fall behind on the incoming cases,” he said.

. . . .

Judges have also complained that the government fast-tracked unaccompanied minors and families from Central America and Mexico who crossed the border in a “surge” a couple of years ago. These recent arrivals got priority over immigrants who had been waiting years for their hearings or trials, leading to bigger backlogs.

. . . .

The whole [Master Calendar] process took about five minutes for each case, and [Judge Amiena] Khan was scheduling future court appearances as late as August of 2018. This isn’t so bad given, that Schmidt said he was scheduling hearings for 2021 before retiring last summer. But one lawyer in court that morning, Shihao Bao, agreed the system couldn’t possibly handle more cases unless Trump wanted to “take away due process.”

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To paraphrase Chief Justice John Robert’s spot-on observation in the immigration case Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 421 (2009), providing due process in an individual case takes time: “[S]ometimes a little; sometimes a lot.”  As I have said numerous times on this blog, the “just peddle faster approach” to due process in the U.S. Immigration Courts, unsuccessfully tried by past Administrations, isn’t going to “cut it” for due process.

And, cutting corners is sure to be more expensive to the taxpayers in the long run when Article III U.S. Courts of Appeals inevitably intervene and use their independent authority to stop the “assembly line” approach to justice and force the return of numerous cases to the Immigration Courts for “redos,” sometimes before different Immigration Judges.

I’m relatively certain that some of the Ashcroft-era cases “bounced back” by the Courts of Appeals are still kicking around the Immigration Courts somewhere without any final resolutions.  With the help of the local immigration bar and the ICE Office of Chief Counsel I finished up a fair number of these “oldies” myself during my time at the Arlington Immigration Court.  By the time the cases finally got to my Individual Hearing calendar, most of the individuals involved had qualified for relief from removal or, alternatively, had established lengthy records of good behavior, tax payment, contributions to the community, and U.S. family ties that made them “low priorities” for enforcement and resulted in an offer of “prosecutorial discretion” from the Assistant Chief Counsel.

In the Arlington Immigration Court, the Office of Chief Counsel had a strong sense of justice and practicality and was a huge force in helping to get “low priority” cases off the docket whenever possible consistent with the needs and policies of their DHS client.  But, I know that the Offices of Chief Counsel in other areas did not perform at the same consistently high level.

Rather than having enforcement efforts stymied and having to redo cases time and time again to get them right, why not invest in providing really great fairness and due process at the “retail level” of our justice system:  the United States Immigration Courts?  Getting it right in the Immigration Courts would not only save time and money in the long run by reducing appeals, petitions for review, and actions for injunctions directed to higher courts, but would also produce a due process oriented Immigration Court system we could all be proud of, that would have great credibility,  and that would serve as an inspiring example of “best practices” to other courts and even to immigration systems in other countries.  After all, the “vision” of the U.S. Immigration Courts is supposed to be:  “Through teamwork and innovation be the world’s best tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.”  Why not “give due process a chance?”

PWS

01/17/17