GONZO’S WORLD: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A DIVERSE “NATION OF IMMIGRANTS” ANOINTS A COMMITTED XENOPHOBE AS ITS CHIEF LAW OFFICER? – Gonzo Is Deconstructing Our System Of Justice, One Day At A Time!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/while-eyes-are-on-russia-sessions-dramatically-reshapes-the-justice-department/2017/11/24/dd52d66a-b8dd-11e7-9e58-e6288544af98_story.html?utm_term=.6b27aa9221e3

“For more than five hours, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sat in a hearing room on Capitol Hill this month, fending off inquiries on Washington’s two favorite topics: President Trump and Russia.

But legislators spent little time asking Sessions about the dramatic and controversial changes in policy he has made since taking over the top law enforcement job in the United States nine months ago.

From his crackdown on illegal immigration to his reversal of Obama administration policies on criminal justice and policing, Sessions is methodically reshaping the Justice Department to reflect his nationalist ideology and hard-line views — moves drawing comparatively less public scrutiny than the ongoing investigations into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin.

Sessions has implemented a new charging and sentencing policy that calls for prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible, even if that might mean minority defendants face stiff, mandatory minimum penalties. He has defended the president’s travel ban and tried to strip funding from cities with policies he considers too friendly toward undocumented immigrants.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Nov. 14. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Sessions has even adjusted the department’s legal stances in cases involving voting rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in a way that advocates warn might disenfranchise poor minorities and give certain religious people a license to discriminate.

Supporters and critics say the attorney general has been among the most effective of the Cabinet secretaries — implementing Trump’s conservative policy agenda even as the president publicly and privately toys with firing him over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia case.

. . . .

In meetings with top Justice Department officials about terrorist suspects, Sessions often has a particular question: Where is the person from? When officials tell him a suspect was born and lives in the United States, he typically has a follow-up: To what country does his family trace its lineage?

While there are reasons to want to know that information, some officials familiar with the inquiries said the questions struck them as revealing that Sessions harbors an innate suspicion about people from certain ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in a statement, “The Attorney General asks lots of relevant questions in these classified briefings.”

Sessions, unlike past attorneys general, has been especially aggressive on immigration. He served as the public face of the administration’s rolling back of a program that granted a reprieve from deportation to people who had come here without documentation as children, and he directed federal prosecutors to make illegal-immigration cases a higher priority. The attorney general has long held the view that the United States should even reduce the number of those immigrating here legally.

In an interview with Breitbart News in 2015, then-Sen. Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke favorably of a 1924 law that excluded all immigrants from Asia and set strict caps on others.

“When the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and Congress changed the policy and it slowed down immigration significantly,” Sessions said. “We then assimilated through 1965 and created really the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America.”

Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division in the Obama administration who now works as chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Sessions seems to harbor an “unwillingness to recognize the history of this country is rooted in immigration.”

“On issue after issue, it’s very easy to see what his worldview is of what this country is and who belongs in this country,” she said, adding that his view is “distinctly anti-immigrant.”

Those on the other side of the aisle, however, say they welcome the changes Sessions has made at the Justice Department.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for moderating levels of immigration, said she would give the attorney general an “A-plus” for his work in the area, especially for his crackdown on “sanctuary cities,” his push to hire more immigration judges and his focus on the MS-13 gang.

“He was able to hit the ground running because he has so much expertise already in immigration enforcement and related public safety issues and the constitutional issues, so he’s accomplished a lot in a very short time,” Vaughan said.”

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Read the compete article, which deals with much more than immigration, at the link.

Immigrants, refugees, immigration advocates, and career civil servants involved in immigration at the DOJ seems to be “star-crossed.” After decades of relative indifference to the importance of immigration, an Attorney General finally shows up  who makes it his highest priority.

Only problem is that he’s a committed xenophobe and White Nationalist whose largely false and exaggerated narrative on immigration comes right from the alt-right restrictionist playbook and harks back to the Jim Crow era of the American South — only this time with Hispanics and Muslims as the primary targets.

In any “normal” American business, obsession with tracing back lineage of someone’s family would be prima facie evidence of prohibited “national origins discrimination.” But, for Gonzo, it’s just another day at the office.

Notwithstanding his less than stellar performances before Congress and that he’s fallen off Trump’s “A-Team” (notwithstanding probably doing more to deconstruct the Constitution and “Good Government” than any other cabinet officer), he’s unlikely to be going anywhere soon. So the damage will continue to add up for the foreseeable future. It’s not like Senator Liz Warren and others didn’t try to warn America about this dude!

Meanwhile, perhaps not to be outdone, over at the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is proceeding to deconstruct the Career Foreign Service and reduce the Stated Department and our Diplomatic Corps to “administrative roadkill.” You can read about that debacle in this NY Times article:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/24/us/politics/state-department-tillerson.html

PWS

11-26-17

 

HON. JEFFREY CHASE SPEAKS OUT AGAINST EXPEDITED REMOVAL!

Expedited Removal is Not the Answer to the Backlog

With the immigration court backlog at over 600,000 cases and rising, immigration law commentator (and fellow BIA alum) Nolan Rappaport recently suggested that the present administration might view the  increased use of expedited removal as “the only viable alternative” to shrink the swelling tide of cases. My fellow blogger Paul Schmidt has opposed such approach; I wish to join him in adding my arguments as to why the expansion of expedited removal would be unacceptable.

If the criminal court system were to be flooded to the breaking point, the solution could not be to let supervisory police officers decide which defendants might have a reasonable enough chance of being found innocent and get to go to court, and just find the rest guilty without the right to a trial.  However, that is pretty much the premise of expedited removal.  An overwhelming volume of cases cannot be used to justify the stripping away of due process protections.

Our immigration courts have evolved significantly over the decades.  Deportation hearings were once conducted by “special inquiry officers,” who were attorneys working for the INS.  Beginning in 1973, immigration judges began presiding over hearings.  In 1983, those judges were separated from the INS into a separate adjudicatory agency, EOIR.  In 2002, INS was moved into three components within the newly-created DHS, while EOIR remained in the Department of Justice.  The strong motive behind these developments was that the agency charged with enforcement was not suited to serve as a neutral factfinder and decision maker.  Increasing the scale of expedited removal would undo the above progress and return decision-making into the hands of the enforcement branch – the legal equivalent of having the fox guard the hen house.

Immigration judges render decisions independently, with no pressure or influence from their higher-ups.  This is not true of asylum officers.  I had one case years ago in which the asylum officer’s supervisor so adamantly opposed the grant of asylum that the officer had to wait until the supervisor went on vacation, and then had the acting supervisor sign off approving the grant.  I have also heard of an asylum office director pressuring the staff to grant fewer cases in order to bring the office’s grant rate closer to the lower grant rate of another asylum office.  Furthermore, to the extent that those seeking expedited removal are able to obtain counsel in the short time frame provided (and while detained, sometimes in remote settings), asylum officers allow attorneys a greatly reduced role in the process.  In immigration court, the attorney makes legal arguments and objections, questions the respondent, and lays the foundation for documents to be offered into evidence.  Even in full asylum office interviews, attorneys are relegated to sitting in the back row and taking notes.  As the government’s own statistics show that represented asylum seekers are twice as likely to be granted relief, the asylum office’s minimizing of the attorney’s role clearly lessens the asylum seeker’s chance of success.

Expedited removal has really never worked well.  In opposing its implementation in the mid-1990s, myself and other advocates argued that the legal threshold – the newly-created “credible fear” standard – was problematic.  When the 1980 Refugee Act adopted the legal standard of “well-founded fear” for asylum claims, INS interpreted the term to mean “more likely than not;” it took seven years of litigation and a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to correctly define the standard as requiring only a 10 percent chance of persecution.  But expedited removal asked us to trust the same INS to properly interpret the vague new “credible fear” standard, and this time without the right to seek judicial review.  Not surprisingly, so many mistakes were made after the standard was implemented that by mid-1997, the then INS director of asylum instructed asylum officers to simply find all applicants professing a fear of persecution to have met the credible fear standard.  Those who claimed no fear in their countries were summarily removed; INS claimed that the majority of arrivees were in this latter group.

But where they really?  A person arriving in this country only gets a credible fear interview if they indicate to the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer who first encounters them that they fear return to their country.  Two studies conducted over a decade apart by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government entity, found serious problems with the screening process of those arriving but not found admissible to the U.S.  According to USCIRF, some arrivees were never asked whether they feared return; others who were asked and responded in the affirmative had “no” recorded in their statements, which were often not read back to them.  The USCIRF report cited instances in which those wishing to seek asylum were pressured into signing inaccurate statements, or even into retracting their fear claims and withdrawing their applications for admission.

The answer to the immigration court backlog is clearly not to subject more people to the flawed and biased expedited removal system in lieu of  removal hearings.  To my knowledge, every other high volume court employs prosecutorial discretion and stipulated settlements to lessen the case load.  Plea bargains are employed in everything from murder to traffic court cases.  Under the Obama administration, prosecutorial discretion was employed in immigration court and significantly helped prosecutors and judges deal with the caseload.  For unknown reasons, the present administration has ended this useful practice.  DHS attorneys are also being instructed to oppose requests to terminate proceedings made by those wishing to leave the U.S. to attend immigrant visas abroad.  These intending immigrants want to leave the country, and will only be allowed to return legally if they are found by a U.S. consular officer to be qualified and admissible to this country; under the prior administration, termination under these circumstances was readily agreed to by DHS.  At the same time DHS is forcing so many immigrants to unnecessarily remain in removal proceedings, the agency will not put into proceedings those who want to be there in order to apply for certain types of relief that may only be granted by an immigration judge, such as cancellation of removal.  Preventing immigrants from obtaining legal status to which they might be entitled seems suspiciously consistent with the present administration’s desire to stem the pace of naturalization in order to preserve the voting bloc that brought them to office last year.

Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase.  All rights reserved.

 

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Jeffrey S. Chase is an immigration lawyer in New York City.  Jeffrey is a former Immigration Judge, senior legal advisor at the Board of Immigration Appeals, and volunteer staff attorney at Human Rights First.  He is a past recipient of AILA’s annual Pro Bono Award, and previously chaired AILA’s Asylum Reform Task Force.

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Thanks, Jeffrey. Not surprisingly, I agree with everything you are saying!

There are no “silver bullet” solutions to backlogs that have built up over years and are largely the result of Congressional indifference, administrative incompetence, and improper political meddling by the Department of Justice over at least the last three Administrations. This has caused what I have termed “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” (“ADR”). Punishing the innocent “consumers” of services, the immigrants, by depriving them of Due Process is clearly not the answer.

I also agree with Jeffrey that eventually the answer will require:

  • Restoration of a “robust” ICE “PD program” to take off the docket large numbers of cases that don’t really belong in Immigration Court;
  • Far greater efforts by the DHS and USCIS to resolve deserving cases such as adjustment of status, asylum, T visas, U visas, ands SIJ visas favorably internally without resorting to the Immigration Courts;
  • Reduced use of immigration detention, and concerted efforts by the Government to schedule Immigration Court cases in a manner that best insures the reasonable access to pro bono legal services;
  • Realistic immigration reform legislation that will allow the bulk of the approximately 11 million supposedly “undocumented” individuals who have been residing in a productive and law-abiding manner in the U.S. to be granted some type of legal status (preferably with, but if necessary without, a specific path forward to citizenship);
  • Common-sense modifications in existing law to allow individuals who otherwise now qualify for permanent immigration to do so without the “unlawful presence” bar;
  • Restoration of the so-called “section 245(i) program” allowing such individuals to adjust status in the U.S. by paying a substantial “penalty fee;”
  • Substantially more resources for the U.S. Immigration Courts, but distributed in  a measured, professionally competent, and reasonable manner over time.

PWS

11-24-17

 

NICKOLE MILLER IN THE WASHPOST: The Truth About Vulnerable Asylum Seekers Refutes Sessions’s False Narrative!

Safari – Oct 16, 2017 at 10:17 AM

Inaccurate claims from Mr. Sessions

The Oct. 13 news article “Citing ‘rampant abuse and fraud,’ Sessions urges tighter asylum rules” quoted Attorney General Jeff Sessions as saying that many asylum claims “lacked merit” and are “simply a ruse to enter the country illegally.” As one of the “dirty immigration lawyers” who has represented hundreds of asylum seekers, I find these claims wildly inaccurate and dangerous. When I ask my clients, the majority of them children, why they came to the came to the United States, they invariably tell me the same thing: I had no choice — I was running for my
life. Indeed, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 58 per cent of Northern Triangle and Mexican children displaced in the United States suffered or faced harms that indicated need for international protection. These children are not gaming the system; they are seeking refuge from rampant gender based violence, MS-13 death threats and child abuse.
While I like to think I am a “smart” attorney, even immigrants represented by the smartest attorneys do not stand a chance in places such as Atlanta, where the asylum grant rate is as low as 2 per cent. Yes, reform is needed, but the only reform we should consider is one that provides more robust protections and recognizes our moral and legal obligation to protect asylum seekers.

Nickole Miller, Baltimore The writer is a lawyer with the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

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Nickole speaks truth.  Almost all of the “credible fear” reviews involving folks from the Northern Triangle that I performed as a U.S. Immigration Judge, both at the border and in Arlington, presented plausible claims for at least protection under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”) if the rules were properly applied (which they often are not in Immigration Court — there is a strong bias against granting even the minimal protection that CAT provides). Many also had plausible gender-based, religious, or political asylum claims if they were allowed to gather the necessary evidence.

Whether ultimately successful or not, these individuals were clearly entitled to their day in court, to be listened to by an unbiased judicial decision maker, to have the reasons for the decision to accept or reject them carefully explained in language they can understand, and to have a right to appeal to a higher authority.

Of course, without a lawyer and some knowledge of the complicated CAT regulations and administrative and Federal Court case-law, a CAT applicant would have about “0 chance” of success. The same is true of asylum which requires proof not only of the possibility of future harm, but also proof of causal relationship to a “protected ground” an arcane concept which most unfamiliar with asylum law cannot grasp.

In other words, our system sends back individuals who have established legitimate fears of death, rape, or torture, just because they fail to show that it is “on account” of race, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. These concepts are often applied, particularly in Immigration Court where respondents are unrepresented, in the manner “most unfavorable” to the claimant.  This is in direct violation of the U.N. guidance which holds that credible asylum seekers should be given “the benefit of the doubt.”

Moreover, assuming that we have the “right” to send good folks, who have done no wrong, back to be harmed in the Northern Triangle, that doesn’t mean that we should be doing so as either a legal or moral matter. That’s what devices like Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”), Deferred Enforced Departure (“DED”), and just “plain old Prosecutorial Discretion (“PD”) are for: to save lives and maintain the status quo while deferring the more difficult decisions on permanent protection until later. Obviously, this would also allow  at least minimal protections to be granted by DHS outside the Immigration Court system, thus relieving the courts of thousands of cases, but without endangering lives, legal rights, or due process.

I agree with Nickole that the “asylum reform” needed is exactly the opposite of that being proposed by restrictionist opportunists like Trump and Sessions. The first step would be insuring that individuals seeking protections in Immigration Court have a right to a hearing before a real, impartial judicial official who will apply the law fairly and impartially, and who does not work for the Executive Branch and therefore is more likely to be free from the type of anti-asylum and anti-migrant bias overtly demonstrated by Sessions and other enforcement officials. 

PWS

10-16-17

9th Cir. Remands Reasonable Fear Denial In Reinstatement Case — VALENCIA MARTINEZ V. SESSIONS (Published)

http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2017/07/20/14-70339.pdf

“The government does not offer any argument on the merits of this petition; therefore, it has waived any challenge to the arguments Martinez raised. See Clem v. Lomeli, 566 F.3d 1177, 1182 (9th Cir. 2009) (holding that an appellee who did not address an argument in the answering brief had waived that issue). On remand, the agency is directed: (1) to give proper consideration to Martinez’s testimony about police corruption and acquiescence in MS-13 violence; (2) to accord proper weight to the Department of State Country Report on El Salvador, and in particular, evidence of corruption and inability or unwillingness to prosecute gang violence; and (3) to apply the correct legal standards to Martinez’s Convention Against Torture claim.”

PANEL: Morgan Christen and Paul J. Watford, Circuit Judges, and James Alan Soto, District Judge.

OPINION BY: Judge Soto

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Read the full opinion at the link. It’s short. Three things stand out.

First, the Respondent’s credible testimony clearly established a plausible claim for CAT relief. If he gets representation, he will be able to show that the authorities in El Salvador do often cooperate with gangs and that the government is willfully blind to the many instances of torture of citizens by gangs. The Asylum Officer’s incorrect analysis along with that by the Immigration Judge show a fundamental misunderstanding of CAT law and the reasonable fear process. How does an Immigration Court system faced with such glaring problems eliminate training and the guidance provided through the former Benchbook?

Second, the 9th Circuit highlights the Byzantine nature of the regulations in this area.  How many unrepresented individuals who been treated in this unfair manner are hustled out of the country because they can’t figure out how to get meaningful review?

Third, this decision shows that there might well be ways to penetrate the general unwillingress of Appellate Courts to review the gross miscarriages of justice and denials of due process going on every day in the expedited removal process which is administered by the DHS and inadequately reviewed by the Immigration Judges. Once they take a look, they will be appalled at what they find!

PWS

07-21-17

IMMIGRATION IMPACT: Katie Shepard Explains How New USCIS Lesson Plans Are Likely To Harm Asylum Seekers!

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/02/28/changes-may-keep-asylum-seekers-getting-day-court/

“Effective February 27, 2017, new changes to the asylum screening process could lead to an increased number of deportations of asylum-seekers who fear persecution upon return to their home country.

On February 13, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) revised its Asylum Division Officer Training Course (ADOTC) lesson plans on how to assess an asylum seeker’s credible and reasonable fear of persecution or torture. The lesson plans were revised to be consistent with the January 25, 2017 Executive Order on border security and immigration enforcement and provide guidelines to the asylum officers when conducting credible fear interviews (for those at the border or port of entry who were never previously deported) and reasonable fear interviews (for those who were previously order deported but who later seek asylum).

The changes to the lesson plans are significant and may cause the denial rate to skyrocket, in which case thousands of asylum seekers would be wrongfully denied a meaningful day in court . Not only does the new guidance provide asylum officers with greater discretion to deny an applicant for reasons which may be out of the applicant’s control, but the applicant will essentially be forced to undergo a full asylum hearing with none of the safeguards in place to ensure a meaningful opportunity to present a claim for relief.”

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Read Katie’s complete analysis at the link. You should also look at Dree Collopy’s short video on the changes which I previously posted.

http://wp.me/p8eeJm-qx

If this carries over into Immigration Court where unsuccessful applicants can seek “expedited review,” it would mean that “credible fear reviews” could become more time consuming.

I was usually able to complete them in a few minutes using the Asylum Officer’s notes and asking a few questions. I found that the overwhelming number of those denied had “credible fear,” and probably at least half of those cases eventually resulted in relief. However, over the last year of my career I was primarily on the non-detained docket, so I only did “credible fears” when I was on detail to a detention center or the system was backed up.

As an Immigration Judge, I did not use the USCIS lesson plans. But, I did rely on the Asylum Officer’s notes for a basic understanding of the claim. I then usually asked a few questions to verify that the notes accurately reflected the claim and that nothing relevant had been omitted.

 

PWS

03/03/17

 

AILA TV: In Less Than 5 Minutes, Superstar Attorney Dree Collopy Tells You Everything You Need To Know About The Revised USCIS Guidance On Credible/Reasonable Fear — Must Watch TV!

Here’s the You-Tube link.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgVJkysse2Y

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Great job by Dree!

Bottom Line:  Under pressure from the Trump Administration, USCIS is tilting the system against (largely unrepresented) asylum applicants from the Northern Triangle. The only questions are 1) whether the Immigration Courts will follow suit, and 2) if so, whether the Article III Courts will blow or swallow (as they have done so far in the credible/reasonable fear context) the whistle on due process for the most vulnerable.

A good introduction to reality for anyone who believes that conscientious career civil servants will be able to persevere in the face of the Trump Administration’s all-out assault on due process and fundamental fairness.

P

DHS Issues New Training Materials For Credible Fear Determinations — Complete Text Here!

Release lesson plans

credible fear lesson plan

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These were forwarded by Nolan Rappaport. Nolan believes that these guidelines will “raise the bar” substantially for asylum claimants to pass through the credible fear process.

On initial review, I’d be hard pressed to say there was anything “legally erroneous” about these lesson plans. However, they did seem highly “legalistic.”

I have done numerous “credible fear reviews” in my judicial career and found that the determinations were more “holistic” than “legalistic.” Most of the folks I reviewed had credible, legitimate fears that arguably came within the legal definitions of persecution and/or torture particularly if the individual could fully develop the claims with the help of a lawyer.

I did not always retain jurisdiction over the cases once they were allowed into the Individual Hearing system Of the cases the came back to me, I estimate that at least half of the individuals succeeded in getting some form of protection at the Immigration Court level.

Read the lesson plans here and decide for yourself!

PWS

02/27/17