It’s been a tough year for EOIR, the agency of the U.S. Department of Justice that oversees the U.S. Immigration Court system. (Although, admittedly, probably not as tough for EOIR as for the many individuals forced to count on EOIR for potentially life-saving due process who were short-changed and the often disrespected attorneys representing, or trying to represent, them.)
The backlog has continued to mushroom to more than 640,000 cases with no end in sight; new Immigration Judge hiring and courtroom expansion continued to lag; e-filing remains a pipe dream; recently retired former Director and BIA Chair Juan Osuna died suddenly and unexpectedly; and a new Attorney General took office who apparently views the Immigration Courts not as a “real” judiciary charged with acting independently to protect the due process and other legal rights of migrants, but rather as a mere “whistle stop on the DHS deportation express.”
But, at least some good news could be in the offing. Reportedly, Judge Christopher A. “The Great Santorini” Santoro, who currently serves as the Acting Chief of Staff for the Acting Director of EOIR, Judge James McHenry, will assume overall responsibility for the BIA’s Law Library (which includes the highly-regarded “Virtual Law Library”) and the Judicial Training Program. Both important functions will be “relocated” to the Office of Policy in the Director’s Office.
Judge Santoro served as the Assistant Chief Immigration Judge for the Arlington Immigration Court during some of my tenure there and later went on to be an Acting Deputy Chief Immigration Judge before mysteriously disappearing for a time into the bowels of the EOIR bureaucracy (becoming essentially a “bureaucratic non-person” – off the organizational “depth charts”). He subsequently was “rehabilitated” and reappeared last spring when Acting Director McHenry appointed him Acting Chief of Staff.
Judge Santoro has a stellar reputation for hard work, efficiency, sound administration, and creative problem solving. In Arlington, he was viewed as a “trial judges’ judge” who devoted himself to supporting the judges and resolving problems while not interfering with the things that were working.
He also provided unprecedented feedback and guidance about what was “really happening at The Tower” – normally a “dark hole” for field judges. During my illness, he, along with my colleagues Judge Roxanne Hladylowicz and Judge Robert Owens, pitched in and handled some of my Master Calendars so they didn’t have to be rescheduled. I always found him to be totally supportive and responsive, as well as a great colleague. He cared deeply about and paid attention to the hard-working and underappreciated court staff. He is known as a manager who in the words of one former employee will likely “put competent people in charge and let them do their jobs.”
The Law Library has been under the outstanding leadership of Head Law Librarian Karen L. Drumond dating back to my tenure as BIA Chair (1995-2001). The upgrading of the Law Library, hiring of additional staff, and the creation of the Virtual Law Library were carried out with the encouragement and enthusiastic support of then-Director (and later BIA Member) Anthony C. “Tony” Moscoto. Tony correctly envisioned changing the previously, rather ignored, BIA Law Library into a major research aid for the Immigration Judiciary as well as a help to the public and a repository for certain historical materials about the BIA and EOIR’s history.
The Virtual Law Library, in particular, has been widely acclaimed as an important research tool in the world of immigration law. I still use the public version on a regular basis and recommend it to my students and others as a great resource!
Assistant Chief Judge Jack Weil has very capably managed the EOIR Judicial Training Program for years. However, despite Judge Weil’s best efforts, training too often fell victim to budget shortages or other bureaucratic impediments. Unfortunately, it has been, quite incorrectly, considered a “low priority” within the bureaucracy.
Immigration Judge Training hit bottom this past year when the incoming Administration without explanation cancelled critical in–person nationwide training for Immigrating Judges — the only real CLE and training that most Judges receive during the year. This was notwithstanding the arrival of many newly hired Immigration Judges who have never had a chance to attend a nationwide training conference or, indeed, even to meet the vast majority of their judicial colleagues!
I know that Judge Santoro takes legal research, professional excellence, fairness, and training very seriously. Indeed, while at the Office of Chief Immigration Judge he “directed” several “new judge training videos” with an all-star cast including some of our multi-talented former Arlington Judicial Law Clerks.
Generally, I interpret bringing the Law Library and Judicial Training functions under the Director’s Office and selecting a “total judicial management pro” like Judge Santoro to lead them as a positive sign for EOIR and the immigration world. Hopefully, the Law Library and Judicial Training will prosper and expand under Judge Santoro’s leadership to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.
“Job One” at EOIR is NOT about removing migrants at record paces, denying more asylum applications, or deterring future migrants. No, it’s all about fairness, scholarship, timeliness, respect, teamwork, and delivering Due Process and even-handed justice to some of the most vulnerable individuals in America.
Currently, EOIR is failing to discharge its critical duties to guarantee fairness and due process in the manner one would expect from one of the largest, perhaps the largest, and most important Federal Court systems. Hopefully, Judge Santoro will be part of the solution to the problems facing EOIR and those whose lives and futures depend on it.