HON. JEFFREY CHASE: Stripped By Ashcroft Of The Appellate Judges Who Understood Asylum Law & Stood Up For The Rights Of Refugees, An Emasculated BIA (With No Meaningful Deliberation Or Dissent) Intentionally Misconstrued The “Particular Social Group” Category To Screw Asylum Seekers! — READ MY LATEST “MINI-ESSAY” –“ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS”  — How The BIA Intentionally Misconstrued Asylum Law To Deny Particular Social Group Protection, While The Obama Administration Turned Its Back On Due Process For Refugees!

https://www.jeffreyschase.com/blog/2017/9/14/particular-social-group-errors-in-the-bias-post-acosta-analysis

Jeffrey writes:

Particular Social Group: Errors in the BIA’s Post-Acosta Analysis

In 2006, the Board of Immigration Appeals published its decision in Matter of C-A-, the first in a line of cases creating significant restrictions on what constitutes a cognizable particular social group in claims for asylum. It is worth noting that three years earlier, then Attorney General John Ashcroft purged the BIA of its five most liberal members; two other Board members who clearly would have been removed as well left just prior to the purge. Therefore, the ensuing line of BIA precedents addressing particular social group issues were something of a one-sided affair, with no liberal voices to temper or dissent from the majority.

 

Back in 1985, the Board decided Matter of Acosta, in which it set forth the applicable standard for particular social group determinations.  Not surprisingly, particular social group has proven more difficult for courts to interpret than the other four grounds of race, religion, nationality, and political opinion.  This is because one doesn’t start out asking the question “what is a race?” or “what is a religion?”  Those terms are generally understood.  Not so with particular social group, which as I learned it, was a last-minute creation designed to cover those clearly in need of refugee protection who aren’t covered by the other four grounds.  In Acosta, the Board had to decide how broadly the “PSG” category should be interpreted.  In response to evidence that the drafters of the 1951 Convention considered the ground of particular social group “to be of broader application than the combined notions of racial, ethnic, and religious group,” the Board applied the doctrine of ejusdem generis to conclude that a particular social group, like the four other categories it is grouped with, should be defined by characteristics that are immutable either because its members are unable to change them (like race and nationality), or because they should not, as a matter of conscience, be required to change them (like religion or political opinion).

The Acosta formulation was fair, and worked perfectly well for 21 years.  It was consistent with the way particular social group was being interpreted and applied internationally, and was in no need of modification.  Yet, the post-purge Board added two additional hurdles to particular social group determination: social distinction (previously called social visibility) and particularity.  As discussed below, the result-oriented line of decisions are legally flawed.

Matter of C-A-’s “social visibility” analysis contains at least three errors.   First, as Prof. Karen Musalo, Director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS) at the University of California – Hastings Law School in San Francisco has pointed out, although the Board in Matter of C-A- cited to the 2002 UNHCR Guidelines on Particular Social Groups as a basis for adding the social distinction requirement, there is a significant difference between the Board’s holding and the UNHCR Guidelines.  The Guidelines at para. 11 define particular social group as “a group of persons who share a common characteristic other than their risk of being persecuted OR  who are perceived as a group by society.”  Note the use of “or.”  “Or” was intended to expand the group of those who satisfy for PSG status, by including both those who share a common characteristic  OR possess what the Board now calls social distinction.  However, the Board changed the “or” to an “and,” which has the opposite effect of significantly narrowing those who can establish a cognizable PSG by requiring both a shared characteristic and social distinction.

Secondly, the Board found that the proposed group of confidential informants lacked social “visibility” (as it then called social distinction) because informants, by the nature of their conduct, are “generally out of the public view,” and “in the normal course of events…remain unknown and undiscovered.”  However, this is irrelevant to whether the group itself is perceived by society to be distinct.  For example, “Russian spies” by the nature of their conduct, seek to remain unknown, undiscovered, and out of the public eye.  However, the group is often in the news, and is the subject of a popular TV show. It has served as the basis for characters in countless novels and films for decades, and has inspired the passage of anti-espionage laws.  The Board thus erred in apparently confusing the “singled out” requirement of the individual asylum applicant with the “social distinction” requirement of the proposed group.

Thirdly, the Board in C-A- stated that visibility of a group of confidential informants “is limited to those informants who are discovered because they appear as witnesses or otherwise come to the attention of cartel members.”  In that case, the cartel members were the persecutors.  However, the Board has claimed that it is the perception of society, and not the persecutors, that determines social distinction.

The particularity requirement is also problematic.  The element requires the social group to be defined by characteristics that provide a clear benchmark for determining inclusion.  The Board requires the terms used to define the group to have “commonly accepted definitions in the society in which the group is a part;” and “[t]he group must also be discrete, and have definable boundaries–it must not be amorphous, overbroad, diffuse, or subjective.”  See Matter of W-G-R-, 26 I&N Dec. 208, 214 (BIA 2014); Matter of A-M-E- & J-G-U-, 24 I&N Dec. 69, 76 (BIA 2007) (rejecting the proposed group as “too amorphous…to provide an adequate benchmark for determining group membership”).

However, in applying the new requirement of particularity to particular social group determinations only, the Board violated the doctrine of ejusdem generis that it had invoked in Acosta.  This is significant, as determinations under the other four protected categories would not necessarily stand up to the particularity determination.  In finding the proposed group of “former members of the MS-13 gang in El Salvador who have renounced their gang membership” to lack particularity, the Board stated that the proposed group “could include persons of any age, sex, or background.”  Matter of W-G-R-, 26 I&N Dec. 208, 221 (BIA 2014).  Of course, race, religion, and nationality will always include persons of any age, sex, or background; and political opinion could also draw from as wide a range of the population.

In a claim of persecution on account of religion, would the Jewish religion, for example, withstand the particularity requirement?  There is a strong chance that such group would be found too amorphous to provide an adequate benchmark for inclusion.  For example, a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center found that 14 percent of American Jews stated that they were raising their children “partially Jewish.”  Do “partially Jewish” claimants merit inclusion in the group?  What about those who only attend synagogue once a year, on Yom Kippur?  Or those who consider themselves culturally Jewish, but don’t observe the religion?  Or those with only a Jewish father (who would therefore not be considered Jewish under traditional Jewish law, but would be considered Jewish in the more liberal Reform branch of the religion)?  Where is the benchmark for inclusion?

Looking to the other asylum categories, is one said to possess a political opinion because she votes once every four years for candidates of a particular party, or because she has canvassed for a party’s candidates, given speeches at rallies, or run for office herself?  In this time of multiculturalism, where individuals of mixed race or ethnicity may choose to identify with a particular race or nationality from among two or more choices, would those categories also be found too amorphous?

In addition to the above shortcomings, attorneys have pointed out that particularity and social distinction often work at odds with each other.  Groups that rank high on society’s radar are usually not defined with the type of specific parameters for inclusion, and would therefore be dismissed as too “amorphous.”  Conversely, groups defined with the exacting precision demanded of the particularity requirement tend to be too cumbersome to register in the zeitgeist.  As an example, the term “soccer moms” became popular in American society several presidential elections ago, when “winning the soccer mom vote” was deemed a significant goal.  So while the term “soccer moms” clearly possessed social distinction, it would undoubtedly be found too amorphous to satisfy the particularity requirement.  However, “married middle-class suburban women between the ages of 32 and 47, who spend a significant amount of time driving their school-aged children to multiple after-school activities, which may or may not include soccer” might be particular enough, but will not grab public attention to the degree required to qualify as social distinction.

In spite of the above shortcomings, the federal circuit courts have largely accorded deference to the Board’s flawed interpretation.  Although immigration judges are bound by the Board’s holdings, practitioners may raise the above issues in order to create a record for eventual review by the circuit courts.  The Seventh and Third Circuits have rejected the particularity requirement for different reasons than those stated above.  As I am not aware of any circuit court addressing the issue of whether religion or any other protected ground would stand up to the particularity requirement, I present it as an argument worth pursuing.

Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase.  All rights reserved.”

Republished with permission.

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

“ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS”  — How The BIA Intentionally Misconstrued Asylum Law To Deny Particular Social Group Protection, While The Obama Administration Turned Its Back On Due Process For Refugees!

By Paul Wickham Schmidt

United States Immigration Judge (Retired)

The original Acosta decision was also wrongly decided on the merits. Of course most “occupational groups” have characteristics that are fundamental to their identity and are, therefore, properly classified as PSGs for asylum and withholding of removal purposes under the INA!

Taxi drivers in San Salvador were clearly a well-recognized tightly-knit group who were identified as such by the public, the Government, and the guerrillas and weren’t lightly going to switch occupations. That’s why they were targeted by both sides!

The result in Acosta was also completely nonsensical from a policy standpoint. The BIA’s “bottom line” was that taxi drivers in San Salvador who feared the guerrillas could either quit their jobs en masse or participate in a transportation strike called by the guerrillas. But, either of those actions would have crippled the Salvadoran Government which the U.S. was supporting during the guerrilla war! How stupid can you get! But, when categorically denying asylum to large groups of Central American refugees, there’s no limit to what captive adjudicators who want to hang on to their jobs will do to avoid granting protection!

Would you tell a New York cabbie that his or her occupation isn’t “fundamental” to his or her identity? I certainly wouldn’t do it while sitting in his or her back seat. How many yarns, stories, and jokes have you heard with the phrase “like a New York cabbie?” There are even movies glorifying or vilifying the occupation!

How about American truck drivers? They have their own culture, lingo, and even restaurants, gas stations, and stores. Next time you walk into a Pilot Truck Stop along the Interstate, see if you can tell the “pros” from the “amateur divers” like me. Then go up to one of those “pros” and tell him or her that he or she could just as well make a living  as a checkout clerk or a computer programmer! Or, walk into the “Reserved for Professional Drivers” section, take a seat, and see how long you last. I really wouldn’t try either of the foregoing unless you have very good hospitalization insurance.

Want to bet that being a lawyer or a judge isn’t fundamental to one’s identity — just ask a non-lawyer, non-judge spouse or anyone whose ever had to attend a social function with with one of us? My wife Cathy can usually pick the lawyers out in a room even without introductions!  They “dress, act, and speak” like lawyers!

I might also add that the identity of being a BIA Appellate Judge is so “fundamental” to some of my former colleagues’ identity that they were willing to put forth a totally disingenuous interpretation of the U.N. Guidelines and blow off both fairness and due process for vulnerable asylum seekers (the BIA’s sole functions) to retain their jobs as Appellate Judges in the Bush and Obama Administrations, which were generally actively hostile or clearly indifferent to the rights of refugees. Nobody had the guts to stand up for a correct intrerpretation of the Refugee Convention which would have saved many lives and made the whole immigration system fairer and easier to administer in the long run.

There actually was a U.S. Circuit Judge way out in the 8th Circuit, of all places, who saw clearly the BIA’s disingenuous approach and “called” them on it. The case is Gaitan v. Holder, 671 F.3d 678, 682-86 (8th Cir. 2012) (Bye, Circuit Judge, concurring), the concurring Judge was Judge Bye, and I reproduce the concurring opinion in full from “Legale” because Judge Bye is so “spot on” and, regrettably, so few people paid attention to his criticism:

BYE, Circuit Judge, concurring.

Based upon our recent decisions in Constanza v. Holder, 647 F.3d 749 (8th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) and Ortiz-Puentes v. Holder, 662 F.3d 481 (8th Cir.2011), I concur in the result reached by the majority. I do so reluctantly, however, and write separately to express my disagreement with our circuit’s as-a-matter-of-course adoption of “social visibility” and “particularity” as requirements for establishing “membership in a particular social group.” See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42)(A). While both decisions cited with approval the BIA’s new approach to defining “particular social group,” neither had before it the issue raised in this appeal: did the BIA act arbitrarily and capriciously in adding the requirements of “social visibility” and “particularity” to its definition of “particular social group.” While I am convinced it did, I am nonetheless bound by circuit precedent and therefore concur in the result.

Our circuit only recently addressed the BIA’s new approach to defining “particular social group.” While both Constanza and Ortiz-Puentes grafted the requirements of “social visibility” and “particularity” to petitioners’ social groups claims, neither panel offered any explanation as to why the addition of these new requirements—which are very clearly inconsistent with the BIA’s prior decisions—should not be deemed arbitrary and capricious. Neither panel inquired as to whether the BIA had provided a good reason, or any reason at all, for departing from established precedent. Neither asked if the BIA’s new approach to defining “particular social group” amounted to an arbitrary and capricious change from agency practice. Instead, we simply adopted the new approach, as a matter of course, offering no substantial reason ourselves for this shift in direction. As a result, I fear we have chosen the wrong direction.

In order to understand why the BIA’s addition of the “social visibility” and “particularity” requirements to the definition of “particular social group” is arbitrary and capricious, some background information is necessary. The BIA first attempted to define “particular social group” in Matter of Acosta, 19 I. & N. Dec. 211 (B.I.A.1985). In Acosta, the BIA relied on the canon of ejusdem generis to construe “membership in a particular social group” in a way which most closely resembles the definition of the other four grounds of persecution under the Immigration and Nationality Act (Act): race, religion, nationality, and political opinion. Id. at 233. After deducing commonalities between the five bases of persecution cognizable under the Act, the BIA defined “particular social group” as a “group of persons all of whom share a common, immutable characteristic,”

[671 F.3d 683]

 

which may be either “an innate one such as sex, color, or kinship ties” or a “shared past experience such as former military leadership or land ownership.” Id. In all such circumstances, BIA explained, the characteristic uniting the group must be “one that the members of the group either cannot change, or should not be required to change because it is fundamental to their individual identities or consciences.” Id. Because an occupation is not something individuals are either unable to change or, as a matter of conscience, should not be required to change, the BIA rejected an asylum claim by a taxi driver in the city of San Salvador premised on his membership in a taxi cooperative whose members were targeted by the guerillas for having refused to participate in guerrilla-sponsored work stoppages. Id. at 234.

During the next twenty years, the BIA applied the immutability definition of Acosta in a variety of contexts. The BIA’s published decisions recognized as a “particular social group” former members of Salvadorian national police (who could not change their past experience of serving in the police), see In re Fuentes, 19 I. & N. Dec. 658 (B.I.A.1988); members of the Marehan subclan of the Darood clan in Somalia (who shared kinship ties and linguistic commonalities), see In re H-, 21 I. & N. Dec. 337 (B.I.A. 1996); Filipinos of mixed Filipino-Chinese ancestry (because their traits were immutable)], see In re V-T-S-,21 I. & N. Dec. 792 (B.I.A.1997); young women of a certain Togo tribe who have not yet had a female genital mutilation (FGM) and who opposed the practice on moral grounds (because the “characteristic of having intact genitalia is one that is so fundamental to the individual identity of a young woman that she should not be required to change it”), see In re Kasinga, 21 I. & N. Dec. 357 (B.I.A.1996); and homosexuals in Cuba (based on the Board’s recognition of homosexuality as an immutable characteristic), see In re Toboso-Alfonso,20 I. & N. Dec. 819, 822 (B.I.A.1990). With some variations, all circuits adopted the Acostadefinition of “particular social group.” See generally Fatma E. Marouf, The Emerging Importance of “Social Visibility” in Defining a “Particular Social Group” and Its Potential Impact on Asylum Claims Related to Sexual Orientation and Gender, 27 Yale L. & Pol’y Rev. 47, 53 & n. 24 (2008) (stating federal courts “generally have followed Acosta” and cataloging relevant precedents) (hereinafter “The Emerging Importance of Social Visibility”). Our circuit adopted the Acosta definition as well, although it seemingly expanded it following the Ninth Circuit’s lead to also permit social groups based on a “voluntary associational relationship among the purported members.” Safaie v. INS, 25 F.3d 636, 640 (8th Cir.1994) (theorizing a group of Iranian women who refuse to conform to Iranian customs relating to dress and behavior and whose opposition is so profound that they would choose to suffer the severe consequences of noncompliance “may well satisfy the definition”) (citing the standard in Sanchez-Trujillo v. INS, 801 F.2d 1571, 1576 (9th Cir.1986)).

Beginning in 2006, however, the BIA started deviating from the Acosta definition of “particular social group” by emphasizing the importance of social visibility of a given group. In Matter of C-A-, for example,2 the BIA reiterated its adherence

[671 F.3d 684]

 

to Acosta, but listed “the extent to which members of a society perceive those with the characteristic in question as members of a social group” as a “relevant factor” in the analysis. 23 I. & N. Dec. 951, 956-57 (B.I.A.2006). Applying this standard, the BIA rejected the proposed social group of noncriminal drug informants working against the Cali drug cartel in Colombia in part because “the very nature of the conduct at issue is such that it is generally out of the public view.” Id. at 960.

The BIA continued the trend in Matter of A-M-E & J-G-U-, 24 I. & N. Dec. 69 (B.I.A.2007), by refusing to recognize a social group of “affluent Guatemalans” targeted for ransom. The BIA acknowledged the petitioners should not be expected to divest themselves of their wealth under the second prong of Acosta, but denied the claim on the basis of the applicants’ inability to show “social visibility,” id. at 75 (lamenting the lack of evidence to demonstrate “the general societal perception” of wealthy people was different from the common perception of groups at different socio-economic levels), and “particularity,” id.at 76 (criticizing the proposed group for being “too amorphous” and “indeterminate”). In its reasoning, the BIA drew on the Second Circuit opinion in Gomez v. INS, 947 F.2d 660, 664 (2d Cir.1991), where the court required members of a cognizable social group to possess “some fundamental characteristic in common which serves to distinguish them in the eyes of a persecutor—or in the eyes of the outside world in general.”

The biggest transformation in the BIA’s “particular social group” jurisprudence, however, came in its two most recent decisions issued on the same day in 2008: Matter of S-E-G-,24 I. & N. Dec. 579 (B.I.A.2008), and Matter of E-A-G-, 24 I. & N. Dec. 591 (B.I.A.2008). Both confronted claims of gang-related persecution under the rubric of membership in a particular social group. In E-A-G-, the BIA refused to recognize social groups of “young persons who are perceived to be affiliated with gangs (as perceived by the government and/or the general public)” and “persons resistant to gang membership (refusing to join when recruited)” because these groups “have not been shown to be part of a socially visible group within Honduran society, and the respondent [does not] possess[] any characteristics that would cause others in Honduran society to recognize him as one who has refused gang recruitment.” 24 I. & N. Dec. at 593-94. In S-E-G-, the unsuccessful group was that of Salvadorian youth who have been subjected to recruitment efforts by the MS-13 and who have rejected and resisted membership in the gang based on their own personal, moral, and religious opposition to the gang’s values and activities. 24 I. & N. Dec. at 579. Their claim for asylum failed because, according

[671 F.3d 685]

 

to the BIA, it did not fare well under the “recent decisions holding that membership in a purported social group requires that the group have particular and well-defined boundaries, and that it possess a recognized level of social visibility.” Id. In essence, the decisions elevated the requirements of “social visibility” and “particularity” from merely some of the many factors in the holistic analysis of the issue to absolute prerequisites to establishing membership in a particular social group.

This new approach to defining “particular social group” split the circuits as to the validity and permissible extent of the BIA’s reliance on “social visibility” and “particularity.” Compare Valdiviezo-Galdamez v. Holder, 663 F.3d 582, 603-09 (3d Cir.2011) (concluding the BIA’s “social visibility” and “particularity” requirements are inconsistent with prior BIA decisions and rejecting the government’s attempt to graft these additional requirements onto petitioner’s social group claims); Gatimi v. Holder, 578 F.3d 611, 615-16 (7th Cir. 2009) (criticizing the BIA’s decisions in S-E-G- and E-A-G- for being “inconsistent” with the BIA’s precedents in Acosta and Kasinga and for failing to explain the reasons for adopting the “social visibility” criterion); Benitez Ramos v. Holder, 589 F.3d 426, 430-31 (7th Cir.2009) (denouncing the BIA’s insistence on “social visibility,” sometimes in its literal form, and charging the BIA might not understand the difference between visibility in a social sense and the external criterion sense); Urbina-Mejia v. Holder, 597 F.3d 360, 365-67 (6th Cir.2010) (noting being a former gang member is an immutable characteristic and defining former members of the 18th Street gang as a “particular social group” based on their inability to change their past and the ability of their persecutors to recognize them as former gang members), with Lizama v. Holder, 629 F.3d 440, 447 (4th Cir.2011) (upholding the BIA’s definition of a particular social group as requiring that “(1) its members share common immutable characteristics, (2) these common characteristics give members social visibility, and (3) the group is defined with sufficient particularity to delimit its membership”); Ramos-Lopez v. Holder, 563 F.3d 855, 862 (9th Cir.2009) (upholding the BIA’s adoption of the “social visibility” requirement); Scatambuli v. Holder, 558 F.3d 53, 60 (1st Cir.2009) (rejecting petitioners’ claims the BIA is precluded from considering the visibility of a group); and Fuentes-Hernandez v. Holder,411 Fed.App’x. 438, 438-39 (2d Cir. 2011) (stating individuals who resisted gang recruitment in El Salvador do not constitute a “particular social group” because their proposed group lacked “social visibility” and “particularity” and because the alleged persecution “did not bear the requisite nexus to a protected ground”).

I agree with the circuits which hold the BIA’s addition of the “social visibility” and “particularity” requirements to the definition of “particular social group” is arbitrary and capricious. First, as discussed above, these newly added requirements are inconsistent with prior BIA decisions. Specifically, they are in direct conflict with the definition of “particular social group” announced in Acosta. By stating this, I am in no way suggesting the BIA must continue to adhere to the Acosta definition. I am of course cognizant the BIA may “add new requirements to, or even change, its definition of `particular social group'” over time. Valdiviezo-Galdamez, 663 F.3d at 608; see also Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass’n of U.S., Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 57, 103 S.Ct. 2856, 77 L.Ed.2d 443 (1983) (stating an agency may change its interpretation of a stature or regulation over time). The BIA, however, must explain its choice for

[671 F.3d 686]

 

doing so because an unexplained departure from established precedent is generally “a reason for holding [the departure] to be an arbitrary and capricious change from agency practice[.]” Nat’l Cable & Telecomms. Ass’n v. Brand X Internet Servs., 545 U.S. 967, 981, 125 S.Ct. 2688, 162 L.Ed.2d 820 (2005); see also FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc., 556 U.S. 502, 129 S.Ct. 1800, 1811, 173 L.Ed.2d 738 (2009) (stating “the agency must show that there are good reasons for the new policy”); Friends of Boundary Waters Wilderness v. Dombeck, 164 F.3d 1115, 1123 (8th Cir. 1999) (noting “a sudden and unexpected change in agency policy” may be characterized as arbitrary and capricious).

Because the BIA departed from its well-established Acosta definition without providing a reasonable explanation for its choice, the departure is arbitrary and capricious. Thus, although I am bound by our decisions in Constanza and Ortiz-Puentes, I cannot agree with our circuit’s as-a-matter-of-course adoption of the BIA’s new approach to defining “particular social group”—an approach which not only represents a stark departure from established precedent, but also eviscerates protections for many groups of applicants eligible under the agency’s prior definition.

Therefore, I reluctantly concur in the result.

FootNotes

1. Gaitan does not address the denial of relief under the Convention Against Torture in his brief. Any argument based on that ground is therefore deemed waived. See Tinajero-Ortiz v. United States, 635 F.3d 1100, 1103 n. 3 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, ___U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 315, 181 L.Ed.2d 194 (2011). Gaitan notes that he does not waive his claim that he is otherwise eligible for relief in the form of withholding of removal under the INA. However, “[t]he standard for withholding of removal, a clear probability of persecution, is more rigorous than the well-founded fear standard for asylum. An alien who fails to prove eligibility for asylum cannot meet the standard for establishing withholding of removal.” Turay v. Ashcroft, 405 F.3d 663, 667 (8th Cir.2005) (internal citations omitted). Because we find that Gaitan is not eligible for asylum, Gaitan is unable to meet the standard for establishing withholding of removal.

 

2. The BIA signaled its intention to break away from the Acosta standard as early as 2001, in its decision in Matter of R-A-, 22 I. & N. Dec. 906 (B.I.A.2001). There, the BIA refused to accord a social group status to a group of “Guatemalan women who have been involved intimately with Guatemalan male companions who believe that women are to live under male domination.” Id. at 917-18. Although the outcome of the opinion was unobjectionable even under the traditional Acosta standard, its logic was noteworthy for the BIA’s insistence that the applicant demonstrate “how the characteristic is understood in the alien’s society” and how “the potential persecutors… see persons sharing the characteristic as warranting suppression or the infliction of harm.” Id. at 918. Because at the time R-A- was issued, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was in the process of finalizing a rule defining “membership in a particular social group,” the Attorney General vacated the BIA’s opinion pending the publication of that rule. In re R-A-, 22 I. & N. Dec. 906 (B.I.A.2001). The proposed rule would incorporate R-A-‘s consideration of social visibility, but only as one of several non-exclusive factors. Asylum & Withholding Definitions, 65 Fed.Reg. 76,588, 76,594 (Dec. 7, 2000). Ultimately, the rule was never formalized, and the ball was back in the BIA’s court to define the “particular social group” incrementally, on a case-by-case basis.”

When Gaitan came out in 2012, the Bushies were gone Obama had taken over, and the Attorney General was Eric Holder. One might have thought that someone with Holder’s reputation for civil rights sensitivity and equal justice under the law might have forced the BIA to confront its tarnished past, or at least have appointed some “asylum experts” as Appellate Judges to force the BIA to engage in some “two-sided” appellate deliberation.
But, alas, Holder, like his successor Attorney General Loretta Lynch, didn’t  see a need to extend civil rights and fair legal treatment to refugees and asylum seekers being mistreated by the DOJ’s wholly owned subsidiary, the BIA. It became apparent that Holder and Lynch rather liked the idea of owning a complacent, largely pro-Government appellate court just as much as Ashcroft and the Bushies did.
During the Obama Administration, the BIA continued to be comprised of Appellate Judges who were insiders and/or bureaucrats. They kept the numbers rolling, didn’t rock the boat, almost never dissented, and “went along to get along” even with obviously flawed legal policies that forced scared, often semi-literate women and children to represent themselves before the U.S. Immigration Courts and make out cases under the BIA’s arcane, convoluted, and generally applicant-unfriendly definitions of PSG. So Sessions was able to take over a dysfunctional court system (in terms of its due process mission), but a relatively well-oiled “denial mill” masquerading as a Federal Appellate Court. And, that’s where we stand today, folks!

The U.S. Immigration Courts will not regain integrity until the are removed from the Executive Branch and reconstituted as as an independent Article I or even Article III Court. Until then, it’s likely that refugees and asylum seekers will continue to suffer unfair treatment, bias, and undeserved fates under the U.S. asylum system. Doesn’t anybody care?

PWS

09-14-17

 

EOIR INVESTS ELEVEN NEW U.S. IMMIGRATION JUDGES — PRIVATE SECTOR TOTALLY SHUT OUT!

Here are the bios of the new U.S. Immigration Judges:

IJInvestiture06162017

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

This brings the total number of sitting U.S. Immigration Judges to 326. Congratulations to the new Judges, and please don’t forget the due process mission of the U.S. Immigration Courts!

Unfortunately, however, this continues the trend of creating a one-sided U.S. Immigration Court which basically has excluded from the 21st Century Immigration Judiciary those who gained all or most of their experience representing respondents, teaching, or writing in the public sector. It’s not particularly surprising that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has expressed a strong enforcement bias, would prefer to “go to the Government well” for all or most of his selections.

However, the real problem here is with the DOJ during the Obama Administration.  With a chance to fill perhaps a record number of U.S. Immigration Judge positions over eight years, and to create an evenly balanced, diverse Immigration Judiciary in the process, they not only turned the hiring process in to a ridiculous two-year average cycle, but also selected 88% of the candidates from Government backgrounds.

Why would someone take two years for a selection process that selects from a limited inside pool anyway? And, why would you lead outside applicants to take the time to apply, believing they had a fair chance of competing, when the process obviously was “fixed” in favor of insiders? Sort of reminds me of the discussion of the labor certification recruitment process that we recently had in my Immigration Law & Policy Class at Georgetown Law!

Just more ways in which the “Due Process Vision” of the U.S. Immigration Courts has basically been trashed by the last three Administrations!

PWS

06-19-17

Supremes Find GOP’s Racist Intent Drove NC Redistricting!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/supreme-court-rules-race-improperly-dominated-nc-redistricting-efforts/2017/05/22/c159fc70-3efa-11e7-8c25-44d09ff5a4a8_story.html

Robert Barnes reports in the Washington Post:

“The Supreme Court ruled Monday that North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature relied on racial gerrymandering when drawing the state’s congressional districts, a decision that could make it easier to challenge other state redistricting plans.

The decision continued a trend at the court, where justices have found that racial considerations improperly tainted redistricting decisions by GOP-led legislatures in Virginia, Alabama and North Carolina. Some cases involved congressional districts, others legislative districts.

The states contended that their efforts were partisan moves to protect their majorities, which the Supreme Court in the past has allowed, rather than attempts to diminish the impact of minority voters, which are forbidden.

But the justices declared that North Carolina had relied too heavily on race in its efforts to “reshuffle,” in the words of Justice Elena Kagan, voters in two congressional districts. They were unanimous in rejecting one of the districts and split 5 to 3 on the other.

“This is a watershed moment in the fight to end racial gerrymandering,” said former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., who is part of a Democratic effort focused on redistricting. “North Carolina’s maps were among the worst racial gerrymanders in the nation. Today’s ruling sends a stark message to legislatures and governors around the country: Racial gerrymandering is illegal and will be struck down in a court of law.”

North Carolina leaders said the court had made the rules regarding redistricting even murkier. Lawmakers are required to consider race when drawing legislative lines so that minorities have a chance to elect candidates of their choice when the numbers are there. But the court has said racial considerations cannot predominate when drawing the districts.”

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

Racism is an obvious problem in the Republican Party and particularly in the Trump Administration. The GOP publicly denies racist intent while regularly practicing it to maintain and “fire up” their electoral base. At some point, actions speak louder than words.

Contrary to the disingenuous statements by GOP leaders in North Carolina that the Court’s ruling is “confusing,” former US Attorney General Eric Holder has succinctly stated it: “Racial gerrymandering is illegal and will be struck down in a court of law.”

While I haven’t always agreed with him, Eric is one of the brightest guys around. But, you don’t even have to be at his intellectual level to “get the message.”

One guy who is unlikely to get the message is current US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  He has pledged to “back off” of the DOJ’s aggressive stand in protecting minority voting rights, developed under AGs Holder and Lynch, and instead to defer to racist state legislative actions designed to dilute or discourage minority voting. Not surprisingly, this happens most often in the GOP controlled areas of the South.

Liz was right!

PWS

05-23-17

U.S. IMMIGRATON COURTS: She Must Have Had Writer’s Cramp — EOIR Swears In 14 New Judges Appointed By Former AG Lynch — Almost All From Government Backgrounds!

https://www.justice.gov/eoir/pr/executive-office-immigration-review-swears-14-immigration-judges

“FALLS CHURCH, VA – The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) today announced the investiture of 14 new immigration judges. Chief Immigration Judge MaryBeth Keller presided over the investiture during a ceremony held April 7, 2017, at EOIR headquarters in Falls Church, Va.

After a thorough application process, former Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Justin F. Adams, Edward M. Barcus, Paula J. Donnolo, Lauren T. Farber, Paul M. Habich, Cara O. Knapp, Maria Lurye, Anthony E. Maingot, Sarah B. Mazzie, Matthew E. Morrissey, An Mai Nguyen, Sean D. Santen, Stuart A. Siegel, and Gwendylan E. Tregerman to their new positions.

“We are happy to welcome these 14 appointees to our growing immigration judge corps,” said Keller. “These new immigration judges will enhance the agency’s ability to process detained cases, our highest priority, while also strengthening the agency’s capacity to address its broader pending caseload.”

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

First, congratulations to all of the new U.S. Immigration Judges. While these days, probably nobody at DOJ or EOIR will tell you, the “Vision” of the U.S. Immigration Court is: “Through teamwork and innovation be the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.” Please don’t forget that, and always let fairness and due process be your guide and inspiration!

Read the new U.S. Immigration Judges’ bios in the full press release at the above link. Interestingly, EOIR seems to have stopped furnishing information on the total number of Immigration Judges on the bench. But, by my “rough count,” it’s around 319. Also, by my “rough count” that would leave around 55 existing judicial vacancies in the U.S. Immigration Courts.

While former AG Lynch had a flurry of last minute appointments, the record will reflect that under her leadership, the DOJ & EOIR did an exceptionally poor job of filling new positions and getting additional Immigration Judges on the bench. The last minute appointments and unfilled judicial positions were from a group of additional positions provided to DOJ/EOIR by Congress some time ago. After years of moaning and groaning about lack of judicial positions, the DOJ/EOIR system was unable to deal with success. To state the obvious: If they can’t fill the ones they have now, why give them more?

Also, without taking anything away from the new judges, this set of appointments continues a two-Administration “tradition” of largely excluding qualified individuals from private practice, academia, and NGOs from the Immigration Judiciary. Although they had ample chance to do so, both former Attorney General Eric Holder and Lynch failed to address, and in fact participated in, this patent unfairness which has a tendency to skew due process in the Immigration Court system at both the trial and appellate levels. Shame on them!

I’ll keep saying it:  We need an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court that operates in much the same manner as the Article III Courts! There is simply no justification for the current sad state of the U.S. Immigration Court system where due process and professional court administration have needlessly deteriorated over Administrations of both parties. Both the public and the individuals who depend on the U.S. Immigration Courts for due process deserve better!

PWS

04/11/17

 

U.S. Judge Stiffs DOJ, Enters Consent Decree In Baltimore Police Case — Sessions Remains Skeptical!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/e8184a66-1c21-11e7-8598-9a99da559f9e_story.html?utm_term=.4b449e499221

Juliet Linderman (AP) reports in the Washington Post:

“BALTIMORE — A federal judge has approved an agreement negotiated under the Obama administration to overhaul the troubled Baltimore police force, sweeping aside objections from the Trump Justice Department.

President Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, promptly warned that the agreement may result in “a less safe city.”

U.S. District Judge James Bredar signed the so-called consent decree Friday, a day after a hearing to solicit comments from Baltimore residents, calling the plan “comprehensive, detailed and precise.”

He denied a request to delay the signing to give the Trump administration more time to review the agreement. At Thursday’s hearing, a Justice Department attorney expressed “grave concerns” about the plan, aimed at rooting out racist practices.

The consent decree was negotiated during the closing days of the Obama administration after a federal investigation found rampant abuse by Baltimore police, including unlawful stops and use of excessive force against black people.

The investigation was prompted by the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose neck was broken during a lurching ride in the back of a police van, where he had been left unbuckled, his hands and legs shackled. Gray’s death touched off the worst rioting in Baltimore in decades.

In a memo made public earlier this week, the Trump Justice Department signaled that it may retreat from the consent decrees that have been put in place in recent years in such cities as Cleveland; Ferguson, Missouri; Miami; and Newark, New Jersey.

Sessions said in a statement Friday that the Baltimore agreement shows “clear departures from many proven principles of good policing that we fear will result in more crime.”

“The decree was negotiated during a rushed process by the previous administration and signed only days before they left office,” Sessions said. “While the Department of Justice continues to fully support police reform in Baltimore, I have grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city.”

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

While the consent decree process was probably accelerated by the Obama Administration’s accurate belief that the Trump Administration would be unlikely to uphold civil rights, particularly for African Americans, the decree was based on a detailed 163 page report that was accepted and incorporated by U.S. District Judge Bredar. Here’s a link to that report: https://www.justice.gov/opa/file/883366/download.

By contrast, Session’s memorandum calling for DOJ review of consent decrees, among other things, was less than two pages, phrased in conclusory stock language, and contained no factual basis whatsoever for the review. Nor has Sessions ever explained what the problem might be with the detailed report prepared as a result of an investigation by his predecessor, Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Remarkably, Sessions obstinance comes in the same week that a court-appointed monitor found that a similar consent decree in Seattle had resulted in a dramatic reduction in incidents of police use of force against citizens while increasing neither crime nor injuries to police officers. See prior blog here: http://wp.me/p8eeJm-El.

PWS

04/09/17

 

 

WashPost EDITORIAL: “Sessions’s plans are anti-police and anti-community” — Surprising? Hardly! — Is There Any Part Of Social Justice In America That Jeff Sessions Hasn’t Been “Anti-” ?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/sessionss-plans-are-anti-police-and-anti-community/2017/04/04/48871ca8-196e-11e7-855e-4824bbb5d748_story.html?utm_term=.ac719356d27a

“AFTER A Post investigation revealed that D.C. police had fatally shot more people per capita in the 1990s than officers in any other large municipal police department in the country, the U.S. Justice Department got involved, forging an agreement in 2001 that required the District to undertake certain reforms. Across the border in neighboring Maryland, the Prince George’s County Police Department was subject to federal court decrees after investigations revealed excessive police force and abuses in the use of police dogs. The result, both departments agree, was better training, modernized equipment and improved policies that have helped build community trust. Crime didn’t go up; it decreased.

We bring up the experiences of these two departments in light of the plans announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to review agreements reached by the Obama administration with a dozen or so troubled police departments as part of its mission “to ensure public safety.” Embedded in this unprecedented review is the notion that trying to correct patterns of police misconduct is somehow at odds with public safety. There is nothing incompatible between good policing and respecting people’s civil rights, nor between respecting people’s civil rights and respecting the difficult work good police officers do. It is troubling that the Trump administration seems willing — even eager — to abandon the government’s role in ensuring that all interests are protected.

A March 31 memorandum from Mr. Sessions made public Monday directs his top staff to review reform agreements reached with police departments that were found to have routinely violated the civil rights of individuals. Minorities, notably African Americans, are most often singled out for unfair and abusive treatment, ranging from frivolous stops and arrests to use of excessive and deadly force. While it may be hard for the Justice Department to undo agreements authorized by courts and with independent monitors in place, reforms are at risk in cities where a judge has yet to approve a decree (Baltimore) or where negotiations are still underway (Chicago).”

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

PWS

04/05/17

REUTERS: Some Good News For The U.S. Immigration Courts: AG Sessions Exempts Immigration Courts From Hiring Freeze!

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-judges-idUSKBN16A2NI

Mica Rosenberg and Kristina Cooke report:

“President Donald Trump’s federal hiring freeze will not apply to immigration court judges under an exception for positions that are needed for national security and public safety, the Executive Office for Immigration Review told Reuters on Friday.

The Trump administration has called for faster removal of immigrants in the United States illegally, but immigration courts, which rule on asylum applications and deportation appeals, are weighed down by a record backlog of more than 542,000 cases.

On Jan. 23, Trump froze hiring for all federal government positions, except for military personnel and in some other limited circumstances.

New Attorney General Jeff Sessions “determined that Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) positions can continue to be filled,” EOIR spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly told Reuters in an email response to questions about the freeze.

“As such, EOIR is continuing to advertise and fill positions nationwide for immigration judges and supporting staff,” Mattingly said. The immigration courts are run by the Justice Department, unlike federal courts which are independent.”

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

As noted in the article, there are approximately 50 individuals already in the judicial hiring process. It isn’t clear if these individuals will be appointed or whether the Administration will choose instead to start the process over again. As noted in the article, the process, as currently designed and administered, is lengthy, often taking a year or more. Interestingly, that’s probably as long or longer than it takes to get an average Article III judicial appointee through the Senate confirmation process.

PWS

03/04/17

HuffPost: Sessions Reinstates Dangerous Private Prisons — Health & Safety of Inmates Takes Back Seat to Expediency And Profits For Private Prison Industry!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/doj-private-prisons-sessions_us_58af529ce4b0a8a9b780669a

Ryan J. Reilly a Ben Walsh report:

“WASHINGTON ― Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday withdrew an Obama-era Justice Department memo that set a goal of reducing and ultimately ending the Justice Department’s use of private prisons.

In a one-page memo to the acting head of the Bureau of Prisons, Sessions wrote that the August 2016 memo by former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates “changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.”

A Justice Department spokesman said Sessions’ memo “directs the Bureau of Prisons to return to its previous approach to the use of private prisons,” which would “restore BOP’s flexibility to manage the federal prison inmate population based on capacity needs.”

BOP currently has 12 private prison contracts that hold around 21,000 inmates. Yates had said that private prisons compared “poorly” to BOP prisons. Her memo followed a damning report from the Justice Department’s inspector general which found that privately run facilities were more dangerous than those run by BOP.

The two largest private prison companies have told investors that they have room to accommodate increased use of their prisons by federal or state and local authorities. On an earnings call with stock analysts this week, executives at GEO Group emphasized that their company has a total of 5,000 spots in its prisons that are presently either unused or underutilized.

GEO senior vice President David Donahue put it fairly bluntly, telling analysts that their idle and underutilized cells are “immediately available and meet ICE’s national detention standards.”

CoreCivic, formerly known as CCA, told investors on Feb. 17 that the company has nine idle prisons that can hold a total of 8,700 people. Those prisons are ready to accept inmates on short notice. “All of our idle facilities are modern and well maintained, and can be made available to potential state and federal partners without much, if any capital investment or the lead-time required for new construction,” CEO Damon Hininger said.

Indeed, Haninger said that CoreCivic was already holding more detained immigrants for the federal government than they anticipated. “Our financial performance in the fourth quarter of 2016 was well above our initial forecast due, in large part, to heightened utilization by ICE across the portfolio,” he said.

And, Haninger said, the Trump administration’s actions could boost financial performance even further. “When coupled with the above average rate crossings along the Southwest border, these executive orders appear likely to significantly increase the need for safe, humane and appropriate detention bed capacity that we have available in our existing real-estate portfolio,” he said. “We are well positioned,” to get more business from ICE, Haninger said.

David C. Fathi, who directs the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, said that giving for-profit companies control of prisons is “a recipe for abuse and neglect.” He said the Sessions memo was a further sign the U.S. “may be headed for a new federal prison boom” under the Trump administration.”

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

The disaster of Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General continues to unfold. Contrary to what he told Senators during his contentious confirmation hearings, he’s the same old tone-deaf, insensitive, hard-liner he’s always been. There will be wrongful death suits in Sessions’s future naming him personally. While these so-called “Bivens actions” are usually a steep uphill climb for plaintiffs, given that Sessions acted with knowledge of both the Inspector General’s highly negative findings and his predecessor’s resulting action to curb private prison use, there could be a case there. I hope he took out personal liability insurance and got the highest amount of coverage. He might need it before his tenure is up.

And, as for the inmates and civil immigration detainees who are going to be kept in substandard conditions, I guess it’s just “tough noogies” as far as Sessions is concerned.

PWS

 

U.S. Immigration Courts: 12 New U.S. Immigration Judges Invested — Here Are Their Bios!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, February 6, 2017
Executive Office for Immigration Review Swears in 12 Immigration Judges

FALLS CHURCH, VA – The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) today announced the investiture of 12 new immigration judges. Chief Immigration Judge MaryBeth Keller presided over the investiture during a ceremony held Feb. 3, 2017, in the ceremonial courtroom of the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse, in Washington, D.C.

After a thorough application process, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Victoria L. Argumendo, Steven D. Caley, Ila C. Deiss, Delia I. Gonzalez, Deborah K. Goodwin, Stephanie E. Gorman, Richard A. Jamadar, Julie Nelson, Emmett D. Soper, Jem C. Sponzo, Arwen Ann Swink, and Veronica S. Villegas to their new positions.

“On Jan. 8, 2017, we welcomed these 12 appointees to our growing immigration judge corps,” said Keller. “With this investment, EOIR has for the first time in its history exceeded 300 immigration judges. The agency recognizes that we must continue hiring immigration judges in order to address the pending caseload.”

Biographical information follows.

Victoria L. Argumendo, Immigration Judge, San Francisco Immigration Court

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Victoria L. Argumendo to begin hearings cases in February 2017. Judge Argumendo earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1995 from the University of Vermont and a Juris Doctor in 2000 from the Golden Gate University School of Law. From 2012 to January 2017, she was in private practice at Argumendo Garzon Law Group, in San Francisco. From 2010 through 2012, she was in private practice at Surowitz & Argumendo, in San Francisco. From 2002 through 2010, she was in private practice at the Law Office of Victoria L. Argumendo, in San Francisco. From 2001 through 2002, she was an associate attorney at the Law Offices of Walter R. Pineda, in Redwood City, Calif. From May 2001 to September 2001, she served as a contract attorney for the Law Office of Enrique Ramirez, in San Francisco. From February 2001 to May 2001, she served as a contract attorney for Minami, Lew & Tamaki. Judge Argumendo is a member of the State Bar of California.

Steven D. Caley, Immigration Judge, Aurora Immigration Court

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Steven D. Caley to begin hearings cases in February 2017. Judge Caley earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1977 from Hanover College and a Juris Doctor in 1980 from the New York University School of Law. From 2012 to January 2017, he served as a senior attorney for GreenLaw, in Atlanta. From 2000 through 2012, he was a partner and senior associate for Weissman, Nowack, Curry & Wilco, in Atlanta. From 2005 through 2006, and previously from 1996 through 1999, he served as a special administrative law judge for the Office of State Administrative Hearings, in Atlanta. From 1998 through 2000, he served as regional director for Legal Aid Services of Oregon, in Portland, Ore. From 1990 through 1998, he served as director of litigation for the Atlanta Legal Aid Society Inc., in Atlanta. From 1980 through 1990, he served in various capacities for the Legal Services Corporation of Alabama, in Dotham, Ala., including as managing attorney, senior staff attorney, and staff attorney. From 2003 through 2007, he served on the faculty of the Georgia State University College of Law as an adjunct professor. Judge Caley is a member of the Alabama State Bar, Florida Bar, State Bar of Georgia, and Oregon State Bar.

Ila C. Deiss, Immigration Judge, San Francisco Immigration Court

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Ila C. Deiss to begin hearing cases in February 2017. Judge Deiss earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in 1991 from the University of California at Davis, a Master of Public Administration in 1996 from the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School for Public Service, and a Juris Doctor in 1999 from the City University of New York School of Law. From 2005 to January 2017, she served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of California, Department of Justice (DOJ). From 2003 through 2005, she served as a staff attorney for the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, DOJ. From 2001 through 2002, she served as a senior court counsel for the Supreme Court of the Republic of Palau. From April 2001 to August 2001, she served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Richard M. Berman, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York. From 1999 through 2001, she served as a judicial law clerk for the Staff Attorney’s Office, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, DOJ. Judge Deiss is a member of the Connecticut and New York state bars.

Delia I. Gonzalez, Immigration Judge, Harlingen Immigration Court

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Delia I. Gonzalez to begin hearing cases in February 2017. Judge Gonzalez earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1993 from the University of Houston and a Juris Doctor in 2001 from the Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law. From 2006 through 2016, she served as an assistant chief counsel for the Office of the Chief Counsel, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security. From 2001 through 2006, she served as a trial attorney for the Antitrust Division, Department of Justice, entering on duty through the Attorney General’s Honors Program. Judge Gonzalez is a member of the State Bar of Texas.

Deborah K. Goodwin, Immigration Judge, Miami Immigration Court

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Deborah K. Goodwin to begin hearings cases in February 2017. Judge Goodwin earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1986 from Wilson College and a Juris Doctor in 2000 from the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Law. From 2015 to January 2017, she served as an associate legal advisor for the District Court Litigation Division, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in Washington, D.C. From 2007 through 2015, she served as an associate counsel for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, DHS, in San Francisco. From 2002 through 2007, she served as an assistant chief counsel for ICE, DHS, in San Francisco. Judge Goodwin is a member of the Florida Bar.

Stephanie E. Gorman, Immigration Judge, Houston Immigration Court

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Stephanie E. Gorman to begin hearing cases in February 2017. Judge Gorman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1996 from California State University Sacramento, a Juris Doctor in 2002 from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, and a Master of Laws degree in 2005 from the University of San Diego School of Law. From 2014 to January 2017, she served as an attorney and legal instructor for the Office of the Chief Counsel, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security (DHS). From 2008 through 2014, she served as an assistant chief counsel for the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS. From 2009 through 2012, she also served as a special assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Florida, Department of Justice (DOJ), in Orlando, Fla. From 2007 through 2008, she served as a federal law clerk for the Honorable M. James Lorenz, U.S. District Court for the Ninth Circuit, Southern District of California, DOJ, in San Diego. From March 2007 to September 2007, she served as a federal law clerk for the Honorable Roger T. Benitez, U.S. District Court for the Ninth Circuit, Southern District of California, in San Diego. From 2006 through 2007, she served as an assistant state attorney for the Twelfth Judicial Circuit, in Sarasota, Fla. From 2003 through 2006, she served in various capacities on the faculty of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, including as visiting assistant professor of law and senior legal writing instructor and adjunct professor. From 2002 through 2004, she served as an associate attorney for the Law Office of Matthew P. Rocco, in Carlsbad, Fla. Judge Gorman is a member of the State Bar of California and the Florida Bar.

Richard A. Jamadar, Immigration Judge, Houston Immigration Court

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Richard A. Jamadar to begin hearing cases in February 2017. Judge Jamadar earned a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1987 from the University of the West Indies Faculty of Law and a Juris Doctor in 1996 from the Washington University School of Law. From 2004 to January 2017, he served as an assistant chief counsel for the Office of the Chief Counsel, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security, in Orlando, Fla. During this time, from 2011 through 2013, he served as a special assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Florida, Department of Justice, in Orlando, Fla. From 2003 through 2004, he served as a senior attorney for the Department of Children and Families, Tenth Judicial Circuit, in Bartow, Fla. From 1999 through 2002, he served as an assistant state attorney for the State Attorney’s Office, Ninth Judicial Circuit, in Orlando, Fla. From 1996 through 1998, he served as an associate attorney for Polatsek and Scalfani, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Judge Jamadar is a member of the Florida Bar.

Julie Nelson, Immigration Judge, San Francisco Immigration Court

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Julie Nelson to begin hearing cases in February 2017. Judge Nelson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2003 from Biola University and a Juris Doctor in 2006 from California Western School of Law. From December 2014 to January 2017, and previously from 2009 through May 2014, she served as an assistant chief counsel for the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security. From June 2014 to November 2014, she served as a law clerk for the Honorable Steven P. Logan, U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, Department of Justice (DOJ). From 2008 through 2009, she served as an attorney advisor for the Los Angeles Immigration Court, Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), DOJ. From 2007 through 2008, she served as a judicial law clerk for the San Diego Immigration Court, EOIR, DOJ, entering on duty through the Attorney General’s Honors Program. From 2007 through 2009, she served on the faculty of Biola University as an adjunct professor. Judge Nelson is a member of State Bar of California.

Emmett D. Soper, Immigration Judge, Arlington Immigration Court

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Emmett D. Soper to begin hearing cases in February 2017. Judge Soper earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1998 from Carleton College and a Juris Doctor in 2005 from the University of Oregon School of Law. From 2012 to January 2017, he served as an associate general counsel for the Office of the General Counsel, Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), Department of Justice (DOJ), in Falls Church, Va. From 2010 through 2012, he served as an attorney advisor for the Office of Legal Policy, DOJ, in Washington, D.C. From 2006 through 2010, he served as an attorney advisor for the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge, EOIR, DOJ, in Falls Church, Va. From 2005 through 2006, he served as a judicial law clerk for the Buffalo Immigration Court, EOIR, DOJ. Judge Soper is a member of the Oregon State Bar.

Jem C. Sponzo, Immigration Judge, New York City Immigration Court

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Jem C. Sponzo to begin hearings cases in February 2017. Judge Sponzo earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2003 from Hamilton College and a Juris Doctor in 2006 from the University of Connecticut School of Law. From 2007 to January 2017, she served as a trial attorney for the Civil Division, Office of Immigration Litigation, Department of Justice (DOJ), in Washington, D.C. From January 2015 to July 2015, she also served as a clearance counsel for the Office of Presidential Personnel, White House. From 2006 through 2007, she served as a judicial law clerk for the New York City Immigration Court, Executive Office for Immigration Review, DOJ, entering on duty through the Attorney General’s Honors Program. Judge Sponzo is a member of the New York State Bar.

Arwen Ann Swink, Immigration Judge, San Francisco Immigration Court

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Arwen Ann Swink to begin hearing cases in February 2017. Judge Swink earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2002 from California State University San Marcos and a Juris Doctor in 2006 from the University of California Hastings College Of Law. Prior to this post, she served as a staff attorney in the motions unit of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, beginning in 2010. From 2006 through 2010, she served as an associate attorney for the Law Office of Robert B. Jobe, in San Francisco. Judge Swink is a member of the State Bar of California.

Veronica S. Villegas, Immigration Judge, Los Angeles Immigration Court

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Veronica S. Villegas to begin hearing cases in February 2017. Judge Villegas earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1996 from California State University Fullerton and a Juris Doctor in 1999 from the Loyola Law School. From 2012 to January 2017, and previously from 2004 through 2005, she was in private practice at the Law Office of Veronica S. Villegas, in West Covina, Calif. From 2005 through 2012, she was a partner at Hill, Piibe & Villegas, in West Covina, Calif. From 2003 through 2004, she served as an assistant chief counsel for the Office of the Chief Counsel, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security. From 1999 through 2003, she served as an assistant district counsel for the former Office of the District Counsel, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Department of Justice. Judge Villegas is a member of the State Bar of California.

Executive Office for Immigration Review
Updated February 6, 2017
Action Center
Access I³
Engage with EOIR
Submit a Complaint
Find Legal Representation
Find an Immigration Court
OCIJ Practice Manual
BIA Practice Manual
Immigration Judge Benchbook
EOIR Forms
Virtual Law Library
Contact Us
LEADERSHIP
Juan P. Osuna
Director, Executive Office for Immigration Review
CONTACT
Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs
703-305-0289

CASE STATUS

Automated Case Information Hotline
240-314-1500 or 1-800-898-7180
Case status information available 24/7

BIA CLERK’S OFFICE

Filing Information
703-605-1007

OFFICE OF THE CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING OFFICER

Filing Information for Employer Sanctions and Anti-discrimination Cases
703-305-0864

OFFICE OF THE GENERAL COUNSEL

Attorney Discipline Program/Fraud Program
703-305-0470

RECORDS

FOIA Service Center
703-605-1297
JUSTICE.GOV

Archive
Accessibility
Adobe Reader [external link]
FOIA
No FEAR Act
Information Quality
Privacy Policy
Legal Policies & Disclaimers
Social Media
For Employees
Office of the Inspector General
Government Resources
Open Government
Plain Writing
USA.gov
BusinessUSA
DOJ

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

PWS

02/07/17