ABA JOURNAL: Superstar Reporter Lorelei Laird Exposes The Impending Disaster In The U.S. Immigration Courts! (I Am One Of Her Quoted Sources)


Lorelei reports:

“In the fall of 2016, the Executive Office for Immigration Review was busy addressing these problems by hiring aggressively, spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly said.

As of March, she said the agency had 301 seated judges and had requested authorization for a total of 399 judgeships. Those new judges are welcomed by legal and immigration groups—including the ABA, which called for more immigration judges with 2010’s Resolution 114B.

But that effort may be overwhelmed by changes under the Trump administration. Trump’s actions since taking office emphasize enforcement; his executive orders call for 10,000 more ICE agents and 5,000 more CBP officers, and they substantially reduce use of prosecutorial discretion. In his first months in office, there were several high-profile deportations of immigrants who had previously benefited from prosecutorial discretion and had little or no criminal record.

Although the DOJ eventually said immigration judges weren’t subject to the hiring freeze, it’s unclear whether immigration courts will be funded enough to handle all the additional cases. If not, Schmidt says, wait times will only worsen.

“If they really put a lot more people in proceedings, then it seems to me the backlog’s going to continue to grow,” he says. “How are they going to take on more work with the number of cases that are already there?”


This is just a small sample. Read Lorelei’s much lengthier and complete analysis of all of the problems, including interviews with a number of other experts and a cross-reference to the ABA’s previous work predicting just such a docket disaster at the above link.

In my view, the Trump Administration is aggravating the problem, rather than seeking to improve the delivery of due process. Given the nature of the system, they might get away with it for awhile. But, eventually, one way or another, these chickens are coming home to roost. And, when they do, it won’t be pretty for the Administration, for anyone involved with the U.S. Immigration Court system, and for the American system of justice.



Zoe Tillman on BuzzFeed: U.S. Immigration Courts Are Overwhelmed — Administration’s New Enforcement Priorities Could Spell Disaster! (I’m Quoted In This Article, Along With Other Current & Former U.S. Immigration Judges)


Zoe Tillman reports:

“ARLINGTON, Va. — In a small, windowless courtroom on the second floor of an office building, Judge Rodger Harris heard a string of bond requests on Tuesday morning from immigrants held in jail as they faced deportation.
The detainees appeared by video from detention facilities elsewhere in the state. Harris, an immigration judge since 2007, used a remote control to move the camera around in his courtroom so the detainees could see their lawyers appearing in-person before the judge, if they had one. The lawyers spoke about their clients’ family ties, job history, and forthcoming asylum petitions, and downplayed any previous criminal record.
In cases where Harris agreed to set bond — the amounts ranged from $8,000 to $20,000 — he had the same message for the detainees: if they paid bond and were set free until their next court date, it would mean a delay in their case. Hearings set for March or April would be pushed back until at least the summer, he said.
But a couple of months is nothing compared to timelines that some immigration cases are on now. Judges and lawyers interviewed by BuzzFeed News described hearings scheduled four, five, or even six years out. Already facing a crushing caseload, immigration judges are bracing for more strain as the Trump administration pushes ahead with an aggressive ramp-up of immigration enforcement with no public commitment so far to aid backlogged courts.
Immigration courts, despite their name, are actually an arm of the US Department of Justice. The DOJ seal — with the Latin motto “qui pro domina justitia sequitur,” which roughly translates to, “who prosecutes on behalf of justice” — hung on the wall behind Harris in his courtroom in Virginia. Lawyers from the US Department of Homeland Security prosecute cases. Rulings can be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is also part of the Justice Department, and then to a federal appeals court.
As of the end of January, there were more than 540,000 cases pending in immigration courts. President Trump signed executive orders in late January that expanded immigration enforcement priorities and called for thousands of additional enforcement officers and border patrol officers. But the orders are largely silent on immigration courts, where there are dozens of vacant judgeships. And beyond filling the vacancies, the union of immigration judges says more judges are needed to handle the caseload, as well as more space, technological upgrades, and other resources.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly acknowledged the immigration court backlog in a memorandum released this week that provided new details about how the department would carry out Trump’s orders. Kelly lamented the “unacceptable delay” in immigration court cases that allowed individuals who illegally entered the United States to remain here for years.
The administration hasn’t announced plans to increase the number of immigration judges or to provide more funding and resources. It also isn’t clear yet if immigration judges and court staff are exempt from a government-wide hiring freeze that Trump signed shortly after he took office. There are 73 vacancies in immigration courts, out of 374 judgeships authorized by Congress.
“Everybody’s pretty stressed,” said Paul Schmidt, who retired as an immigration judge in June. “How are you going to throw more cases into a court with 530,000 pending cases? It isn’t going to work.”


Zoe Tillman provides a well-reaserched and accurate description of the dire situation of justice in the U.S. Immigration Courts and the poorly conceived and uncoordinated enforcement initiatives of the Trump Administration. Sadly, lives and futures of “real life human beings” are at stake here.

Here’s a “shout out” to my good friend and former colleague Judge Rodger Harris who always does a great job of providing due process and justice on the highly stressful Televideo detained docket at the U.S. Immigration Court in Arlington, VA. Thanks for all you do for our system of justice and the cause of due process, Judge Harris.



Judge Edward F. Kelly Was Just Appointed To The “High Court Of Immigration” — Who Knew?

The answer is that “almost nobody knew” outside of the insular “tower” world of EOIR Headquarters in Falls Church, VA. It took some super sleuthing by ace Legal Reporter Allissa Wickham over at Law 360 to smoke this one out.

With a little help from her friends, the fabulous “AWick” came upon Judge Kelly’s name in the Roster of Board Members in The Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) Online Practice Manual. (As the BIA Practice Manual was instituted during my tenure as BIA Chair, I’m gratified that someone out there is actually reading it.)

Armed with that tidbit of information, AWick was able to get confirmation of Judge Kelly’s appointment from EOIR spokesperson Kathryn Mattingly on Friday evening. Interestingly, Judge Kelly’s biography no longer appears in the online listing for the Office of Chief Immigration Judge, where he had served for a number of years as a Deputy Chief Immigration Judge. Nor has his name or biography appeared under the online listing for the BIA. In other words, Judge Kelly is somewhat “lost in EOIR space” — close to being a bureaucratic “non-person.”

For those who don’t know, the BIA is the highest administrative tribunal in the filed of immigration.  With an authorized membership of 16 Appellate Immigration Judges (Judge Kelly became #15, leaving one vacancy), the BIA received more than 29,000 cases and completed more than 34,000 cases in FY 2015 and had nearly 17,000 pending at the end of that year. By comparison, for the same period, the U.S. Supreme Court received 6,475 cases and took only 81 for oral argument.

The Board also issues nationwide precedents that are binding on the U.S. Immigration Courts and the DHS. Although a part of the Executive, not the Judicial Branch, the BIA effectively occupies a position in our justice system just below that of a U.S. Court of Appeals.

Moreover, as I have pointed out in other blogs, because of the idiosyncrasies of the Supreme Court’s so called “Chevron doctrine,” the Courts of Appeals actually are required to “defer” to the BIA’s interpretation of ambiguous questions of law. Indeed, under the Supreme Court’s remarkable “Brand X doctrine” (“Chevron on steroids”) under some circumstances the BIA can reject the legal reasoning of a Court of Appeals and apply its own interpretation instead.

In other words, notwithstanding their rather cloistered existence, and attempt to remain “below the radar screen,” BIA Appellate Immigration Judges are some of the most powerful judges in the entire Federal Justice system. That makes the lack of publicity about Judge Kelly’s elevation to the appellate bench even more curious.

For those who don’t know him, Judge Kelly started moving “up the ladder” at EOIR when I appointed him to a newly created staff supervisory position at the BIA in the mid-1990s. He was selected because of his reputation for fairness, scholarship, strong writing, collegiality, and ability to teach and inspire others. In other staff positions at the BIA, Judge Kelly became a master of understanding, explaining, and recommending improvements to the case management system. I believe it was those skills and understanding of the mechanics of the Immigration Court System that made him rise to a Deputy Chief Judge position within the Office of Chief Immigration Judge in Falls Church.

Judge Kelly was at the BIA in the late 1990s when the EOIR Executive Group developed the “EOIR Vision” of “through teamwork and innovation, being the world’s best administrative tribunals, guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.” Although over the years, Department of Justice and EOIR management have essentially downplayed and moved away from any public expression or reinforcement of this noble vision, I’m confident that Judge Kelly remains committed to the due process mission we all embarked upon together several decades ago.

From his prior vantage point as a Deputy Chief Immigration Judge, Judge Kelly saw first-hand the docket and due process disaster caused by the DOJ’s politicized meddling in the daily case management practices of the U.S. Immigration Courts over the past several years. He also witnessed the general failure of the BIA to step up and stand up for the due process rights of individuals being hustled through the system with neither lawyers nor any realistic chance of effectively presenting their claims for potential life saving protection.

I hope that as the “new Appellate Immigration Judge on the block,” Judge Kelly will bring a forceful voice for due process and fairness to his colleagues’ deliberations. By doing so, perhaps he can persuade them to face and address some of the important due process and fairness issues in the Immigration Courts that they have been avoiding.

Judge Kelly’s professional bio (taken from his appointment as Deputy Chief Judge, in the absence of a formal announcement from DOJ/EOIR) is reprinted here:

“FALLS CHURCH, Va. – The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) today announced the appointment of a second deputy chief immigration judge (DCIJ). Effective March 10, 2013, Assistant Chief Immigration Judge (ACIJ) Edward F. Kelly will become a DCIJ. Judge Kelly will assume direct supervision of the program components in the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge (OCIJ), including the legal unit, the language service unit, the organizational results unit, the chief clerk, and the executive officer.

“Judge Kelly’s appointment as deputy chief immigration judge is in recognition of his tremendous contributions to OCIJ’s efficiencies and services,” said Chief Immigration Judge Brian M. O’Leary. “With his expanded role, I am confident OCIJ will continue to improve our operations and inspire our staff.”

Biographical information follows:

Attorney General Holder appointed Judge Kelly as an ACIJ in March 2011. He received a bachelor of arts degree in 1982 and a juris doctorate in 1987, both from the University of Notre Dame. From November 2009 to March 2011, Judge Kelly served as senior counsel and chief of staff for OCIJ. From 2007 to 2009, he was counsel for operations for OCIJ at EOIR. From 1998 to 2007, Judge Kelly was a senior legal advisor for the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), EOIR. From 1995 to 1998, he served as a supervisory attorney and team leader for the BIA. From 1989 to 1993 and again from 1994 to 1995, Judge Kelly was an attorney advisor for the BIA. From 1987 to 1989, he served as an assistant counsel, Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and International Law, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. From 1982 to 1984, he served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Gabon, Africa. Judge Kelly is a member of the Virginia State Bar.”

Perhaps, eventually, EOIR will announce Judge Kelly’s appointment. Who knows?

Additionally, those of you with full Law 360 access (which I don’t have) can read AWick’s full article at the Lexis link below.