IN IMMIGRATION CIRCLES, THE ATLANTA COURT IS KNOWN AS “WHERE DUE PROCESS GOES TO DIE” –WILL IT BE THE “NEW NORM?” — The Asylumist, Jason Dzubow, Says “We’re All In Atlanta Now!”

We’re All in Atlanta Now
by JASON DZUBOW on JULY 19, 2017
Atlanta, Georgia is generally considered to have the most difficult Immigration Court in the country. Now, the Trump Administration has tapped attorneys from the Atlanta Office of the Chief Counsel (the “prosecutors” in Immigration Court) to take charge of the Immigration Courts and the “prosecutors” offices for the entire United States. A third Atlanta attorney has been appointed to a key policy-making position at the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”).

 

If you’re feeling down about Georgia exports, here’s something to love.
Before we get to those attorneys, let’s first talk about Atlanta. The average grant rate for asylum cases across the U.S. is just under 50%. The asylum grant rate at the Atlanta Immigration Court is less than 9%. Also, immigrant advocates have frequently complained about due process issues and the treatment of litigants in the Atlanta court.

It’s true that the Office of the Chief Counsel (“OCC”) and the Immigration Court are independent of each other, but I think we can safely glean a few things about the Atlanta OCC from what we know of the Court.

For one, since Immigration Judges will usually grant cases where the parties agree on relief, it seems likely that OCC attorneys in Atlanta rarely determine that a case should be approved for asylum. Of course, we do not know about the quality of the asylum cases in Atlanta—maybe they are unusually weak (a real possibility since sophisticated litigants will avoid Atlanta due to its low grant rate). But it would be strange indeed if almost no cases there meet the relatively low threshold required for asylum. The fact that the OCC is not stipulating to asylum on occasion indicates that they are taking a very hard line against such cases (this contrasts with many other jurisdictions, where the local OCCs regularly conclude that applicants qualify for asylum). The job of OCC attorneys is not merely to deport as many people as possible; they are supposed to do justice. This means agreeing to relief where it is appropriate. The low grant rate in Atlanta may indicate that OCC lawyers there are prioritizing “winning” over doing justice, and ideology above the law—all worrying signs as these attorneys move into national leadership positions.

Second, whether the asylum cases in Atlanta are strong or weak, I suspect that the high denial rate there colors the view of the OCC attorneys. If those attorneys believe that over 90% of asylum seekers are unworthy of relief—either because they do not meet the requirements for asylum or because they are lying about their claims—it seems likely that these attorneys will develop a jaundiced view of such cases, and maybe of immigrants in general.

Finally, there exists at least one instance of the Atlanta OCC taking an overly-aggressive position in a case involving alleged racial profiling by ICE (if OCC attorneys are the prosecutors, ICE officers are the police). In that case, an Immigration Judge in Atlanta ordered the OCC to produce an ICE agent accused of racial profiling. The OCC refused to produce the agent, and ultimately, the Judge ruled that the agents had engaged in “egregious” racial profiling and the OCC attorneys had committed “willful misconduct” by refusing to bring the agents to court. While the three OCC attorneys at issue here had left the Atlanta office by the time of this case, the OCC’s position again points to an agency willing to put “winning” ahead of justice.

With this background in mind, let’s turn to the alumnus of the Atlanta OCC who will be taking charge of our immigration system.

Tracy Short – ICE Principal Legal Advisor: Tracy Short is the new Principal Legal Advisor for ICE. In that capacity, he “oversees the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, the largest legal program within the Department of Homeland Security, comprised of more than 1,100 attorneys and 300 support professionals throughout the United States.” These are the attorneys who serve as “prosecutors” in Immigration Court, among their other tasks. According to his ICE biography, “From 2009 to 2015, Mr. Short served as the Deputy Chief Counsel in the ICE Atlanta Office of Chief Counsel.” Mr. Short also served on the committee staff for Congressman Bob Goodlatte, the staunch anti-immigration representative from Virginia.

While Mr. Short has impressive litigation experience, he has almost no management experience (as Deputy Chief Counsel, he might have supervised a few dozen people, at most). But now, under the Trump Administration, he is overseeing more than 1,400 lawyers and staff. Like his fellow veterans of the Atlanta OCC, I suspect he was chosen more for his ideological views than for his management background.

James McHenry – Acting Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (“EOIR”): In a move characterized as “unusual” by retired Immigration Judge and former Chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals Paul Wickham Schmidt, the Attorney General has appointed James McHenry as the new Acting Director of EOIR, the office that oversees the nation’s immigration court system. Judge Schmidt notes that, “While Judge McHenry has stellar academic and professional credentials, and is an ‘EOIR vet,’ having served as a Judicial Law Clerk/Attorney Adviser in the Buffalo and Baltimore Immigration Courts, it is unusual in my experience for the acting head of EOIR to come from outside the ranks of current or former members of the Senior Executive Service, since it is a major executive job within the DOJ.” In other words, while Judge McHenry has had significant legal experience, he has very little leadership experience, especially at EOIR.

Indeed, Judge Schmidt’s characterization of Judge McHenry as an “EOIR vet” seems overly generous. He served as a Judicial Law Clerk, which is basically a one or two year gig for new law school graduates working as an assistant to Immigration Judges (I myself was a JLC back in the prediluvian era) and he has a few months experience as an Administrative Law Judge for the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer, an office at EOIR that reviews certain employment cases involving immigrants.

Like Mr. Short, Judge McHenry worked for the Atlanta OCC. He served as an Assistant Chief Counsel for ICE in that office from 2005 to 2010.

Whether Judge McHenry’s “acting” role as Director of EOIR will become permanent, we do not know. But I agree with Judge Schmidt that it is highly unusual for a person with such limited management experience to be picked to head our country’s immigration court system, with hundreds of judges and support personnel to oversee.

Gene Hamilton – Counsel to DHS Secretary: Gene Hamilton was appointed as counsel to DHS Secretary John Kelly. Along with Stephen Miller, he was apparently a key architect of the Trump Administration’s travel ban against people from several majority-Muslim countries. He also served as a trial attorney at the Atlanta OCC in about 2014 and 2015, though I could not verify his length of service there. In addition, Mr. Hamilton served on the staff of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions before he was appointed Attorney General. Mr. Sessions, of course, is well known for his regressive views on immigration, civil rights, and just about everything else.

So there you have it. Three veterans of the Atlanta OCC who together will be exercising significant control over our country’s immigration system. Given their backgrounds and experience (or lack thereof), it’s difficult to be optimistic about how that system will fare under their watch.

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Somewhat predictable for an Administration that has little or no regard for Constitutional Due Process. That’s why folks need to join the “New Due Process Army” and carry on the fight until better times arrive (and they eventually will)!

As always, thanks to Jason for his incisive analysis!

PWS

07-20-17

 

 

KATHERINE M. REILLY NAMED ACTING DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF EOIR — Also, My “Mini-History” Of EOIR Directors

Here’s the official DOJ press release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, July 3, 2017

Executive Office for Immigration Review Announces New Acting Deputy Director

FALLS CHURCH, VA – The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) today announced the appointment of Katherine H. Reilly as the agency’s Acting Deputy Director. Ms. Reilly has served as Chief Counsel of the Employee and Labor Relations Unit within EOIR’s Office of General Counsel since December 2013.

“Katherine’s varied and impressive legal experience makes her well-suited for assuming the position of Acting Deputy Director at EOIR, especially during this important time when we are mobilizing all of our resources to combat a growing caseload,” said Acting Director James McHenry. “The skills she has acquired as a manager and through her work in employee and labor relations are critical for the agency, both to meet its current challenges and to establish effective policies and procedures for the future.”

In her new capacity as Acting Deputy Director, Ms. Reilly will supervise EOIR’s components and will be responsible for assisting in leading the agency in formulating and administering policies and strategies which enhance EOIR’s effectiveness in fulfilling its core mission of adjudicating cases fairly, expeditiously, and uniformly

Katherine H. Reilly joined EOIR in December 2013 as Chief Counsel of the Employee and Labor Relations Unit within the Office of General Counsel. Prior to her tenure with EOIR, she was the Director of Legal Services for the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General, managing that agency’s employee relations team, civil litigation section, and contracting division. Ms. Reilly also served as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for criminal prosecutions in the Northern District of Texas. She began her career with the Federal Trade Commission as an antitrust attorney and also worked for a law firm, advising corporate clients on antitrust and commercial litigation. Ms. Reilly received her Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctor degrees from the University of Texas at Austin and earned a Master of Laws degree from the University of Melbourne, Australia. Ms. Reilly is a member of the District of Columbia and Virginia bars.

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Congratulations, good luck and best wishes to Acting Deputy Director Reilly.

And, here’s my “Mini-History of EOIR Directors:”

EOIR MINI-HISTORY: DIRECTORS AND DEPUTY-DIRECTORS

by Paul Wickham Schmidt

U.S. Immigration Judge (Retired) & Adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown Law

 

When EOIR was created within the DOJ in 1983, it merged the previously “stand-alone” Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) with the Immigration Judges, who were previously part of the “Legacy” Immigration and Naturalization Service “INS”). David Milhollan, who was then the Chairman of the BIA also (somewhat reluctantly) became EOIR’s first Director, while retaining his position as Chair, thereby effectively merging the positions of Director and Chair.

 

Upon Milhollan’s retirement, in 1995 the positions were separated to increase the decisional independence of the BIA. For awhile, Jack Perkins, then Chief Administrative Hearing Officer, served as Acting Director. Attorney General Janet Reno named long-time DOJ Senior Executive Anthony C “Tony” Moscato, who had most recently served as the Director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the second Director. I was appointed to the now separate position of BIA Chair. Moscato and I had significant roles in the 1983 creation of EOIR.

 

Moscato, noting the growth of EOIR’s functions, recommended the creation of the position of EOIR Deputy Director. Attorney General Janet Reno appointed Kevin D. Rooney as the first Deputy Director. Rooney had served as the Assistant Attorney General for Administration during several Administrations and was in private practice at the time of his appointment.

 

Eventually, Moscato sought and received appointment as a BIA Member. (Thereby going from my “immediate supervisor” to my “direct subordinate,” although these terms make little sense in the EOIR context because neither the Director nor the Chairman has authority to direct the decision-making of Board Members). Rooney succeeded Moscato as the third Director. Then EOIR General Counsel Peg Philbin became the Deputy Director.

 

Philbin served as Acting Director while Rooney was the Acting Commissioner of the INS for a few months during the Bush Administration (uh, talk about conflicts and perceptions, but that really wasn’t a strong point for the Bush II Administration either), but she eventually left EOIR to become a Senior Executive at the State Department. Then Board Member Kevin Ohlson replaced her as Deputy Director. Upon Rooney’s retirement, Deputy Director Ohlson succeeded him as the fourth Director. Ohlson had also held a number of Senior Executive positions within the DOJ prior to his brief stint as a Board Member.

 

When Eric Holder became Attorney General, Ohlson left EOIR to become his Chief of Staff. After some time, during which Judge Thomas Snow served as Acting Director, Juan P. Osuna, then a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division, became the fifth Director. Osuna had also been BIA Chair, BIA Vice Chair, and a Board Member. Ana M. Kocur, then a BIA staff supervisor, was selected to be Osuna’s Deputy.

 

Upon the departure of Osuna and Kocur in May 2017, both the top executive positions in EOIR became vacant. Interestingly, while two former BIA Chairs, Milhollan and Osuna, became Directors, EOIR has never had a Director who had served as a U.S. Immigration Judge at the trial level of the system, although the Immigration Judge program is by far the largest “adjudicating component” of EOIR.

 

Also, no former Immigration Judge has ever held the Deputy Director position. However, as noted above, one current Immigration Judge, Judge Thomas Snow, held the position of Acting Director during the interim between Ohlson’s departure and Osuna’s appointment. Snow, a former top executive in the DOJ’s Criminal Division before his appointment to the bench, was well regarded and well liked by the sitting Immigration Judges. Reportedly, he was offered the position on a permanent basis, but turned it down to return to the Arlington Immigration Court bench where he remains (thus having “outlasted” Osuna).

 

The Director is an unusual position in that as a non-judicial official, he or she is specifically excluded from having any substantive role in EOIR’s sole function: quasi-judicial adjudication. In a future, better-functioning, independent U.S. Immigration Court system, the Chief Appellate Judge (now BIA Chair) would resume the formal role as administrative head of the judicial system, along the lines of the relationship between the Chief Justice and the rest of the Article III Judiciary. The “Director” position would become the “Executive Director of the Administrative Office” subordinate to the Chief Appellate Judge.

 

With the elimination of the inherently political role of the DOJ in the U.S. Immigration Court system, there no longer would be a need to for the largely fictional perception that the “Director” serves as a “buffer” between the “adjudicating components” and the political and litigation officials at the DOJ. The current problems of the U.S. Immigration Court well illustrate the insurmountable difficulties of attempting to run one of the nation’s largest and most important court systems as an “agency” of a political department. Even if the DOJ had the will to allow the Immigration Courts to function independently, it lacks the competence and expertise in court administration to successfully support such a system.

 

The only real question is when will Congress finally face reality and create a truly independent and properly functioning U.S. Immigration court system?

 

PWS

07-06-17

 

 

 

INSIDE THE IMMIGRATION COURTS: Principal Deputy Chief Immigration Judge Michael C. McGoings To Retire — Judge Christopher A. Santoro Named Acting Chief Of Staff

Sources in EOIR relate that Principal Deputy Chief Immigration Judge Michael C. McGoings has announced that he will retire at the end of this month. I hired  Judge McGoings as an Assistant Chief Counsel for the “Legacy INS” back in 1987, shortly before I left to go into private practice. He has served in numerous management and executive positions and has been a Deputy Chief Immigration Judge since 2009 and the Principal Deputy Chief Immigration Judge since 2013. Congratulations, thanks for many years of service, and all the best to Judge McGoings in his well-earned retirement.

Meanwhile, Acting EOIR Director Judge James McHenry has announced that he is appointing Judge Christopher A. Santoro as his Acting Chief of Staff. Judge Santoro was the Assistant Chief Immigration Judge with responsibility for the Arlington Immigration Court during part of my tenure there, from 2012 to 2015. He was known for his collegiality, hard work, organizational skills, problem solving ability, and willingness to jump in and actually hear cases in emergency situations. After serving as an Acting Deputy Chief Immigration Judge in 2015 until early 2016, Judge Santoro mysteriously disappeared from view somewhere into the “bowels of the EOIR bureaucracy” becoming essentially a “bureaucratic non-person.” I am pleased to see that he has resurfaced in a position where he can apply his skills to help stabilize a court system that is rapidly spiraling out of control.

PWS

06-15-17

U.S. IMMIGRATION COURTS: Judge James McHenry Named Acting EOIR Director!

In a move that many Immigration Court observers might find unusual, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has appointed Judge James McHenry as the Acting Director of EOIR. Judge McHenry was appointed an Administrative Law Judge in the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (“OCAHO”) in December 2106. OCAHO has jurisdiction over employer sanctions civil cases and certain employment discrimination cases involving foreign workers.

While Judge McHenry has stellar academic and professional credentials, and is an “EOIR vet,” having served as a Judicial Law Clerk/Attorney Adviser in the Buffalo and Baltimore Immigration Courts, it is unusual in my experience for the acting head of EOIR to come from outside the ranks of current or former members of the Senior Executive Service, since it is a major executive job within the DOJ.

Here is a recent bio of Judge McHenry taken from the press release of his December appointment as an ALJ:

“James McHenry, Administrative Law Judge

James McHenry was appointed as an administrative law judge (ALJ) for the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO), Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), Department of Justice (DOJ), in November 2016. Judge McHenry earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1997 from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, a Master of Arts degree in 2003 from the Vanderbilt University Graduate School, and a Juris Doctor in 2003 from the Vanderbilt University Law School. From February to November 2016, he served as an ALJ for the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration, in Baltimore, and previously from 2014 to February 2016, in Greenville, S.C. From 2010 through 2014 he served as a senior attorney for the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in Atlanta. From 2010 through 2011, he served as a special assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Georgia, DOJ, in Atlanta. From 2005 through 2010, he served as an assistant chief counsel for OPLA, ICE, DHS, in Atlanta. From 2004 through 2005, he served as an attorney advisor for the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge (OCIJ), EOIR, DOJ, in Baltimore. From 2003 through 2004, he served as a judicial law clerk for OCIJ, EOIR, DOJ, in Buffalo, entering on duty through the Attorney General’s Honors Program. Judge McHenry is a member of the Tennessee State Bar.”

As noted by Politico in a report last week, it is strange that neither the DOJ nor EOIR has issued any press release or other official statement announcing the departure of Director Juan Osuna and Deputy Director Ana Kocur and the appointment of Judge McHenry to be Acting Director. Here’s a link to the Politico item: http://wp.me/p8eeJm-SZ

While sources confirm that an internal announcement was sent to EOIR employees last Friday, and Judge McHenry sent his own message to all of EOIR, as of Tuesday AM, there were no publicly posted announcements of these important personnel changes. However, Judge McHenry’s bio now does appear under the “Meet the Acting Director” tab on the EOIR website.

Congratulations and good luck to Judge McHenry in his important new role. He takes the reins at a difficult time in EOIR history with an already-record Immigration Court backlog approaching 600,000 cases, and constant reports of deteriorating morale among U.S. Immigraton Judges, court staff, and the public that deals with the Immigration Courts. I am not aware at this point whether Judge McHenry will be a candidate for the EOIR Director’s job on a permanent basis.

PWS

05-30-17