THIS IS DUE PROCESS? — 10th Cir. Rips BIA’s Anti-Asylum Decision-Making — BIA Ignores Record, Makes Up Law To “Stick It” To PRC Asylum Seeker! — Qiu v. Sessions! — “The nonsensical nature of the BIA’s supposed reasoning on this point is illustrative of the BIA’s failure to give fair consideration to any of the arguments in Petitioner’s motion to reopen in this case, and it represents the very definition of an abuse of discretion!” — Read My Latest “Mini-Essay” — “HOW THE BIA FAILS TO PROVIDE FAIRNESS AND DUE PROCESS TO ASYLUM SEEKERS!”

16-9522

Qiu v. Sessions, 10th Cir., 09-12-17

PANEL: PHILLIPS, McKAY, and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION BY: Judge McKay

KEY QUOTES:

The BIA held that Petitioner had not submitted sufficient evidence to show a change in country conditions, and thus that her motion to reopen was untimely under 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(7)(C). The BIA first held that Petitioner had not submitted sufficient evidence to show that the treatment of Christians in China has worsened since her 2011 immigration hearing. This factual finding is not supported by substantial—or, indeed, any—evidence in the record. The agency provided no rational explanation as to how numerous accounts of a 300 percent increase in the persecution of Christians, “unprecedented violations” of religious freedoms beginning in 2014, and possibly “the most egregious and persistent” wave of persecution against Christians since the Cultural Revolution of 1966–76 was insufficient to show that the treatment of Christians in China had worsened since 2011. Nor is there anything in the record that would contradict Petitioner’s extensive evidence of a substantial increase in the government’s mistreatment of Christians since 2011. The BIA pointed to the fact that some portions of the State Department’s 2014 report include substantially similar language to the 2008 and 2009 reports. However, the State Department’s habit of cutting and pasting portions of its old reports into newer reports does nothing to refute all of the other evidence that the level and intensity of persecution against Christians has increased significantly since 2011. Nor does anything in the State Department report suggest that the U.S. Commission and various human-rights organizations are all reporting false data or drawing false conclusions about the deterioration of the treatment of Christians in China. The BIA thus abused its discretion by holding, completely contrary to all of the evidence, that Petitioner had not shown that the treatment of Christians in China has worsened in recent years.

The BIA also suggested that the substantial increase in the persecution of Christians was simply irrelevant because “[a] review of the record before the Immigration Judge indicated that China has long repressed religious freedom, and that underground or unregistered churches continued to experience varying degrees of official interference, harassment, and repression, including breaking up services, fines, detention, beatings, and torture.” (R. at 5.) However, the fact that there was already some level of persecution in China does not prevent Petitioner from showing a change in country conditions due to a significant increase in the level of persecution faced by Christians in her country. To hold otherwise would be to bar reopening for petitioners who file for asylum when they face some, albeit insufficient, risk of persecution in their country, while permitting reopening for petitioners who file for asylum without there being any danger of persecution, then seek reopening after their country fortuitously begins persecuting people who are in their protected category thereafter. But surely Congress did not intend for 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(7)(C) to protect only petitioners who file frivolous asylum applications under no threat of persecution, while extending no help to petitioners who seek reopening after an existing pattern of persecution becomes dramatically worse. The BIA’s reasoning would lead to an absurd result, one we cannot condone.

Instead, we agree with the Second, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits that a significant increase in the level of persecution constitutes a material change in country conditions for purposes of 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(7)(C) and that the BIA abuses its discretion when it fails to assess and consider a petitioner’s evidence that the persecution of others in his protected category has substantially worsened since the initial application. See Paul v. Gonzales, 444 F.3d 148, 157 (2d Cir. 2006) (“Proof that persecution of Christians in Pakistan has become more common, intense, or far-reaching—i.e., the very proof that petitioner purports to have presented in filing his motion to reopen—would clearly bear on this objective inquiry [into the likelihood of future persecution]. Under the circumstances, the BIA’s refusal even to consider such evidence constitutes an abuse of discretion.”); Poradisova v. Gonzales, 420 F.3d 70, 81–82 (2d Cir. 2005) (holding that the BIA abused its discretion in denying a motion to reopen based on worsened country conditions: evidence that the human-rights situation in Belarus is “in an ‘accelerating deterioration’” and “that the situation has worsened since the Poradisovs’ original application” “certainly warranted more than a perfunctory (and clearly inaccurate) mention by the BIA as being ‘merely cumulative’”); Shu Han Liu v. Holder, 718 F.3d 706, 709, 712–13 (7th Cir. 2013) (holding that a petitioner seeking to file an untimely motion to reopen must meet her burden of “show[ing] that Chinese persecution of Christians (of her type) had worsened,” and concluding that the BIA abused its discretion in ignoring evidence that current conditions in China were worse than conditions at the date of the petitioner’s final removal hearing); Chandra v. Holder, 751 F.3d 1034, 1039 (9th Cir. 2014) (“The BIA abused its discretion when it failed to assess Chandra’s evidence that treatment of Christians in Indonesia had deteriorated since his 2002 removal hearing.”); Jiang v. U.S. Attorney Gen., 568 F.3d 1252, 1258 (11th Cir. 2009) (holding that the BIA clearly abused its discretion by overlooking or “inexplicably discount[ing]” evidence of “the recent increased enforcement of the one-child policy” in the petitioner’s province and hometown).

Finally, the BIA rejected Petitioner’s mother’s statement regarding her recent religious persecution in Petitioner’s hometown as both unreliable and irrelevant. The BIA held that the statement was unreliable for two reasons: (1) it was unsworn, and (2) it was prepared for the purposes of litigation. The first of these reasons is incorrect both as a matter of fact and as a matter of law. Petitioner’s mother concluded her statement by expressly swearing to the truth of everything she had stated therein, and thus the BIA’s factual finding that the statement was unsworn is refuted by the record. And even if the BIA were correct in its factual finding, we note that several “[o]ther circuits have admonished the Board for dismissing or according little weight to a statement due to its unsworn nature.” Yu Yun Zhang v. Holder, 702 F.3d 878, 881 (6th Cir. 2012). There is no statutory support for the BIA’s contention that documents at immigration hearings must be sworn, and “numerous courts,” “without so much as pausing to note the unsworn nature of a document, . . . have relied on such documents when considering claims of asylum applicants.” Zuh v. Mukasey, 547 F.3d 504, 509 (4th Cir. 2008). “Moreover,” the Fourth Circuit noted in Zuh, “it seems untenable to require a sworn statement from a person harassed because of a relationship with an asylum applicant and potentially endangered by helping that applicant.” Id.; see also Yu Yun Zhang, 702 F.3d at 881 (“Given the documented persecution of Christians in China, it seems an arbitrarily high threshold to require that letters attesting to government abuse and admitting membership in a persecuted organization be notarized.”).

As for the BIA’s second reason for rejecting the statement as unreliable, the fact that the evidence was prepared while litigation was ongoing is all but inevitable in the context of a motion to reopen, and we hold that the BIA may not entirely dismiss an asylum applicant’s evidence as unreliable based solely on the timing of its creation. Neither the BIA decision nor the government brief cites to a single statute or circuit court decision to support the idea that the timing of a statement’s creation is a dispositive or even permissible factor in evaluating its reliability in an asylum case. Furthermore, we note that the Sixth Circuit has held that it simply “does not matter that [evidence] may have been written for the express purpose of supporting [a petitioner’s] motion to reopen,” citing for support to a Ninth Circuit case which held that the BIA may not “denigrate the credibility” of letters written by the petitioner’s friends based simply on the inference that her friends “‘would tend to write supportive letters.’” Yu Yun Zhang, 702 F.3d at 882 (quoting Zavala-Bonilla v. INS, 730 F.3d 562, 565 (9th Cir. 1984)). We need not resolve this broader question in the case before us today; even if the timing of a statement’s creation might perhaps play some role in determining its credibility and the weight it should be afforded, the BIA cannot entirely dismiss a statement as unreliable based simply on the fact that it was prepared for purposes of litigation. The protections that the asylum statute was intended to provide would be gutted if we permitted the BIA to entirely reject all evidence presented by an asylum applicant that is prepared following the filing of the initial asylum application, and we see neither legal or logical support for such a ruling. We accordingly hold that the BIA abused its discretion in this case by rejecting Petitioner’s mother’s statement as unreliable based solely on the (erroneous) finding that it was unsworn and on the timing of its creation.

Finally, the BIA dismissed Petitioner’s mother’s statement as irrelevant because “the respondent’s mother is not similarly situated to the respondent, inasmuch as the incidents giving rise to her purported violations occurred in China, not in the United States.” (R. at 4.) This reasoning defies understanding. The heart of the matter is whether Petitioner will be persecuted if she is removed to China—to the town where her mother has allegedly been persecuted for the religious beliefs she shares with Petitioner, and where the local police have allegedly made threatening statements about Petitioner—and it is simply absurd to dismiss her mother’s experiences as irrelevant because her mother’s experiences occurred in China. Indeed, it is the very fact that her mother’s experiences occurred in China that makes them relevant to Petitioner’s motion to reopen. Tinasmuch as the incidents giving rise to her purported violations occurred in China, not in the United States.” (R. at 4.) This reasoning defies understanding. The heart of the matter is whether Petitioner will be persecuted if she is removed to China—to the town where her mother has allegedly been persecuted for the religious beliefs she shares with Petitioner, and where the local police have allegedly made threatening statements about Petitioner—and it is simply absurd to dismiss her mother’s experiences as irrelevant because her mother’s experiences occurred in China. Indeed, it is the very fact that her mother’s experiences occurred in China that makes them relevant to Petitioner’s motion to reopen. The nonsensical nature of the BIA’s supposed reasoning on this point is illustrative of the BIA’s failure to give fair consideration to any of the arguments in Petitioner’s motion to reopen in this case, and it represents the very definition of an abuse of discretion. 

The BIA provided no rational, factually supported reason for denying Petitioner’s motion to reopen. We conclude that the BIA abused its discretion by denying the motion on factually erroneous, legally frivolous, and logically unsound grounds, and we accordingly remand this case back to the BIA for further consideration. In so doing, we express no opinion as to the ultimate merits of the case.”

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HOW THE BIA FAILS TO PROVIDE FAIRNESS AND DUE PROCESS TO ASYLUM SEEKERS

By

Paul Wickham Schmidt

United States Immigration Judge (Retired)

Everyone should read the Tenth Circuit’s full opinion detailing the mounds of evidence that the BIA ignored and/or mischaracterized, at the above ink.

Folks, the 10th Circuit, former home of Justice Neil Gorsuch, is hardly known as a “haven” for asylum seekers. So, that the 10th finally is fed up with the BIA’s biased anti-asylum seeker decision making speaks volumes.

I’ve made the observation before that the BIA appears to be on “anti-asylum autopilot.” This looks for all the world like a “cut and paste” denial mass-produced by BIA staff from boilerplate that is unrelated to the facts, evidence, or, as this case shows, even the law. The BIA sometimes twists the law against asylum seekers; other times, as in this case, the BIA simply pretends that the law doesn’t exist by ignoring it. I can just imagine the BIA opinion drafter thinking to him or her self, “Oh boy, another routine PRC motion denial. This should sail through the panel without any problem.  Need to get those numbers up for the month.”

This is not an isolated incident. As I’ve pointed out before, there is a strong anti-asylum bias in the BIA’s decisions. Virtually no BIA precedents (particularly since the “Ashcroft purge” when true deliberation and dissent were tossed out the window) illustrate how commonly arising situations can and should result in many more grants to asylum seekers under the generous principles enunciated by the Supreme Court in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca and by the BIA in Matter of Mogharrabi, yet routinely ignored by today’s BIA.

The majority of asylum seekers are credible individuals coming from countries where persecution, torture, and human rights abuses are well-documented. Even in the Northern Triangle, where the BIA has intentionally skewed the law against asylum seekers, torture by gangs by and cartels while the corrupt government authorities are either complicit or “willfully blind” abounds. The BIA, and some U.S. Immigration Judges, have to work overtime and routimely turn a blind eye to both facts and the law to deny protection in the majority of cases.

At a minimum, most Southern Border arrivals fleeing gang violence should be getting temporary grants of protection under the CAT. Instead, they are often railroaded out of the country, sometimes without even seeing a U.S. Immigration Judge, other times with no legal assistance to help them in making a claim. And, the Sessions-led Justice Department had the absolute gall to claim that this lawless and unconstitutional behavior amounts to a “return to the rule of law” at EOIR!

Where’s the outrage from this type of gross abuse of the system by politicos who should have no role in the operations of the U.S. Immigration Courts? Where is the Congressional oversight of Sessions’s use of the USDOJ as a tool to advance a blatantly restrictionist, White Nationalist political agenda? How does a system that functions this poorly, on all levels, justify elimination of annual in-person training of U.S. Immigration Judges?

When you read the full decision, you can see the voluminous evidentiary package that the respondent’s counsel put together just to get a reopened hearing. And, it resulted in an illegal denial by the BIA. Only an appeal to a Court of Appeals saved the day. How could any unrepresented asylum seeker achieve due process in a system that demands unreasonable documentation, routinely denies individuals the legal assistance necessary to assemble and present such evidence, and then ignores the evidence when it is presented? What kind of due process is this?

And, the Article III Courts have to shoulder some of blame. In particular, the Fifth Circuit “goes along to get along” with the BIA, and turns a blind eye to violations of human rights laws and skewed factfinding in “rubber stamping” inadequate hearings coming from detention centers in obscure locations in Texas.

Reiterating a point I’ve made numerous times, why is a captive, enforcement-oriented, pro-Government tribunal that performs in the manner detailed in this case entitled to “deference” on either the facts or the law (so-called “Cheveon deference” that has been criticized by Justice Gorsuch and others)? What’s “expert” about a tribunal that routinely ignores and misconstrues basic asylum law as detailed in this decision?

At a minimum, in light of the types of gross miscarriages of justice that have come to light in some recent Court of Appeals decisions, the BIA should change its internal operating procedures to require that all asylum denials be reviewed by a  three-judge panel. But, don’t hold your breath. That would slow down the “assembly line” at the “Falls Church Service Center.” And turning out large numbers of final orders of removal without any real deliberation is what the “Sessions-Era BIA & EOIR” is all about.

Folks, we need an independent U.S. Immigration Court, including a competent Appellate Division (“BIA”). And in the future, selections of BIA Appellate Immigration Judges should be made in the same careful manner that applies to U.S. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Judges.

The “life and death” power wielded by U.S. Immigration Judges and BIA Appellate Immigration Judges actually exceeds that of most Article III Judges. Yet the selection process for the Immigration Judiciary is opaque, cumbersome, secretive, closed, and consistently produces one-sided results skewed toward “insiders” or those with government experience. In other words, those with a history of “going along to get along” in the system rather than showing independent thinking and the courage to stand up for due process even when  it isn’t “in vogue” with the politicos in an Administration (and genuine due process for migrants is seldom”in vogue” these days in either GOP or Democratic Administrations).

Proven expertise, excellence, sensitivity to individual situations, and commitment to due process for migrants and correct application of human rights law and protections should be a minimum qualification for an Appellate Immigration Judge. And, the same question should be asked that was asked of Justice Gorsuch: “If necessary, are you willing to stand up and rule against the President and the Administration.” Obviously, in the case of the current BIA, the answer would largely be “No.”

PWS

09-13-17

 

ATTN RETIRED US IMMIGRATION JUDGES: EOIR Wants YOU!

Here is the link from OCIJ with complete information. Good luck!

 

https://www.justice.gov/legal-careers/job/immigration-judge-1

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Seems like a good idea (and one that most past Administrations have failed to take advantage of — I was able to use it at the BIA when I was Chair).

REMEMBER, DUE PROCESS FOREVER!

PWS

08-30-17

WASHPOST: AT JUSTICE, SESSIONS’S XENOPHIBIC WHITE NATIONALIST AGENDA TRUMPS EFFECTIVE LAW ENFORCEMENT!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ideology-trumps-crime-fighting-at-sessionss-justice-department/2017/08/09/6b714040-7d23-11e7-a669-b400c5c7e1cc_story.html?utm_term=.37ad314a70b2

From a Washington Post editorial:

“IN GRAPPLING with its worst epidemic of homicides in years, Chicago faces no more critical task than repairing frayed relations between its beleaguered police force and the communities it serves. Now the Trump administration, more eager to advance its anti-illegal- immigration agenda than to combat violent crime, is throwing up obstacles that will make it more difficult for Chicago and other localities to get a grip on the problems they confront.

After a federal court blocked the administration’s crusade to punish so-called sanctuary cities such as Chicago by withholding an array of federal funds, the Justice Department has renewed the effort in a more targeted way, declaring that localities that refuse to cooperate with deportation agents are ineligible for a specific grant program for police departments.

If that sounds illogical, it’s because it is. Despite President Trump’s assertions to the contrary, there is no evidence that illegal immigration has contributed to Chicago’s murder spree. Eddie Johnson, the city’s police superintendent, said “the vast majority” of Chicago’s violent crime “is committed by homegrown people,” while illegal immigrants are a “nominal” factor. And while the city does prohibit cooperation with federal deportation agents in most instances, it makes exceptions for convicted and charged felons, as well as suspected gang members.

Nonetheless, Attorney General Jeff Sessions justifies barring the federal grants to Chicago — thereby impeding its ability to buy crime-fighting gear such as police cars, SWAT equipment and radios — by falsely linking the Windy City’s homicide rate with its sanctuary policies. “The city’s leaders cannot follow some laws and ignore others and reasonably expect this horrific situation to improve,” he said.”

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

Read the entire editorial at the link.

Contrary to his self-promoted image as a defender of law and order, Session’s “Gonzo Apocalypto” approach is probably the biggest threat to effective law enforcement in the U.S. since Richard Nixon.

PWS

08-15-17

HON. JEFFREY CHASE RESPONDS TO CHIEF JUDGE KELLER’S OPPM: Continuances Promote Due Process — U.S. Immigration Judges Should Be Free To Exercise Discretion — Memo Fails To Recognize Dire Straits Of NGOs And Asylum Seekers Largely Caused By DOJ & EOIR’s Own Policies!

https://www.jeffreyschase.com/blog/2017/8/3/in-support-of-continuances

Jeffrey writes:

“The chief judge’s memo correctly states that “at least one continuance should be granted” in order to allow a respondent to obtain counsel.  However, the memo raises concerns about granting additional adjournments, “particularly when all respondents are initially provided a list of pro bono legal services…”  However, the memo fails to mention the strain the same backlog has put on the limited resources of the listed pro bono representatives.  Therefore, denying additional continuances will require more applicants to proceed without counsel.  At present, many cases pending before the courts involve asylum seekers (including minors) fleeing gang violence in Central America and Mexico.  Many of these claims are based on the claimants’ membership in a particular social group, a still-evolving area of the law.  BIA precedent requires an asylum applicant to “delineate and establish to the Immigration Judge any particular social group he claims.”  See Matter of A-T-, 25 I&N Dec. 4, 10 (BIA 2009).  “Particular social group” is a term of art that a pro se applicant would not understand.  Furthermore, a knowledge of existing case law is essential in crafting a proposed social group to present to the immigration judge.  In other words, the denial of additional continuances to allow an asylum applicant to obtain representation in order to move a case along can be fatal to an individual’s chances for obtaining relief, and can further undermine the applicant’s chance of success on appeal.

Hopefully, judges will continue to consider all of the above in their application of the Chief Judge’s memo.”

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

Read Jeffrey’s complete commentary at the link.

I agree entirely with Jeffrey that continuances play a critical role in maintaining due process.  I also agree that memos such as this OPPM show a total misunderstanding and lack of appreciation for the situation of NGOs — who are basically keeping the system afloat — and the due process need for counsel in asylum cases. See my comments from yesterday on the OPPM:

http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/08/02/eoir-issues-oppm-on-continuances-apparent-attempt-to-shift-focus-away-from-politically-motivated-adr-that-is-causing-massive-backlogs/.

Contrary to the Chief Judge’s tone, problems caused by DOJ and EOIR management have basically tied the individual Immigration Judges’ hands in granting continuances. Let’s face it, after DOJ and EOIR arbitrarily “orbit” ready for trial non-detained cases for their own political goals, individual Immigration Judges lose both credibility and effective control of their dockets. How can a judge in good conscience deny most motions to continue when cases are intentionally left pending for years:  attorneys change, the law changes, country conditions change, witnesses change or become unavailable, and other forms of relief pop up.

Moreover, as pointed out by Jeffrey, rather than simplifying the system so that protection could be quickly granted in more straightforward cases, the BIA has intentionally made the process more complicated — to the extent that it is virtually impossible to imagine that any unrepresented asylum applicant could document a PSG case to the BIA’s hyper-technical specifications.

And, Congress also shares responsibility for the current untenable situation. During several relatively recent “contrived” Government shutdowns, the Immigration Court’s entire non-detained docket and the the vast majority of Immigration Judges who staffed them were determined to be “nonessential” and therefore “furloughed,” leaving active dockets “to rot.” Non-detained cases were cancelled en masse and the court system never really recovered. For all I know, some of those cases are still “off docket.”

Also, these actions sent a strong message that the politicos in both the Legislative and Executive branches neither respected the work of U.S. Immigration Judges nor considered it important. The “non-detained docket” basically became the “who cares docket.”

The Obama Administration then further aggravated the problem by unwisely (and without consulting “line” U.S. Immigration Judges) prioritizing new “Not Quite Ready For Prime Time” Southern Border cases over regularly scheduled non-detained cases, thus sending  the non-detained docket further into complete chaos: “Aimless Docket Reshuffling.” Now, the Trump Administration’s “gonzo, anything goes, show no judgement, exercise no prosecutorial discretion” regime is pushing the courts over the brink.

We need bipartisan legislation to get the U.S. Immigration Courts out of the DOJ and into an independent judicial structure where they can focus on providing high quality due process in an efficient, predictable, and systematic manner.

PWS

08-03-17

“BASIC ASYLUM TRAINING FOR LITIGATORS” — Read My July 25, 2017 Pro Bono Training Presentation For Jones Day!

Click on this link for a “Printable Copy”:

JONES DAY TRAINING

Here’s the “complete text:”

BASIC ASYLUM LAW FOR LITIGATORS

 

OUTLINE

 

I.  INTRODUCTION

II. WHO IS A REFUGEE?

A. Refugee Definition

B.  Standard of Proof

C.  What Is Persecution?

D.  Nexus

 

III. PARTICULAR SOCIAL GROUP

A.  The Three Requirements

B.  Success Stories

C.  The Usual Losers

D.  What Can Go Wrong?

E.  A Few Practical Tips on PSG

 

IV. PRACTICAL TIPS FOR PRESENTNG AN ASYLUM CASE IN IMMIGRATION COURT

V.  CONCLUSION

 

  1. INTRODUCTION

 

Good afternoon, and thanks for attending. As a former U.S. Immigration Judge at both the trial and appellate levels, and someone who has spent over four decades working in the field of immigration at all levels, I want to personally thank you for what you are doing.

 

Welcome to the “New Due Process Army” and our critical mission of forcing the U.S. Immigration Court system to live up to its unfulfilled promise of “guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.” Nothing is more important to achieving that mission than providing effective representation to individuals at the “retail level” of the system – the U.S. Immigration Courts.

 

There is a due process crisis going on in our U.S. Immigration Court system that threatens the integrity and the functioning of our entire U.S. justice system. And, the biggest need in the Immigration Courts is for effective legal representation of individuals seeking, expecting, and deserving justice in Immigration Court. Never has the need for pro bono attorneys been greater than it is now!

 

I appreciate the outstanding leadership and amazing commitment of your managing partner Steve Brogan, your Global Pro Bono Coordinator Laura Tuell, and folks like Mary Hale and many others who have been making this happen on a daily basis. It’s what I call “due process in action.” I know that Steve feels very deeply about the overwhelming need for everyone to get a day in court. He has written very forcefully and eloquently on it in the past and has certainly helped to raise the profile of the representation crisis facing our Immigration Courts.

 

Jones Day isn’t just “talking the talk.” Although it’s now been 25 years since the end of my time as a partner in Jones Day’s Washington Office, I am well aware of the tremendous time and financial commitment that your partnership is making to saving and preserving our justice system and in many cases to saving the very lives of the folks who depend on it. For, as Steve and others at the firm realize, our justice system is only as strong as its weakest link. If we fail in our responsibility to deliver fairness and due process to the most vulnerable individuals at the “retail level” of our system, then eventually our entire system will fail.

 

I also congratulate and appreciate your willingness to undertake representation in all types of cases, rather than “cherry picking” likely winners as is always a temptation. As a judge, I found that cases that look like “sure losers” at the Master Calendar sometimes turn into “winners” when a knowledgeable and dedicated attorney enters the picture.

 

Our Government is going to remove those who lose their cases to countries where some of them undoubtedly will suffer extortion, rape, torture, forced induction into gangs, and even death. Before we return individuals to such possible fates, it is critical that they have a chance to be fully and fairly heard on their claims for protection and that they fully understand and have explained to them the reasons why our country is unwilling or unable to protect them. Neither of those things is going to happen without effective representation.

 

We should always keep in mind that contrary to the false impression given by some pundits and immigration “hard liners,” losing an asylum case means neither that the person is committing fraud nor that he or she does not have a legitimate fear of return. In most cases, it merely means that the dangers the person will face upon return do not fall within our somewhat convoluted asylum system. And, as a country, we have chosen not to exercise our discretion to grant temporary shelter to such individuals through Temporary Protected Status, Deferred Enforced Departure, or prosecutorial discretion (“PD”). In other words, we are returning them knowing that the effect might well be life threatening or even fatal in many cases.

 

I also predict that you will make a positive difference in the development of the law. The well-prepared and articulate arguments that you make in behalf of a detained migrant are going to get attention and consideration from judges at all levels far beyond those presented by unrepresented individuals who can’t even speak English. It’s simply a fact of life. And, if you can win these cases, everything else you do in the law will be a “piece of cake.” I guarantee it.

 

Obviously, in representing your clients it is important to be polite, professional, and to let the excellence of your preparation, research, and arguments speak for you. In an overwhelmed system, judges are particularly grateful for all the help they can get. However, they are also under excruciating pressure to complete cases, particularly detained cases. So it is important to clearly identify your issues, focus your examination, and make sure that your “phone books” of evidence are properly organized and that there is a “road map” to direct the Immigration Judge and the Assistant Chief Counsel to the key points. You want to help the judge, and your opponent, get to a “comfort zone” where he or she can feel comfortable granting, or not opposing or appealing, relief.

 

I do want to offer one important piece of advice up front. That is to make sure to ask your client if her or his parents or grandparents, whether living or dead, are or were U.S. citizens. Citizenship is jurisdictional in Immigration Court, and occasionally we do come across individuals with valid but previously undeveloped claims for U.S. citizenship. You definitely want to find out about that sooner, rather than later, in the process.

My presentation today will be divided into three sections. First, we will go over the basic refugee definition and some of its ramifications. Second, I will provide some basic information about particular social group or “PSG” claims. Third, I will give you fourteen practical pointers for effectively presenting asylum cases in Immigration Court.

 

Please feel free to ask questions as we go along, or save them until the end.

 

II.        WHO IS A REFUGEE?

 

In this section, I will first discuss the INA’s definition of “refugee.” Second, I will talk about the standard of proof. Third, we will discuss the meaning of the undefined term “persecution.” I will conclude this section with a discussion of the key concept of “nexus.”

A.        Refugee Definition

 

An “asylee” under U.S. law is basically an individual who satisfies the “refugee” definition, but who is in the U.S. or at our border in a different status, or with no status at all. Most of your clients will fall in the latter category.

The definition of “refugee” is set forth in section 101(a)(42) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42). There are four basic elements:

  1. Generally, outside the country of nationality (not usually an issue in border cases);
  2. Unwilling or unable to return (failure of state protection);
  3. Because of persecution (undefined) or a well founded fear of persecution;
  4. On account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion (“nexus”).

 

There are some important exclusions to the refugee definition, the most frequent ones being the one-year filing deadline for asylum, those who have committed serious nonpolitical crimes outside the U.S. or particularly serious crimes in the U.S., persecutors of others, those who have rendered material support to a terrorist organizations, and those who are firmly resettled in another country. I won’t be going into these in detail today, but you should know that they are there, and I’d be happy to take questions on them. The ground most likely to come up in your cases is the one relating to individuals who have committed crimes.

Some individuals who are ineligible for asylum might still be eligible to receive withholding of removal under section 243(b) of the INA, 8 U.S.C., § 1253(b) or withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”). And, everyone can potentially seek so-called “deferral of removal” under the CAT.

Also, please note that because of the requirement of a “nexus” to a “protected ground” not all types of harm trigger protection. In particular, crimes, wars, random violence, natural disasters, and personal vengeance or retribution often do not qualify individuals for refugee status. However, some of these circumstances might be covered by the CAT, which has no nexus requirement.

The source of the “refugee” definition is he Refugee Act of 1980 which codified and implemented the U.N Convention and Protocol on the Status of Refugees to which the U.S. adhered in 1968. There are, however, some differences between the U.S. definition and the Convention definition, which I won’t go into today. But, again, you should be aware they exist, since some international or U.N. interpretations of the definition might be inapplicable under U.S. law.

B.        Standard of Proof

 

The standard of proof in asylum cases was established by the Supreme Court in 1987 in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987). In asylum cases, a “well-founded” fear is something far less than a probability. It is an “objectively reasonable fear” or the type of fear that a “reasonable person” would have under the circumstances. Most courts and authorities have adopted the “10% chance” example set forth in Justice Stevens’s plurality opinion in Cardoza.

The BIA’s implementation of Cardoza, the 1987 precedent Matter of Mogharrabi, 19 I&N Dec. 439 (BIA 1987), makes the point that the persecution can be “significantly less than probable.” Your challenge as lawyers will be to get judges at all levels of our system to actually apply the generous Cardoza-Mogharrabi standard rather than just mouthing it. Sadly, the latter still happens too often, in my opinion.

A different and higher “more likely than not” standard applies to withholding of removal under the INA and to withholding and deferral of removal under the CAT. One great tool for satisfying the standard of proof for asylum or withholding under the Act is the rebuttable regulatory presumption of future persecution arising out of past persecution set forth in 8 C.F.R. 1208.13. This is a really important regulation that you should basically learn “by heart.” I will reference it again in the “practical tips” section of this presentation.

Withholding and CAT are more limited forms of relief than asylum. While they usually provide work authorization, they do not lead to green card status, allow the applicants to bring relatives, or travel abroad. They are also easier to revoke if conditions change. Nevertheless, there is one major advantage to withholding and CAT: they save your client’s life. Sometimes, that’s the best you can do. And, fundamentally, saving lives is really what this business is all about.

C.        What Is Persecution?

 

Remarkably, neither the Convention nor the INA defines the term “persecution.” Consequently, U.S. Immigration Judges, the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”), and the U.S. Courts of Appeals are constantly referring to certain types of harm as “mere discrimination or harassment” not “rising to the level” of “persecution.” Often these highly subjective conclusions seem to be more in the mind of the judicial beholder than in the record or the law.

In the absence of a firm definition, I have found the most useful practical guidance to be in an opinion by the famous, or infamous, Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2011 case Stanojkova v. Holder, 645 F.3d 943, 947-48 (7th Cir. 2011). Judge Posner gave three examples.

“The three forms are discrimination, harassment, and persecution. The first refers to unequal treatment, and is illustrated historically by India’s caste system and the Jim Crow laws in the southern U.S. states. Discrimination normally does not involve the application of physical force, except as punishment for violation of the discriminatory laws.”

Second: “Harassment involves targeting members of a specified group for adverse treatment, but without the application of significant physical force. Had [police] furious at [the respondent’s] being soft on Albanians followed his taxi (he was a taxicab driver in Macedonia) and ticketed him whenever he exceeded the speed limit by one mile per hour, that would be an example of harassment. A common form of sexual harassment is pestering a subordinate for a date or making lewd comments on her appearance, or perhaps hugging her, which is physical but generally not violent.”

Third: “Persecution involves, we suggest, the use of significant physical force against a person’s body, or the infliction of comparable physical harm without direct application of force (locking a person in a cell and starving him would be an example), or nonphysical harm of equal gravity—that last qualification is important because refusing to allow a person to practice his religion is a common form of persecution even though the only harm it causes is psychological. Another example of persecution that does not involve actual physical contact is a credible threat to inflict grave physical harm, as in pointing a gun at a person’s head and pulling the trigger but unbeknownst to the victim the gun is not loaded.”

These definitions are, of course, not binding outside the Seventh Circuit. But, I find them to be practical, usable definitions that I certainly found helpful in making asylum decisions in the Fourth and other circuits.

D.        Nexus

 

The concept of “nexus” or “on account of” has become critical in asylum adjudication. Indeed, that is where many of your upcoming battles will be focused. In many cases these days the DHS will concede the “particular social group” (“PSG”) and just argue that the harm has no “nexus” to that PSG or any other protected ground.

The REAL ID Act amended the INA to require that for an asylum applicant to prove ”nexus” or “on account” of any protected ground, he or she must show that the protected ground is “at least one central reason” for the feared persecution. INA § 208(b)(1)(B)(i), 8 U.S.C. § 1208(b)(1)(B)(i) While this did not eliminate the frequently encountered “mixed motive” situation, it was intended to “tighten up” prior case law that had referred to the persecution as stemming “in whole or in part” from a protected ground.

The BIA ruled in Matter of C-T-L-, 25 I & N Dec. 341 (BIA 2010) that the “one central reason” test also applies to nexus in the withholding of removal context. However, the Ninth Circuit rejected the BIA’s interpretation in Barajas-Romero v. Lynch, 846 F.3d 351 (BIA 2014), maintaining that the more generous “in whole or in part” test should continue to apply to withholding cases under the INA. To my knowledge, the Fifth Circuit has not directly addressed the issue. So, I believe that C-T-L- would apply in the Immigration Courts in the Fifth Circuit at present.

Unfortunately, the BIA has given a very narrow reading to the “one central reason” test. In a recent precedent, Matter of L-E-A-, 27 I &N Dec. 40 (BIA 2017), the respondent was a member of a family social group. He clearly was targeted by a cartel in Mexico because he was a member of a family that owned a grocery store. In other words, “but for” the respondent’s family membership, he would not have been targeted by the gang.

Nevertheless, instead of granting the case, the BIA looked beyond the initial causation. The BIA found that “the respondent was targeted only as a means to achieve the cartel’s objective to increase its profits by selling drugs in the store owned by his father. Therefore the cartel’s motive to increase its profits by selling contraband in the store was one central reason for its actions against the respondent. Any motive to harm the respondent because he was a member of his family was, at most, incidental.” 27 I&N Dec. at 46 (citations omitted). Accordingly, the BIA denied the case.

Unfortunately, the BIA cited and relied upon an analysis of nexus in a similar case by the Fifth Circuit in Ramirez-Mejia v. Lynch, 794 F.3d 485n (5th Cir. 2015). Consequently, you will have to deal with the restrictive interpretation in L-E-A- and Ramirez-Mejia.

The BIA, and to some extent the Fifth Circuit, have essentially used the “nexus” requirement to “squeeze the life” out of the family PSG. We can see that the normal rules of legal causation have been suspended. The respondent would not have been targeted by the cartel had he not belonged to this particular family. Yet, the BIA searched for and found an “overriding motive” that did not relate to a protected ground and determined that to be the “central reason” and the family PSG to be “tangential.”

What kind of case could succeed under L-E-A-? Well, perhaps not wanting to give anyone any practical ideas on how to qualify, the BIA searched history and came up with the execution of the Romanov family by the Bolsheviks as an example of a where family was a “central reason” for the persecution. So, maybe if the respondent’s father were a major donor to a political party that opposed cartels, a member of a religion that opposed drugs, or a member of a hated minority group, the respondent’s family membership could have been “at least one central reason.”

But the Romanov family case would have been grantable on actual or imputed political opinion grounds. The other examples I gave would have been more easily grantable on actual or implied political opinion, religion, or nationality grounds. So the BIA appears to made the family PSG ground largely superfluous.

This leaves you as litigators in a tricky situation. The IJ will be bound by L-E-A-, the BIA is unlikely to retreat from L-E-A-, and the Fifth Circuit seems disposed to go along with the L-E-A- view.

On the other hand, to my knowledge, L-E-A- has not actually been considered and endorsed by any circuit to date. To me, it appears to be inconsistent with some of the existing family-based nexus case law in the Fourth and Ninth Circuits. So, I wouldn’t be shocked if a “circuit split” eventually develops and the issue finally wends its way to the Supreme Court. Who knows, maybe one of you will be arguing it.

In any event, in my view, it is too early for you to “waive” strong nexus arguments even if they will be rejected under L-E-A-. On the other hand, that’s not likely to solve your detained client’s current problems.

So, what can you do? First, look for legitimate ways to distinguish L-E-A-. Assume that the DHS will “pull out the stops” in arguing that everything but family was the central reason –greed, lust, crime, random violence, personal vengeance, envy, resentment, etc. Look for evidence in the record that the dispute really was, to a major extent, about family, rather than one of the non-qualifying grounds.

Second, look for some qualifying non-family PSG or a “more conventional” religious, nationality, racial, or political motive.

Third, consider the possibility of CAT protection. The advocacy community probably underutilizes CAT. CAT doesn’t have a specific nexus requirement and often can be proved by extensive documentary or expert evidence, both Jones Day specialties. Sure, the standard of proof is high and CAT is a lesser form of relief than asylum. But, it saves your client’s life! And, if the nexus law changes in your favor, you can always file a motion to reopen to re-apply for asylum under the changed law.

This is an area of the law where creativity, preparation, and persistence often pay off in the long run. So, don’t give up. Keep on fighting for a reasonable and proper application of the “refugee” definition and for the rights of your clients.

III.      PARTICULAR SOCIAL GROUP

 

In this section I will talk about the three basic requirements for a PSG, the success stories, the usual failures, things that can go wrong, and offer you a few practice pointers directly related to PSG claims.

A.        The Three Requirements

 

The BIA has established three requirements for a PSG.

  1. Immutability or fundamental to identity;
  2. Particularity; and
  3. Social distinction.

 

These three requirements are usually used to deny rather than grant protection. Indeed, most of the BIA’s recent precedents on PSG are rendered in a decidedly negative context.

There was a time about two decades ago when many of us, including a number of BIA Members, thought that immutability or fundamental to identity was the sole factor. But, following our departure, the BIA attached the additional requirements of “particularity” and “social visibility” now renamed “social distinction” to narrow the definition and facilitate denials, particularly of gang-based PSG claims.

The particularity and social distinction requirements basically work like a “scissors” to cut off claims. As you make your definition more specific to meet the “particularity” requirement it often will become so narrow and restrictive that it fails to satisfy “social distinction.” On the other hand, as your proposed PSG becomes more socially distinct, it’s likely that it will become more expansive and generic so that the BIA will find a lack of “particularity.”

While the UNHCR and many advocacy groups have argued for a return of immutability as the basic requirement with “social distinction” as an alternative, not an additional requirement, the BIA recently reaffirmed its “three criteria” approach. These cases, Matter of M-E-V-G-, 26 I &N Dec. 227 (BIA 2014) and its companion case Matter of W-E-G-, 26 I &N Dec. 208 (BIA 2014), are “must reads” for anyone doing PSG work.

About the only bright spot for advocates was that the BIA in M-E-V-G– rejected the commonly held view that no gang-based case could ever succeed. The BIA said that its decisions “should not be read as a blanket rejection of all factual scenarios involving gangs. Social group determinations are made on a case-by-case basis. For example, a factual scenario in which gangs are targeting homosexuals may support a particular social group claim. While persecution on account of a protected ground cannot be inferred merely from acts of random violence and the existence of civil strife, it is clear that persecution on account of a protected ground may occur during periods of civil strife if the victim is targeted on account of a protected ground.” 26 I&N Dec. at 251 (citations omitted).

In other words, the Board is asking for evidence intensive case-by-case adjudications of various proposed PSGs. Leaving aside the fairness of doing this in a context where we know that most applicants will be detained and unrepresented, I cannot think of an organization better suited to give the BIA what it asked for than Jones Day – you guys!

B. Success Stories

There are four basic groups that have been relatively successful in establishing PSG claims.

  1. LGBT individuals under Matter of Toboso-Alfonso, 20 I&N Dec. 819 (BIA 1990);
  2. Women who fear or suffered female genital mutilation (“FGM”) under my decision in Matter of Kasinga, 21 I&N Dec. 357 (BIA 1996);
  3. Victims of domestic violence under Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388 (BIA 2014); and
  4. Family under the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Crespin-Valladares v. Holder, 632 F.3d 117 (4th 2011), a case in which I was the Immigration Judge and Jones Day was pro bono counsel.

You should note that the first three of these success stories had something in common: strong support across a wide spectrum of the political universe. In fact, in LGBT, FGM, and domestic violence cases the DHS eventually changed its position so as to not oppose the recognition of the PSG. This, in turn, either facilitated or perhaps effectively forced the BIA to recognize the PSG in a precedent.

Family, on the other hand, has generally not developed the same type of political consensus as a PSG for asylum purposes. I have already discussed in detail how notwithstanding the clear logic of family as a PSG, the BIA uses a highly restrictive reading of the “nexus” requirement that prevents many family groups from qualifying for protection.

You probably will not encounter too many FGM cases at the Southern Border. Nevertheless, there are two additional important points established by Kasinga. First, the respondent does not have to establish that the persecutor acted or will act with “malevolent intent.” Persecution may be established even where the persecutor was inflicting the harm with the intent to “help” or “treat” the respondent. This comes up frequently in connection with LGBT claims.

Second, Kasinga holds that to justify a discretionary denial of asylum for a respondent who otherwise meets all of the statutory requirements, the adverse factors must be “egregious” so as to outweigh the likely danger of persecution.

You are likely to find a number of Southern Border cases involving LGBT individuals, domestic violence, and family. In the Arlington Immigration Court during my tenure these cases succeeded at an extremely high rate, so much so that many of them went on my “short docket.” However, that was then and this is now. And, sadly, you won’t be presenting these cases in Arlington.

Finally, there are some “up and comer” PSG’s that have had success in some of the circuits and might eventually gain widespread acceptance. Among these are witnesses, landowners, and women subjected to forced marriages. The latter often can more successfully be presented under the domestic violence category. The Fourth Circuit actually has recognized “former gang members” as a potential PSG, although many such individuals will have difficulties under the criminal exclusions from the refugee definition. Martinez v. Holder, 740 F.3d 902 (4th Cir. 2014).

C. The Usual Losers

PSGs that don’t fit any of the categories I just mentioned are usually “losers.” Chief among the “usual losers” are victims of crime other than domestic violence, informants, extortion victims, and those resisting gang recruitment. You’ll probably see a fair number of such cases at the Southern border. Your challenge will be how to present them in a way that overcomes the negative connotations normally associated with such claims.

D. What Can Go Wrong?

Lots of things can go wrong with a PSG case. First, there is the issue of “circularity.” Generally, a PSG cannot be defined in terms of itself. For example “victims of crime” would generally be a “circular” social group.

An easy test is to use your proposed PSG in a simple sentence: “This respondent was harmed to overcome the characteristic of being _________. If you can’t say with with a straight face in open court, don’t use it. For example, “this respondent was raped to overcome her characteristic of being a victim of rape” isn’t going to make it as a PSG.

We’ve already talked about how PSG claims can be attacked by denying the nexus. There are also the old favorites of lack of credibility or corroboration. Then, there is failure to meet the one-year filing deadline, no failure of state protection, reasonably available internal relocation, and fundamentally changed country conditions.

That’s why if you’re considering a PSG claim, it’s always wise to have “Plan B.” The problem today, however, is that the Administration has restricted or limited many of the “Plans B.” For example, until recently, the number one “Plan B” was to request prosecutorial discretion (“PD”) from the Assistant Chief Counsel if the respondent had sympathetic humanitarian factors, a clean criminal record, and strong ties to the U.S. However, for all practical purposes, this Administration has eliminated PD.

Nevertheless, its always worthwhile to think about whether things like Wilberforce Act treatment for certain unaccompanied juveniles, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, “T” visas for trafficking victims, “U” visas for victims of crime, or benefits under the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) might be realistic possibilities for your client.

E.  A Few Practical Tips on PSG

I’m going to close this section by offering you a few practical tips on presenting PSG cases that will also tie into my next major section.

First, think “25 words or fewer.” Just like the old boxtop contests from my youth. There are few, if any, known examples of success using lengthy, convoluted social group definitions.

 

Second, remember folks, it isn’t “making sausages.” The definition that goes in must be the same one that comes out the other end. Social groups that “morph” during the hearing just have no chance.

 

Third, be prepared to explain how your proposed particular social group meets the current BIA criteria of immutability, particularity, and social distinction, formerly known as “social visibility.”

 

Fourth, make sure that your respondent is actually a member of the particular social group you propose. You would be surprised at the number of counsel who propose a particular social group definition and then fail to offer proof that their client actually fits within that group.

 

Fifth, as I just mentioned, check your particular social group for “circularity.”

Sixth, and finally, be prepared for an onslaught of other arguments against your case, the chief of which probably will be “no nexus.” Normally, the DHS will “pull out all the stops” to prevent the recognition of a new PSG.

IV. PRACTICAL TIPS FOR PRESENTING AN ASYLUM CASE IN IMMIGRATION COURT

You should all have received a copy of my comprehensive three-page treatise on asylum law entitled “Practical Tips For Presenting an Asylum Case In Immigration Court,” Feb. 2017 Revised Edition. I’m going to quickly take you through the fourteen practical tips outlined there.

My first tip is, “Read a Good Book.” My strong recommendation is the one that has always been at the top of the Immigration Court Best Seller List: Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations, 2017 edition.

 

Specifically, I invite your attention to Chapter 1208, which contains the seeds of all winning theories of asylum law, past, present, and future. It will also give you gems like how to shift the burden of proof to the DHS and how to win your case even if your client does not presently have a well-founded fear of persecution.

 

Second, “Get Real.” The REAL ID Act, P.L. 109-13, 119 Stat. 231 (2005), deals with credibility and burden of proof issues in asylum and other cases and applies to applications “made” on or after May 11, 2005, which will be all of your cases. Read it and decide how it can help you and how you can respond to DHS arguments.

 

Third, “Know One When You See One.” The one-year filing requirement of section 208(a)(2)(B) of the INA bars asylum in some cases. Your burden of proof on the one-year filing issue is very high: “clear and convincing evidence.” Judicial review might be limited. But, there are exceptions. Read the statute and the regulations at 8 C.F.R. § 1208.4 to find out how the filing requirement works and what arguments might be made to preserve a late asylum application. Remember that the one-year requirement does not apply to withholding of removal under the INA or to CAT applications.

 

At the beginning of each asylum case, I asked the parties to identify the issues. Respondents’ attorneys invariably told me about past persecution, future persecution, nexus, gender-based persecution, exceptions to the one year filing deadline, weird social groups, and so forth. The issue they sometimes fail to identify is the one that’s always first on my list. What is it?

 

 

That’s right, credibility, is the key issue in almost all asylum litigation. So, my fourth rule is “Play To Tell the Truth.” You must understand what goes into making credibility determinations and why the role of the Immigration Judge is so critical. Often, adverse credibility determinations are difficult to overturn on appeal. It’s all about deference.

 

But, credible testimony might not be enough to win your case. That’s why my fifth rule is “Don’t Believe Everything You Read.” Both appellate and trial court decisions often recite rote quotations about asylum being granted solely on the basis of credible testimony.

However, to give your client the best chance of winning his or her asylum case in immigration Court, under the law applicable in most circuits, you’re likely to need a combination of credible testimony and reasonably available corroborating evidence. Read Matter of S-M-J-, 21 I&N Dec. 722 (BIA 1997), largely codified by REAL ID, and find out what it really takes to win an asylum case in most Immigration Court.

 

In this respect, you should remember my corollary sixth rule “Paper Your Case.” According to Fourth Circuit precedent, even a proper adverse credibility ruling against your client might not be enough for an Immigration Judge to deny the asylum claim. The Judge must still examine the record as a whole, including all of the documentation supporting the claim, to determine whether independent documentary evidence establishes eligibility for asylum. Read Camara v. Ashcroft, 378 F.3d 361 (4th Cir. 2004) and discover how the power of independent documentary evidence can overcome even a sustainable adverse credibility finding. Also, remember that the REAL ID Act directs Immigration Judges to consider “the totality of the circumstances, and all relevant factors.”

 

“Read Your Paper” is my seventh important rule. You and your client are responsible for all the documentation you present in your case. Nothing will give you nightmares faster than having a client present false or fraudulent documentation to the Immigration Court. In my experience, I’ve had very few attorneys able to dig out of that hole. So, don’t let this happen to you.

 

My eighth rule is “Pile it On.” Sometimes, as demonstrated in one of my very favorite cases Matter of O-Z- & I-Z-, 22 I&N Dec. 23 (BIA 1998), reaffirmed in Matter of L-K-, 23 I&N Dec. 677, 683 (BIA 2004), you will be able to take a series of events happening to your respondent, his or her family, or close associates, none of which individually perhaps rises to the level of persecution, and combine them to win for your client.

 

My ninth rule is “Don’t Get Caught by the Devil.” The devil is in the details. If you don’t find that devil, the DHS Assistant Chief Counsel almost certainly will, and you will burn. Also, make sure to put your client at ease by carefully explaining the process and by going over the direct and cross-examinations in advance. Remember the cultural and language barriers that can sometimes interfere with effective presentation of your case.

 

I found the DHS Assistant Chief Counsel in Arlington were all very nice folks. They were also smart, knowledgeable, well prepared, and ready to vigorously litigate their client’s positions. They handled more trials in a year than most litigators do in a lifetime. So, beware and be prepared. You would also be wise to contact the Assistant Chief Counsel in advance of any merits hearing to discuss ways of narrowing the issues and possible “Plans B.”

 

My tenth rule is “Know Your Geography.” Not all Immigration Courts and Circuit Courts of Appeals are located on the West Coast. The BIA certainly is not. You must know and deal with the law in the jurisdiction where your case actually is located, not in the one you might wish it were located.

 

For example, the Arlington Immigration Court is in Crystal City. That is in Virginia, which is not presently part of the Ninth Circuit. Nor are the courts in Texas where most of you will be appearing.

 

This is something that I once had trouble with, coming to the Arlington Court from a job where the majority of asylum cases arose in the Ninth Circuit. But, I got over it, and so can you.

 

My eleventh rule is to “Get Physical.”   In defining persecution, some Circuits have emphasized “the infliction or threat of death, torture, or injury to one’s person or freedom.” See, e.g., Niang v. Gonzales, 492 F.3d 505 (4th Cir. 2007). While the Circuits and the BIA have also recognized non-physical threats and harm, your strongest case probably will be to emphasize the physical aspects of the harm where they exist. Mirisawo v. Holder, 599 F.3d 391 (4th Cir. 2010); Matter of T-Z-, 24 I & N Dec. 163 (BIA 2007).

 

I particularly recommend the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Crespin-Valladares v. Holder, 632 F.3d 117 (4th Cir. 2011), which found that the BIA erred in rejecting my conclusion that “unrebutted evidence of death threats against [the respondent] and his family members, combined with the MS-13’s penchant for extracting vengeance against cooperating witnesses, gave rise to a reasonable fear of future persecution.” In other words, I was right, and the BIA was wrong. But, who’s keeping track?

 

My twelfth rule is “Practice, Practice, Practice.” The Immigration Court Practice Manual, available online at the EOIR web site http://www.usdoj.gov/eoir/vll/OCIJPracManual/ocij_page1.htm was effective July 1, 2008, and replaced all prior local rules. All filings with the Immigration Court must comply with the deadlines and formats established in this Practice Manual. The Practice Manual has a very helpful index, and it covers just about everything you will ever want to know about practice before the Immigration Courts. It contains useful appendices that give you contact information and tell you how to format and cite documents for filing in Immigration Court. Best of all, it’s applicable nationwide, so you can use what you learn in all Immigration Courts.

 

My thirteenth, rule is “It’s Always Wise to Have ‘Plan B.’” As I have pointed out, asylum litigation has many variables and opportunities for a claim to “go south.” Therefore, it is prudent to have a “Plan B” (alternative) in mind.

 

Among the “Plans B” that regularly came up in Arlington were: prosecutorial discretion (“PD”), Special Rule Cancellation of Removal (“NACARA”), Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”), non-Lawful Permanent Resident Cancellation of Removal (“EOIR 42-B”), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”), Special Immigrant Juvenile (“SIJ”) status, I-130 petition with a “stateside waiver” (“I-601A”), “Wilberforce Act” special processing for unaccompanied children (“UACs”), T nonimmigrant status (for certain human trafficking victims), and U nonimmigrant status (for certain victims of crime). In my experience, many, perhaps the majority, of the “happy outcome” asylum cases coming before me were resolved on a basis “OTA,” that is “other than asylum.”

 

But, unfortunately in my view, the “Plan B” world is rapidly changing. So, please listen very carefully to the caveat that comes next.

 

Fourteenth, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. As some have said “there’s a new Sheriff in town,” and he’s announced a “maximum immigration enforcement” program targeting anyone who has had any run-in with the law, whether convicted or not. He also intends to detain all undocumented border crossers or applicants for admission at the border. So, you can expect more arrests, more detention (particularly in far-away, inconvenient locations like, for instance, Laredo, TX), more bond hearings, more credible and reasonable fear reviews, more pressure to move cases even faster, and an even higher stress level in Immigration Court.

 

The “Plans B” involving discretion on the part of the Assistant Chief Counsel, like PD, DACA, and stateside processing, and even waiving appeal from grants of relief, are likely to disappear in the near future, if they have not already. In many cases, litigating up through the BIA and into the Article III Federal Courts (where the judges are, of course, bound to follow the law but not necessarily to accept the President’s or the Attorney General’s interpretation of it) might become your best, and perhaps only, “Plan B.”

V. CONCLUSION

 

In conclusion, I have told you about the basic elements of the refugee definition and how it is used in adjudicating asylum cases. I have also discussed the requirements and the pros and cons of the PSG protected ground. And, I have shared with you some of my practical tips for presenting an asylum case in U.S. Immigration Court.

 

Obviously, I can’t make you an immigration litigation expert in in afternoon. But, I trust that I have given you the basic tools to effectively represent your clients in Immigration Court. I have also given you some sources that you can consult for relevant information in developing your litigation strategy and your case.

 

I encourage you to read my blog, immigrationcourtside.com, which covers many recent developments in the U.S. Immigration Courts. As you come up with victories, defeats, good ideas, appalling situations, or anything else you think should be made more widely available, please feel free to submit them to me for publication. I also welcome first-hand accounts of how the system is, or isn’t, working at the “retail level.”

 

Thanks again for joining the New Due Process Army and undertaking this critical mission on behalf of the U.S. Constitution and all it stands for! Thanks for what you are doing for America, our system of justice, and the most vulnerable individuals who depend on that system for due process and justice.

 

Thanks for listening, good luck, do great things, and Due Process Forever! I’d be pleased to answer any additional questions.

 

© Paul Wickham Schmidt, 2017, All Rights Reserved.

(08-01-17++)

 

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

PROGRAM NOTE: I am a former Partner at Jones Day. resident in the Washington, D.C. Office.

 


 

U.S. IMMIGRATION COURTS APEAR STACKED AGAINST CENTRAL AMERICAN ASYLUM APPLICANTS — Charlotte, NC Approval Rates Far Below Those Elsewhere In 4th Circuit — Is Precedent Being Misapplied?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/migrants-in-surge-fare-worse-in-immigration-court-than-other-groups/2017/07/30/e29eeacc-6e51-11e7-9c15-177740635e83_story.html?utm_term=.5d2ca3c80278

 

Julia Preston of The Marshall Project reports in the Washington Post:

— Toward the end of a recent morning hearing in immigration court, Judge V. Stuart Couch looked out from his bench on a nearly empty chamber. On one side sat the prosecutor. But at the table for the immigrants, the chairs were vacant.

From a stack of case files, Couch called out names of asylum seekers: Dina Marciela Baires from El Salvador and her three children. No answer. Lesley Carolina Cardoza from Honduras and her young daughter. Silence. After identifying 17 people who had failed to appear for their hearings, the judge ordered all of them to be deported.

The scene is replaying across the country as immigration courts resolve the asylum cases of families who streamed across the Southwest border since 2014. Tens of thousands of families from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and some from Mexico, came here citing their need for protection from predatory gangs and criminal violence. Now, they face the prospect of being sent back to countries they fear have not become any less dangerous.

Of nearly 100,000 parents and children who have come before the courts since 2014, most asking for refuge, judges have issued rulings in at least 32,500 cases, court records show. The majority — 70 percent — ended with deportation orders in absentia, pronounced by judges to empty courtrooms.

Their cases are failing just as President Trump is rapidly expanding deportations.

Immigration courts have long had high rates of in absentia rulings, with one-quarter of all cases resolved by such decisions last year. But the rate for families who came in the border surge stands out as far higher, according to the Justice Department office that runs the immigration courts and tracked the cases of those families over the past three years.

Many immigrants did not understand what they were supposed to do to pursue their claims and could not connect with lawyers to guide them. Some just stayed away, fearing they could be deported directly from courthouses and choosing instead to take their chances in the immigration underground.

New cohort of fugitives

As a result, migrants from the surge are faring worse in the courts than other groups. By late January, the courts had granted asylum or otherwise allowed migrants to remain legally in this country in 3,792, or 11 percent, of those cases involving families, the figures show. By contrast, in all asylum cases last year, 43 percent ended in approvals.

The large-scale failure of the families’ claims is the final unraveling of President Barack Obama’s strategy to deal with the asylum seekers.

Unlike most illegal border crossers, who can generally be swiftly deported, many recent migrants from Central America asserted that they had strong reasons for seeking protection in the United States. Rather than dodging the Border Patrol, they turned themselves in, saying they were afraid to return home. Under U.S. law, that starts an asylum proceeding in which courts evaluate claims that migrants faced dangerous persecution.

When the surge began in 2014, Obama administration officials, worried they could spur an even greater flow if they accepted the migrants as refugees, tried to detain them near the border and deport them. But federal courts curtailed the detention of children and their parents, and so the Obama administration funneled them into immigration courts to ask for asylum. Families and unaccompanied minors who passed a first stage of screening at the border were released to pursue their cases in courts around the country.

In many of those cases, judges in the overburdened courts are only now rendering their decisions — and families from the Central American surge are becoming a new cohort of immigrant fugitives.

In the past, an order of removal — the immigration equivalent of an arrest warrant — did not necessarily lead to swift expulsion. But the Trump administration has made it clear that anyone on the wrong side of immigration law can be tracked down and deported, whether or not they committed a serious crime.


María Arita and her children, Amilcar, left, and Allison, at their home in Charlotte. Arita came to the United States from Honduras in 2013 with her then-3-year-old son to escape a gang that was targeting her family. (Logan Cyrus/For The Washington Post)
‘Don’t stop in Charlotte!’

The fates of the asylum-seeking families are particularly stark in Charlotte. Three immigration judges, appointed by the U.S. attorney general, labor under a backlog of nearly 8,000 cases. The court, which covers both Carolinas, has an amply earned reputation as one of the toughest in which to win an asylum case.

María Arita discovered these realities only after she left Honduras in 2013, forded the Rio Grande in south Texas with her 3-year-old son, turned herself in to border authorities and was sent to Charlotte to join her husband, who had found work here after coming illegally a year earlier. She said a mara — a criminal gang — had taken a dislike to her husband, for reasons the family still does not fully understand. But the gang made its animus very clear.

“First they killed my brother-in-law,” Arita said, trying to remember the attacks in the correct order. “Then they killed my father-in-law. Then . . . they shot another brother-in-law. That’s when my husband realized he had to get out, and he left for the United States. Then they broke down the door of my house. I wasn’t home, but they left a message saying they were going to kidnap my son to make my husband come back.”

Unlike many asylum seekers in this region, Arita found a lawyer. But after she paid several thousand dollars in legal fees, she said, he dropped her case. Despite her family’s trail of death in Honduras, he told her, she wasn’t going to win in Charlotte.


A photo of María Arita from when she was living in Honduras, next to a school photo of her son, Amilcar. (Logan Cyrus/For The Washington Post)

Terrified of going back, she went by herself to a hearing this spring. Before it was over, the judge had denied her claim and given her a few weeks to pack up, take her son and leave the United States. Results like that are among many reasons immigrants nationwide have been failing to appear in court.

Some migrants came to this country more to escape poverty than violence, and they may have avoided court because they knew their asylum claims were likely to be rejected. But more than 85 percent of the families passed the first legal test for asylum, in which they had to show they had a “credible fear” of returning home, according to Department of Homeland Security figures.

For many of them, the law itself presents a problem. Migrants running from gangs do not easily fit into the classic categories for asylum, which offers protection to people fearing persecution based on race, religion, nationality or politics. Yet in some courts, artful lawyers have won for people from Central America by crafting cases to fit a fifth, more loosely defined category of persecution in the law, against members of a “particular social group.” In recent years, migrant women have also won if they were escaping extreme domestic violence.

But not in Charlotte. Couch and Judge  — two out of three judges on the bench — have made it clear they view asylum as a narrow opportunity, and they regard claims stemming from gang violence as inconsistent with the letter of the law. Couch has scolded lawyers for trying to bend the statute like “silly putty” to make it work for Central American migrants.

Couch grants asylum in 18 percent of the cases he hears, while Pettinato grants 15 percent, both less than half the national rate, according to an analysis of court records by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data research group at Syracuse University. As sitting judges, Couch and Pettinato were not able to comment on their rulings.

“We should set up billboards on the highway for people coming from the border. Keep going, don’t stop in Charlotte!” said Viridiana Martínez, who works with Alerta Migratoria, a group in Durham, N.C., that helps immigrants fight deportation.”

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Read Julia’s complete article at the link.

According to the FY 216 Statistics Yearbook, elsewhere in the Fourth Circuit the Baltimore Immigration Court granted 63% of asylum application while the Arlington Immigration Court was nearly identical with 62%. The Charlotte Immigration Court, on the other hand, was 17%.

The Supreme Court in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987) and the BIA in Matter of Mogharrabi, 19 I&N Dec. 439 (BIA 1987) both commanded that the “well-founded fear” standard for asylum be generously applied in favor of applicants! Although the BIA has not been as generous as it could and should have been in cases involving Central Americans needing protection from targeted gang violence, they have gone out of their way to reject notions that there should be any “presumption” against asylum grants from Central America. For example, in Matter of M-E-V-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 227, 251 (BIA 2014), the BIA cautioned their decisions “should not be read as a blanket rejection of all factual scenarios involving gangs. . . . . Social group determinations are made on a case-by-case basis.”

Moreover, established BIA precedents giving favorable treatment to LGBT individuals and those seeking protection from domestic violence frequently apply to cases of those fleeing Central America. See e.g., Matter of Tobaso-Alfonso, 20 I&N Dec. 819 (BIA 1990) (gays); Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388 (BIA 2014)  (domestic violence). Additionally, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has generally been protective of the substantive and procedural rights of asylum  seekers. See, e.g., Crespin-Valladares v. Holder, 632 F.3d 117  (4th Cir. 2011) (family members).

Something is seriously wrong in the Charlotte Immigration Court. Due process is not being fully protected. More seriously, nobody in “the system” — DOJ & EOIR — appears to care or be doing anything to correct the problems in Charlotte.

This is symptomatic of deeper problems in our U.S. Immigration Court system: 1) a weak BIA that fails to protect asylum seekers and require IJs to follow precedents favorable to asylum seekers; 2) lack of proper training compounded by the departure of experienced judges, hiring of new judges, and an inexplicable decision by the DOJ to cancel IJ training this year; and 3) a biased selection system that has systematically excluded private sector asylum expertise developed in representing applicants over this and the past three Administrations. Overall, it is what happens when a system lacks judicial independence and has not developed a merit selection system for judges.

The Immigration Judges in Charlotte can and should do better in providing fairness and due process for asylum seekers. Given the systemic failures, at present it appears to be up to those representing asylum seekers and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to see that asylum seekers in the Charlotte Immigration Court receive the Constitutional due process to which they are entitled.

PWS

07-31-17

 

 

UNTRAINED JUDGES + GONZO POLICIES = DUE PROCESS NIGHTMARE IN U.S. IMMIGRATION COURTS!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/immigration-judges-were-always-overworked-now-theyll-be-untrained-too/2017/07/11/e71bb1fa-4c93-11e7-a186-60c031eab644_story.html?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-e%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.35cde7464fad

Sarah Sherman-Stokes writes in an op-ed in today’s Washington Post:

“Sarah Sherman-Stokes is a clinical instructor and the associate director of the Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Program at Boston University School of Law.

America’s immigration judges have long been overburdened and under-resourced. One immigration judge has compared her job to “doing death-penalty cases in a traffic-court setting.” The stakes are high, while support and procedural protections for noncitizens facing deportation are negligible. It’s no surprise, then, that immigration judges suffer greater stress and burnout than prison wardens or doctors in busy hospitals.

Now, the Trump administration is making a difficult situation almost untenable. In an effort to expand and accelerate the deportation machine, the Trump administration has hit immigration judges with a one-two punch: dramatically increasing their caseloads and, at perhaps the worst time, canceling the annual week-long training conference for immigration judges. The impact on the entire removal system — and, more importantly, on the rights and lives of our most vulnerable noncitizen neighbors — will be devastating.

On average, an immigration judge completes more than 1,500 cases per year, with a ratio of 1 law clerk for every 4 judges, according to a recent report of the National Association of Immigration Judges. By comparison, the typical district court judge trying civil suits has a pending caseload of 400 cases and three law clerks for assistance.

This imbalance is poised to deteriorate even further. In January, the administration issued an executive order that effectively repealed and replaced a tiered system of immigration enforcement and removal priorities crafted by the Obama administration, which focused deportation efforts on the most serious offenders. President Trump’s executive order places a priority on every noncitizen suspected of violating the law. This includes noncitizens who have been charged with (but not convicted of) any offense or who have committed acts that constitute a criminal offense (though they have been neither charged nor arrested). In fact, a recently leaked February 2017 memo from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official is even more explicit, instructing ICE agents to “take enforcement action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties.” It adds that the agency “will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”

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Read the complete article at the link.

How much longer does this due process and administrative disaster have to go on before the U.S. Immigration Courts are taken out of the Justice Department and authorized to operate as an independent Article I judiciary?

PWS

0712-17

“AIMLESS DOCKET RESHUFFLING” (“ADR”) IN NEW YORK — NPR’s Beth Fertig Exposes Due Process/Management Abuses By Obama & Trump Administrations!

http://www.wnyc.org/story/why-new-yorks-immigration-court-even-busier-fewer-judges-under-trump/

Fertig reports:

“There are 29 immigration judges assigned to court rooms in the Federal Building in Lower Manhattan. But as the number of pending cases grew from about 70,000 in January to nearly 80,000 this spring, more and more people have been coming to court only to discover they don’t have judges.

On a Tuesday morning in May, Alin Guifarro expected to attend a hearing with his 18-year-old son, Jose David Rodriguez. The teen came from Honduras last year to join his father and is trying to get legal status in the U.S.

But when they went to the 12th floor and scanned the long list of names with appearances scheduled that day, Guifarro saw his son’s case wasn’t assigned to a judge. Confused, he went to the clerk’s office and was told he would eventually get a letter in the mail about a new court date.

Guifarro was frustrated. “I came over here driving 2 ½ hours for nothing,” he said, referring to his journey from his home in Mastic, Long Island.

This father and son aren’t the only ones whose immigration cases have been postponed lately.

“In the last two months this has happened every week,” said Bryan Johnson, an immigration lawyer based on Long Island. Many of his clients are seeking asylum, and he said some have already been waiting a couple of years. With extra delays, he said, “if they have children who are abroad, that will delay family unification or spousal unification if their spouse is abroad.”

On a single day in May, when almost 400 hearings were scheduled to take place in immigration court, WNYC counted 60 people who didn’t have judges.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review runs the nation’s immigration courts. It says staffers typically mail a notice if a judge is out or a case is delayed, but they don’t always go out in time. As for why people are coming to court without judges, the agency explained that they are technically assigned to ”visiting judges.” But it acknowledged these judges don’t actually exist.

“The concept of ‘visiting judges’ is for internal case management,” said E.O.I.R. spokesman John Martin. “When judges retire, or temporarily stop hearing cases due to illness, the New York City Immigration Court will assign these dockets to a ‘visiting judge’ in order to maintain continuity of these cases. As new immigration judges are hired and officially placed at their respective immigration court locations, these ‘visiting judge’ dockets in those locations are reassigned to them.”

Even after a recent hire, New York City has only 29 immigration judges, compared to 31 at this time last year.

The backlog in immigration courts isn’t new. There are almost 600,000 pending cases, nationally. The problem started well before President Donald Trump took office.”

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Read Beth’s complete article at the link.

A recent GAO report highlighted and quantified endemic management issues with the DOJ’s stewardship over the U.S. Immigration Courts, particularly in hiring new Immigration Judges which takes an astounding average of 742 days. http://wp.me/p8eeJm-Uh

Then, there are the retirements. It’s hardly rocket science that an aging workforce in high-stress jobs might retire in large numbers. I ran “Immigration Judge retirements” into my search engine and got 9 articles, right off the bat. Try it yourself.

Additionally, there is the practice of both Administrations of mindlessly jamming more new cases in the front of the system without a rational plan for completing the ones already in it. That’s followed by reassigning Immigration Judges (like they were assembly line workers) from existing dockets of cases scheduled for final hearings to new dockets of Not Quite Ready For Prime Time (“NQRFPT”) cases. And to cap it off, Secretary Kelly, egged on by Jeff Sessions, has told DHS agents to arrest anyone the feel like arresting without any regard for reasonable priorities or space on already overcrowded court dockets!

And, while we’re at it, let’s stuff more non-criminals into dangerous, expensive, and unneeded immigration detention, thereby turning them into self-created emergency situations, rather than thinking creatively about cheaper, more humane, and more effective methods of getting non-dangerous folks through the system in a reasonable manner.

And you gotta love imaginary “visiting judges.”  Visiting from where, “The Twilight Zone?” Almost as good as “warehousing” tens of thousands of cases on a single day in November 2019. No wonder that once in extreme frustration I referred to this administrative morass as “Clown Court!”🤡

No, it’s not all the fault of EOIR bureaucrats, most of whom mean well and are simply caught up in a “built for failure” system. But, it is the fault of the DOJ whose politicized management of the Immigration Courts has been a disaster since the beginning of this century. And, even if you removed politics from the equation, the DOJ obviously lacks the basic administrative competence to run a complicated, high volume court system. Ultimately, Congress must assume the responsibility for allowing this travesty to continue to exist. An independent Immigration Court outside the Executive Branch is long overdue.

But, other than that, it’s a great system!

Stay tuned! Tomorrow, Beth will tell us what judges pulled off their existing dockets find when they get to their “detail courts.” I can’t wait to hear what she found out!

PWS

06-05-17

 

 

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

http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/legal_logjam_immigration_court

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?”

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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.

PWS

03/27/17

WALTER PINCUS IN THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS: The Coming Immigration Court Disaster!

http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/03/01/trump-us-immigration-waiting-for-chaos/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NYR Dennett immigration reform Chopin&utm_content=NYR Dennett immigration reform Chopin+CID_c0a3091a06cff6ddbb541b093215f280&utm_source=Newsletter&utm_term=US Immigration Waiting for Chaos

“One thing however is clear. Trump’s recent efforts to use blunt executive power to close our borders and prepare the way for deporting large numbers of undocumented immigrants are confronting far-reaching problems. Not only is there opposition from federal judges, the business sector, civil liberties groups, and others. There is also a major roadblock from another quarter: our already broken system of immigration laws and immigration courts.

The nation’s immigration laws needed repair long before Trump came to office. Even without the measures taken by the new administration, immigration courts face a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases, while the existing detention system is plagued, not just by arbitrary arrests, but also by deep problems in the way immigrant detainees are handled by our courts, one aspect of which is the subject of a Supreme Court challenge.

But will the potential Trump excesses—driven by the president’s fear mongering about immigrant crimes and the alleged potential for terrorists to pose as refugees—be enough to light a fire under a Republican-led Congress that has for years balked at immigration reform?

. . . .

For better or worse—and it may turn out to be worse if Congress continues to refuse to act—the Trump administration’s determination to enforce current laws has pushed long-standing inequities in immigration justice onto the front pages.

Take the matter of those immigration judges, who now number some three hundred and are scheduled to grow substantially under the Trump administration. In April 2013, the National Association of Immigration Judges issued a scathing report pleading for omnibus immigration reform. Describing the morale of the immigration judge corps as “plummeting,” the report found that “the Immigration Courts’ caseload is spiraling out of control, dramatically outpacing the judicial resources available and making a complete gridlock of the current system a disturbing and foreseeable probability.”

The judges also noted that, “as a component of the DOJ [Department of Justice], the Immigration Courts remain housed in an executive agency with a prosecutorial mission that is frequently at odds with the goal of impartial adjudication.” For example, the judges are appointed by the Attorney General and “subject to non-transparent performance review and disciplinary processes as DOJ employees.” As a result, “they can be subjected to personal discipline for not meeting the administrative priorities of their supervisors and are frequently placed in the untenable position of having to choose between risking their livelihood and exercising their independent decision-making authority when deciding continuances”—the postponement of a hearing or trial.

The immigration judges writing this complaint were working under the Obama administration Justice Department, with Eric Holder as attorney general. What will their situation be like with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a believer in tighter immigration controls, as their boss?

As it is now, an immigration judge’s job is exhausting. They carry an average load of 1,500 cases, but have minimal staff support. In the 2013 report, the immigration judges noted that they have no bailiffs, no court reporters, and only one quarter of the time of a single judicial law clerk. The backlog of immigration cases in the United States now stands at roughly 542,000. Most important, the immigration judges claim some 85 percent of detained immigrants appearing before them are unrepresented by counsel.

Meanwhile, another pending lawsuit highlights a different long-running problem concerning our nation’s immigration judges. In June 2013, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, along with Public Citizen and the American Immigration Council (AIC) filed a case in federal district court in Washington, D.C., seeking documents that would disclose whether the federal government adequately investigated and resolved misconduct complaints against immigration judges.

Such complaints have been widespread enough that the Justice Department reports annually on the number. In fiscal 2014, the latest figures published, there were 115 complaints lodged against 66 immigration judges. Although 77 were listed as resolved, the outcomes are not described.”

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This timely article was brought to my attention by my good friend and former colleague retired U.s. Immigration Judge (NY) Sarah Burr. Walter Pincus is a highly respected national security reporter. He’s not by any means an “immigration guru.”

As I have pointed out in previous blogs and articles, this problem is real! In the absence of sensible, bipartisan immigration reform by Congress, which must include establishing an independent immigration judiciary, our entire Federal Justice System is at risk of massive failure.

Why? Because even now, immigration review cases are one of the largest, if not the largest, components of the civil dockets of the U.S. Courts of Appeals. As due process in the Immigration Courts and the BIA (the “Appellate Division” of the U.S. Immigration Courts) deteriorates under excruciating pressure from the Administration, more and more of those ordered removed will take their cases to the U.S. Courts of Appeals. That’s potentially hundreds of thousands of additional cases. It won’t be long before the Courts of Appeals won’t have time for anything else but immigration review.

In my view, that’s likely to provoke two responses from the Article III Courts. First, the Circuits will start imposing their own minimum due process and legal sufficiency requirements on the Immigration Courts. But, since there are eleven different Circuits now reviewing immigration petitions, that’s likely to result in a hodgepodge of different criteria applicable in different parts of the country. And, the Supremes have neither the time nor ability to quickly resolve all Circuit conflicts.

Second, many, if not all Courts of Appeals, are likely to return the problem to the DOJ by remanding thousands of cases to the Immigration Courts for “re-dos” under fundamentally fair procedures. Obviously, that will be a massive waste of time and resources for both the Article III Courts and the Immigration Courts. It’s much better to do it right in the first place. “Haste makes waste.”

No matter where one stands in the immigration debate, due process and independent decision making in the U.S. Immigration Courts should be a matter of bipartisan concern and cooperation. After all, we are a constitutional republic, and due process is one of the key concepts of our constitutional system.

PWS

03/02/17