IMMIGRATION IMPACT: More Commentary On How The U.S. Immigration Court In Atlanta Mocks The Due Process Mission of EOIR

Hilda Bonilla writes:

“Observers found that the immigration judges made prejudicial statements, demonstrated a lack of courtesy and professionalism and expressed significant disinterest toward respondents. In one hearing, an attorney argued that his client should be released from detention because he was neither a threat to society nor a flight risk. In rejecting the client’s bond request, the immigration judge reportedly compared an immigrant to a “person coming to your home in a Halloween mask, waving a knife dripping with blood” and asked the attorney if he would let him in.

When the attorney disagreed with this comparison, the immigration judge responded that the “individuals before [him] were economic migrants and that they do not pay taxes.” Another immigration judge reportedly “leaned back in his chair, placed his head in his hands, and closed his eyes” for 23 minutes while the respondent described the murder of her parents and siblings during an asylum hearing.

Other critical problems include disregard for legal arguments, frequent cancellation of hearings at the last minute, lack of individualized consideration of bond requests, and inadequate interpretation services for respondents who do not speak English. The observers also reported that immigration judges often refer to detention centers as “jails” and detainees as “prisoners,” undermining their dignity and humanity and suggesting that the IJs perceive detained immigrants as criminals. Compounding this problem, detained immigrants who appear in immigration court in Atlanta are required to wear jumpsuits and shackles.

Many of these practices stand in stark contrast with the Executive Office of Immigration Reviews’ Ethics and Professionalism Guide for Immigration Judges, which state, among other things, that “an immigration judge… should not, in the performance of official duties, by word or conduct, manifest improper bias or prejudice” and that immigration judge should be “patient, dignified, and courteous, and should act in a professional manner towards all litigants, witnesses, lawyers, and other with whom the immigration judge deals in his or her capacity.”


“[P]atient, dignified, courteous, . . . professional,” unfortunately does not describe the judges of the U.S. Immigration Court in Atlanta as portrayed in this study and numerous articles from various sources. As I have pointed out before, although the BIA finally did “call out” one Immigration Judge in Atlanta for his outrageous disregard of due process and appropriate judicial conduct in Matter of Y-S-L-C-, 26 I&N Dec. 688 (BIA 2015) (denial of due process where IJ tried to bar the testimony of minor respondent by disqualifying him as an expert witness under the Federal Rules of Evidence), the BIA has let this problem fester for far, far too long. Indeed, the indefensible 2% asylum grant rate suggests that the BIA has been derelict in its duty to insure due process, fairness, and compliance with the appropriate, generous legal standards in asylum cases for some time.

Without a more effective effort by the BIA, this problem is unlikely to be solved any time in the near future. While administrative judges at EOIR Headquarters in Falls Church, VA may investigate complaints and correct instances of unprofessional conduct and rudeness, they (quite properly) lack authority to change the decisions in particular cases. Only the BIA, the Attorney General, the Court of Appeals (in this case the 11th Circuit), or the Supreme Court can correct legal errors.

The conduct of the Immigration Judges in Atlanta and some other locations diminishes the efforts of the vast majority of U.S. Immigration Judges, such as my former colleagues in the Arlington Immigration Court, who strive extremely hard to provide due process and impartial judging under extraordinarily difficult circumstances in a system that its not necessarily designed and operated with due process in mind. But, unfair as as the wayward judges might be to their colleagues elsewhere, the real victims of their unprofessional conduct are the individuals who do not receive the fair, courteous, impartial, professional due process adjudications to which they are entitled under our Constitution. And, one has to ask what purpose is served by a “court” which consistently fails to deliver on its one and only mission: guaranteeing fairness and due process for all?



Emory Law/SPLC Observation Study Rips Due Process Violations At Atlanta Immigration Court — Why Is The BIA “Asleep At The Switch” In Enforcing Due Process? What Happened To The EOIR’s “Due Process Vision?”

“We write to provide you with findings of observations of the Atlanta Immigration Court conducted by Emory Law students, in conjunction with the Southern Poverty Law Center, during the fall semester of 2016. Six Emory Law students observed the Court in September and October 2016 seeking to identify any apparent factors leading to the Court’s reputation as one where rule of law principles are not widely respected.1 Atlanta Immigration Judges (IJs) “have been accused of bullying children, victims of domestic abuse and asylum seekers;” while “[immigration] attorneys complain that judges impose such stringent requirements on their clients that they are

1 See Elise Foley, Here’s Why Atlanta Is One of The Worst Places To Be An Undocumented Immigrant, HUFFINGTON POST, May 25, 2016, courts_us_574378d9e4b0613b512b0f37; Chico Harlan, In an Immigration Court That Almost Always Says No, A Lawyer’s Spirit is Broken, WASHINGTON POST, Oct. 11, 2016, spirit-is-broken/2016/10/11/05f43a8e-8eee-11e6-a6a3-d50061aa9fae_story.html?utm_term=.430a15e12a55; Ted Hesson, Why It’s Almost Impossible to Get Asylum in Atlanta, VICE MAGAZINE, Jun. 8, 2016, See also Southern Poverty Law Center, Immigrant Detainees in Georgia More Likely to Be Deported Than Detainees Elsewhere; Georgia Detainees Less Likely to Be Released on Bond (2016), detainees-georgia-more-likely-be-deported-detainees-elsewhere.


impossible for an immigrant to meet.”2 Atlanta’s Immigration Court records one of the highest denial rate of asylum applications–98 percent–in the United States.3

The observations identified several areas of key concern that indicate that some of the Immigration Judges do not respect rule of law principles and maintain practices that undermine the fair administration of justice.”


Read the complete letter to EOIR Director Juan Osuna at the link. Gotta ask: How does the performance of the Atlanta Immigration Court fulfill the “EOIR Vision” of:   “Through teamwork and innovation, be the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all?”  Where has the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) in been on these alleged abuses? Why doesn’t the BIA live up to the EOIR Vision? If it’s this bad now, how bad will it get under the Trump Administration?