JULIA PRESTON: CHAOS IN COURT! – TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S MAL-ADMINISTRATION OF IMMIGRATION COURTS RUINS LIVES, FRUSTRATES JUDGES!

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2018/01/19/lost-in-court

Julia writes for The Marshall Project:

“. . . .

And so in this gateway city on the Rio Grande [Laredo], inside a building rimmed with barbed wire, past security guards and locked doors, immigration judges on short details started hearing cases in a cramped courtroom that was hastily arranged in March.

But seven months later, the case of Oscar Arnulfo Ramírez, an immigrant from El Salvador, was not going quickly. He was sitting in detention, waiting for a hearing on his asylum claim. And waiting some more.

The court files, his lawyer discovered, showed that Ramírez’s case had been completed and closed two months earlier. Since the case was closed, the court clerk couldn’t schedule a new hearing to get it moving again. In fact, the clerk didn’t even have a record that he was still detained.

“It’s as if he’s non-existent,” his lawyer,, said. “He’s still in a detention center. He’s still costing the government and the American people tax dollars. But there’s no proceeding going on. He’s just sitting there doing completely nothing.”

Ramírez’s case was one of many signs of disarray in the improvised court in Laredo, which emerged during a weeklong visit in late October by a reporter from The Marshall Project and a radio producer from This American Life. Instead of the efficiency the Trump administration sought, the proceedings were often chaotic. Hearing schedules were erratic, case files went missing. Judges were exasperated by confusion and delays. Like Ramírez, detainees were lost in the system for months on end.


For a view of the border crossing in Laredo and the grinding process migrants begin there, check out Kirsten Luce’s photosfrom the gateway on the Rio Grande.


With the intense pressure on the court to finish cases, immigrants who had run from frightening threats in their home countries were deported without having a chance to tell the stories that might have persuaded a judge to let them stay.

. . . .

For Paola Tostado, the lawyer, Ramírez was not the first client to fall through the cracks in Laredo. Even though she is based in Brownsville, three hours away, Tostado was making the pre-dawn drive up the highway as many as three times a week, to appear next to her clients in court in Laredo whenever she could.

Another Salvadoran asylum-seeker she represented, whose case was similarly mislaid, had gone for four months with no hearing and no prospect of having one. Eventually he despaired. When ICE officers presented him with a document agreeing to deportation, without consulting Tostado he had signed it.

“I’ve had situations where we come to an individual client who has been detained over six months and the file is missing,” she said. “It’s not in San Antonio. It’s not in Laredo. So where is it? Is it on the highway?”

In her attempts to free Ramírez, Tostado consulted with the court clerk in San Antonio, with the ICE prosecutors and officers detaining him, but no one could say how to get the case started again.

Then, one day after reporters sat in the courtroom and spoke with Tostado about the case, ICE released him to pursue his case in another court, without explanation.

But by December Tostado had two other asylum-seekers who had been stalled in the system for more than seven months. She finally got the court to schedule hearings for them in the last days of the year.

“I think the bottom line is, there’s no organization in this Laredo court,” Tostado said. “It’s complete chaos and at the end of the day it’s not fair. Because you have clients who say, I just want to go to court. If it’s a no, it’s a no. If it’s a yes, it’s a yes.”

Unlike criminal court, in immigration court people have no right to a lawyer paid by the government. But there was no reliable channel in Laredo for immigrants confined behind walls to connect with low-cost lawyers. Most lawyers worked near the regular courts in the region, at least two hours’ drive away.

Sandra Berrios, another Salvadoran seeking asylum, learned the difference a lawyer could make. She found one only by the sheerest luck. After five months in detention, she was days away from deportation when she was cleaning a hallway in the center, doing a job she had taken to keep busy. A lawyer walked by. Berrios blurted a plea for help.

The lawyer was from a corporate law firm, Jones Day, which happened to be offering free services. Two of its lawyers, Christopher Maynard and Adria Villar, took on her case. They learned that Berrios had been a victim of vicious domestic abuse. A Salvadoran boyfriend who had brought her to the United States in 2009 had turned on her a few years later when he wanted to date other women.

Once he had punched her in the face in a Walmart parking lot, prompting bystanders to call the police. He had choked her, burned her legs with cigarettes, broken her fingers and cut her hands with knives. Berrios had scars to show the judge. She had a phone video she had made when the boyfriend was attacking her and records of calls to the Laredo police.

The lawyers also learned that the boyfriend had returned to El Salvador to avoid arrest, threatening to kill Berrios if he ever saw her there.

She had started a new relationship in Texas with an American citizen who wanted to marry her. But she’d been arrested by the Border Patrol at a highway checkpoint when the two of them were driving back to Laredo from an outing at a Gulf Coast beach.

After Berrios been detained for nine months, at a hearing in July with Maynard arguing her case, a judge canceled her deportation and let her stay. In a later interview, Berrios gave equal parts credit to God and the lawyers. “I would be in El Salvador by this time, already dead,” she said. “The judges before that just wanted to deport me.”

. . . .

We have heard frustration across the board,” said Ashley Tabaddor, a judge from Los Angeles who is the association [NAIJ] president. She and other union officials clarified that their statements did not represent the views of the Justice Department. “We’ve definitely heard from our members,” she said, “where they’ve had to reset hundreds of cases from their home docket to go to detention facilities where the docket was haphazardly scheduled, where the case might not have been ready, where the file has not reached the facility yet.”

Another association official, Lawrence Burman, a judge who normally sits in Arlington, Va., volunteered for a stint in a detention center in the rural Louisiana town of Jena, 220 miles northwest of New Orleans. Four judges were sent, Burman said, but there was only enough work for two.

“So I had a lot of free time, which was pretty useless in Jena, Louisiana,” Burman said. “All of us in that situation felt very bad that we have cases back home that need to be done. But in Jena I didn’t have any of my files.” Once he had studied the cases before him in Jena, Burman said, he was left to “read the newspaper or my email.”

The impact on Burman’s case docket back in Arlington was severe. Dozens of cases he was due to hear during the weeks he was away had to be rescheduled, including some that had been winding through the court and were ready for a final decision. But with the enormous backlog in Arlington, Burman had no openings on his calendar before November 2020.

Immigrants who had already waited years to know whether they could stay in the country now would wait three years more. Such disruptions were reported in other courts, including some of the nation’s largest in Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles.

“Many judges came back feeling that their time was not wisely used,” Judge Tabaddor, the association president, said, “and it was to the detriment of their own docket.”

Justice Department officials say they are pleased with the results of the surge. A department spokesman, Devin O’Malley, did not comment for this story but pointed to congressional testimony by James McHenry, the director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review. “Viewed holistically, the immigration judge mobilization has been a success,” he said, arguing it had a “positive net effect on nationwide caseloads.”

Justice Department officials calculated that judges on border details completed 2700 more cases than they would have if they had remained in home courts. Officials acknowledge that the nationwide caseload continued to rise during last year, reaching 657,000 cases by December. But they noted that the rate of growth had slowed, to .39 percent monthly increase at the end of the year from 3.39 percent monthly when Trump took office.

Judge Tabaddor, the association president, said the comparison was misleading: cases of immigrants in detention, like the ones the surge judges heard, always take priority and go faster than cases of people out on release, she said. Meanwhile, according to records obtained by the National Immigrant Justice Center, as many as 22,000 hearings in judges’ home courts had to be rescheduled in the first three months of the surge alone, compounding backlogs.

. . . .”

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

Read Julia’s complete article at the above link. Always enjoy getting quotes from my former Arlington colleague Judge Lawrence O. (“The Burmanator”) Burman. He tends to “tell it like it is” in the fine and time-honored Arlington tradition of my now retired Arlington colleague Judge Wayne R. Iskra. And, Judge Iskra didn’t even have the “cover” of being an officer of the NAIJ. Certainly beats the “pabulum” served up by the PIO at the “Sessionized” EOIR!

Also, kudos to one of my “former firms” Jones Day, its National Managing Partner Steve Brogan, and the Global Pro Bono Counsel Laura Tuell for opening the Laredo Office exclusively for pro bono immigration representation, As firms like jones Day take the “immigration litigation field,” and give asylum applicants the “A+ representation” they need and deserve, I predict that it’s going to become harder for the Article III U.S. Courts to ignore the legal shortcomings of the Immigration Courts under Sessions.

A brief aside. My friend Laura Tuell was  a “Guest Professor” during a session of my Immigration Law & Policy class at Georgetown Law last June. On the final exam, one of my students wrote that Laura had inspired him or her to want a career embodying values like hers! Wow! Talk about making a difference on many levels!And talk about the difference in representing real values as opposed to the legal obfuscation and use of the legal system to inflict wanton cruelty represented by Sessions and his restrictionist ilk.

We also should recognize the amazing dedication and efforts of pro bono and “low bono” lawyers like Paola Tostado, mentioned in Julia’s report. “Even though she is based in Brownsville, three hours away, Tostado was making the pre-dawn drive up the highway as many as three times a week, to appear next to her clients in court in Laredo whenever she could.” What do you think that does to her law practice? As I’ve said before, folks like Paola Tostado, Christopher Maynard, Adria Villar, and Laura Tuell are the “real heroes” of Due Process in the Immigraton Court system. 

Compare the real stories of desperate, bona fide asylum seekers and their hard-working dedicated lawyers being “stiffed” and mistreated in the Immigration Court with Sessions’s recent false narrative to EOIR about an asylum system rife with fraud promoted by “dirty attorneys.” Sessions’s obvious biases against migrants, both documented and undocumented, and particularly against Latino asylum seekers on the Southern Border, make him glaringly unqualified to be either our Attorney General or in charge of our U.S. Immigration Court system.

No amount of “creative book-cooking” by EOIR and the DOJ can disguise the human and due process disaster unfolding here. This is exactly what I mean when I refer to “”Aimless Docket Reshuffling” (“ADR”), and it’s continuing to increase the Immigration Court backlogs (now at a stunning 660,000) notwithstanding that there are now more Immigration Judges on duty than there were at the end of the last Administration.

I’ll admit upfront to not being very good at statistics and to being skeptical about what they show us. But, let’s leave the “Wonderful World of EOIR” for a minute and go on over to TRAC for a “reality check” on how “Trumpism” is really working in the Immigration Courts. http://trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/court_backlog/apprep_backlog.php

On September 30, 2016, near the end of the Obama Administration, the Immigration Court backlog stood at a whopping 516,000! Not good!

But, now let go to Nov. 30, 2017, a period of 14 months later, 10 of these full months under the policies of the Trump Administration. The backlog has mushroomed to a stunning 659,000 cases — a gain of 153,000 in less than two years! And, let’s not forget, that’s with more Immigration Judges on board!

By contrast, during the last two full years of the Obama Administration — September 30, 2014 to September 30, 2016 —  the backlog rose from 408,000 to 516,000. Nothing to write home about — 108,000 — but not nearly as bad as the “Trump era” has been to date!

Those who know me, know that I’m no “fan” of the Obama Administration’s stewardship over the U.S. Immigration Courts. Wrongful and highly politicized “prioritization” of recently arrived children, women, and families from the Northern Triangle resulted in “primo ADR” that sent the system into a tailspin that has only gotten worse. And, the glacial two-year cycle for the hiring of new Immigration Judges was totally inexcusable.

But, the incompetence and disdain for true Due Process by the Trump Administration under Sessions is at a whole new level. It’s clearly “Amateur Night at the Bijou” in what is perhaps the nation’s largest Federal Court system. And, disturbingly, nobody except a few of us “Immigration Court Groupies” seems to care.

So, it looks like we’re going to have to stand by and watch while Sessions “implodes” or “explodes” the system. Then, folks might take notice. Because the collapse of the U.S. Immigration Courts is going to take a big chunk of the Article III Federal Judiciary with it.

Why? Because approximately 80% of the administrative review petitions in the U.S. Courts of Appeals are generated by the BIA. That’s over 10% of the total caseload. And, in Circuits like the 9th Circuit, it’s a much higher percentage.

The U.S. Immigration Judges will continue to be treated like “assembly line workers” and due process will be further short-shrifted in the “pedal faster” atmosphere intentionally created by Sessions and McHenry.  The BIA, in turn, will be pressured to further “rubber stamp” the results as long as they are removal orders. The U.S. Courts of Appeals, and in some cases the U.S. District Courts, are going to be left to clean up the mess created by Sessions & co.

We need an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court with competent, unbiased judicial administration focused on insuring individuals’ Due Process now! We’re ignoring the obvious at our country’s peril!

PWS

01-20-18

 

 

GO SEE “DUE PROCESS IN ACTION” (FEATUIRING THE FABULOUS GW LAW IMMIGRATION CLINIC STUDENT ATTORNEYS) AT THE U.S. IMMIGRATION COURT IN ARLINGTON, VA IN 2018!

HERE’S “THE SCHEDULE:”

Spring 2018 ICHs – Immigration Clinic

 

# DATE/TIME Client Name Student-Attorney Immigration Judge Type of Case Country of Origin
1 01/11/2018 at 1pm M-A-A- Gisela Camba IJ Owens Asylum (PSG-Family ) Honduras
2 01/18/2018 at 1pm N-R- Solangel Gonzalez IJ Bain Asylum (PSG- Family) El Salvador
3 02/07/2018 at 1pm M-C-C- Caroline Hodge IJ Soper Cancellation of Removal (Non-LPR) Mexico
4 02/14/2018 at 1pm F-R- Julia Navarro IJ Soper Asylum (PSG –Family) El Salvador
5 03/07/2018 at 9am S-M-B- Dana Florkowski IJ Bain Asylum (PSG-DV) El Salvador
6 03/07/2018 at 9am S-N-, Y-N-, C-N- TBD IJ Bryant Asylum/U Visa Honduras
7 03/15/2018 at 9am B-R-S- Phuong Tran IJ Owens Asylum (PSG – former police officer) El Salvador
8 04/02/2018 at 1pm R-I- Ami Patel IJ – Unassigned Asylum (Religion) Egypt
9 04/24/18 at 1pm M-M-P- Fatimah Hameed IJ Burman Asylum (PSG – Family) Honduras
Friends,
Happy New Year.
The link to the Arlington Immigration Court follows, and the list of the Immigration Clinic Individual Calendar Hearings (ICHs) in the spring is attached.  You are welcome to attend any and all of the ICHs.  Your students, colleagues, etc., are welcome too.  No RSVP is required but I do suggest you check with Paulina Vera (pnvera@law.gwu.edu) and/or me a day or two before to confirm (or not) that the hearings will go forward.

https://www.justice.gov/eoir/arlington-immigration-court

**************************************************
Alberto Manuel Benitez
Professor of Clinical Law
Director, Immigration Clinic
The George Washington University Law School
650 20th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052
(202) 994-7463
(202) 994-4946 fax
abenitez@law.gwu.edu
THE WORLD IS YOURS…
***********************************************
I can personally testify that having a chance to observe the GW Immigration Clinic in person is a treat and a lesson in “how to prepare an Immigration Court case the right way!”
Thanks to my good friend and neighbor Professor Alberto Benitez and his distinguished colleague Paulina Vera (also a former Arlington Intern and “Charter Member” of the “new Due Process Army”) for passing this along and for what they are doing for future generations of lawyers and Due Process in America!
PWS
01-05-18

“THE ATTACK ON DUE PROCESS IN THE UNITED STATES IMMIGRATION COURTS” – My Address To The Women’s Bar Association of DC, Dec. 14, 2017

THE ATTACK ON DUE PROCESS IN THE UNITED STATES IMMIGRATION COURTS

With WBA Program Co-Chairs Pauline M. Schwartz, Esq. & Leticia A. “Letty” Corona, Esq.:

With Judge (Ret.) Joan Churchill:

FRIENDS & COLLEAGUES FOR 4 1/2 DECADES —

CHURCHILL & SCHMIDT — Then & Now

L to R starting in back

Late William McQuillen, Esq., PWS, Late Hon. Lauri Steven Filppu,

Barry A. Schneiderman, Esq., Joanna London, Esq. (Retired from Legacy INS General Counsel), Judge (Ret.) Joan Churchill:

 

 

 

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

THE ATTACK ON DUE PROCESS IN THE UNITED STATES IMMIGRATION COURTS

Keynote Address by

Paul Wickham Schmidt

United States Immigration Judge (Retired)

 

WOMEN’S BAR ASSOCIATION OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

 

Crowell & Moring

 

1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

 

Washington, DC 20004

 

December 14, 2017

 

 

 

 I.  INTRODUCTION

 

Thank you so much for inviting me to speak at this wonderful event. I’m honored to be here. Thanks also to Crowell & Moring for providing this lovely facility.

 

When I got off the subway at Metro Center tonight, I came out on the corner of 12 & F Street, NW. I spent the first two years of my legal career right at that spot working as an Attorney Advisor for the Board of Immigration Appeals, the “BIA,” in the days before the creation of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (“EOIR”). The BIA was located on the top floor of the now long demolished “International Safeway Building,” which believe it or not, actually contained a functioning Safeway grocery store.

 

As the “new kids on the block,” the late Lauri Filppu and I got sent down to Safeway to buy beer and supplies for the office parties. A little like being the “Junior Justice” at the Supreme Court, I suppose – but, maybe, not so much. Interestingly, Lauri and I both went on to eventually serve as appellate judges – “Board Members” – at the BIA. He served with me when I was BIA Chair in the late 1990’s.

 

I don’t recognize much of the “Ol’ Hood.” Then, it was mostly wig shops, record stores, souvenir stands, and a few lunch counters that catered to the “work and tourist” lunch crowd. Not a place you wanted to be after dark.

 

The one remaining “landmark” is the Hotel Harrington. But the “Kitcheteria” and the aptly named “Pink Elephant Lounge” have been replaced by something called “Harry’s Family Bar & Grill” that still has kind of a “Kitcheteria/Pink Elephant” aura about it. At any rate, the ‘hood and the quarters at the BIA bore no resemblance to this splendid building and the Crowell & Moring “digs.”

 

The Women’s Bar Association of DC is a terrific organization,[1] and you are extremely fortunate to have such great lawyers, leaders, and amazing human beings as my friends Pauline Schwartz and Leticia “Letty” Corona involved.


They were part of the “life saving crew” at the Arlington Immigration Court during my tenure on the bench. They are also stalwarts of the “New Due Process Army” which I will discuss later. And, as I already mentioned, Pauline & Letty were the creators of the four hypotheticals and the “power points” that we used as a “lead in” tonight.

 

I also want to recognize my long-time friend and colleague retired U.S. Immigration Judge Joan Churchill whom I understand was your keynote speaker at this event last year. Joan and I actually met as BIA Attorney Advisors in 1973, and were part of the “lunch foursome.” So, we got to know the neighborhood’s culinary offerings very well. We also served together for a number of years on the bench after I was reassigned to the Arlington Immigration Court in 2003.

 

Courageous women are rightfully dominating our news. We should all recognize that Judge Churchill’s pioneering role as one of the first female U.S. Immigration Judges in the nation helped to pave the way for a more diverse judiciary and for all the women who serve as U.S. Immigration Judges today. And Judge Churchill definitely is a role model who, no mater how tough and challenging things got, absolutely could never be bullied or intimidated.

 

I was thinking of Judge Churchill as I walked over her tonight. After her initial appointment to the bench, she was the target of some petty but persistent attempts to drive her out by the “macho culture” that then prevailed at the “Legacy DHS” and was unhappy that she, rather than ”one of their own,” had been appointed to the judgeship.

 

We discussed what happened then and over the years. To the best of my knowledge, there was no overt sexual act involved. But, the pattern of harassment and attempts to create an inhospitable work environment were certainly directed at Judge Churchill’s gender as a woman. So, it fits today’s definition of “sexual harassment.”

 

In any event, in Judge Churchill’s case they “picked on the wrong person.” So, for those of you, particularly younger lawyers, and particularly women lawyers, who have never met her, tonight is you chance to meet a true “American legal and judicial hero” who paved the way for others to follow.

 

I’d also like to recognize another distinguished former colleague from the Arlington Immigration Court, Judge Lawrence O. Burman who is here tonight. As many of you know, through his tireless work with the Federal Bar Association, Judge Burman has been a leader in promoting better Immigration Court practice through continuing legal education.

 

And, in his capacity as an officer of the National Association of Immigration Judges, the “NAIJ, ”he has also been one of the leaders in fighting for the creation of an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court. I trust that by the end of my speech tonight you will understand why that effort is so timely and critical to our nation’s justice system. For the record, both Judge Churchill and I are retired members of the NAIJ. Indeed, Judge Churchill is a past President of the NAIJ.

 

Now, as Judge Burman and Judge Churchill know, this is the point at which I used to deliver my comprehensive disclaimer giving everyone in Government “plausible deniability” for everything I might say, particularly anything that might come too close to the truth. I do not have to do that any more. But, I will give the Women’s Bar Association of DC the benefit by disclaiming that anything I might say tonight represents their views or any approximation thereof. No, folks, tonight everything I say is my view, and only my view: no bureaucratic “doublespeak,” no party line, no sugar coating! I’m going to tell you exactly what I really think!

 

II. THE DUE PROCESS CRISIS IN IMMIGRATION COURT

 

As many of you in this room probably recognize, there is no “overall immigration crisis” in America today. What we have is a series of potentially solvable problems involving immigration that have been allowed to grow and fester by politicians and political officials over many years.

 

And, unfortunately, the current Administration with its anti-immigrant attitudes and polarizing racial and ethnic rhetoric intends to make the problems worse rather than better. That starts with the absolute disaster in our beleaguered U.S. Immigration Courts.

 

There is a real crisis involving immigration: the attack on due process in our U.S. Immigration Courts that has brought them to the brink of collapse. I’m going to tell you seven things impeding the delivery of due process in Immigration Court that should be of grave concern to you and to all other Americans who care about our justice system and our value of fundamental fairness.

 

First, political officials in the last three Administrations have hijacked the noble mission of the U.S. Immigration Courts. That vision, which I helped develop in the late 1990s, is to “be the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.” The “fundamental flaw” here is that as mere “administrative courts” situated within the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Immigration Courts are not truly independent in the same way as other major “specialized” court systems, such as the Tax Court and the Bankruptcy Courts.

 

In the best of times, placing the Immigration Courts within the Department of Justice is problematic. With the anti-immigrant, xenophobic, self-styled “immigration enforcer-in-chief “ Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, it is a disaster from a due process and fundamental fairness standpoint.

 

The Department of Justice’s ever-changing priorities, “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” (“ADR”), and morbid fascination with increased immigration detention as a means of deterrence have turned the Immigration Court system back into a tool of DHS enforcement. Indeed, Sessions recently announced a series of so-called “reforms” which, far from improving the Immigration Courts, mostly would further compromise fairness, professionalism, and due process.

 

He plans to impose case completion quotas – read “deportation quotas” — for judges. At the same time he mischaracterizes statistics in attempting disingenuously to “fob off “ primary blame for the current monumental backlog of 650,000 pending cases on overworked private attorneys, the “real heroes” of our system, and unrepresented migrants, the real victims of ADR, while ignoring and attempting to cover up the real cause of the problemAimless Docket Reshuffling (“ADR”) instituted by DOJ politicos attempting to use the Immigration Courts as an adjunct of DHS enforcement.

 

Sessions intentionally ignores his own data showing that that recent increases in requests for continuance are coming from DHS and EOIR itself, rather than from the private bar! Obviously, it is past time for a truly independent U.S. Immigration Court to be established outside the Executive Branch.

 

Second, there simply are not enough pro bono and low bono attorneys and authorized representatives available to assist all the individuals who need representation in Immigration Court. Removal proceedings conducted by U.S. Immigration Judges are considered “civil” in nature, although in many cases they have consequences far more serious than criminal prosecutions. Consequently, migrants appearing in Removal Proceedings are not entitled to appointed counsel, as they would be in criminal proceedings. Therefore, the role of private attorneys, and particularly those serving on a pro bono or “low bono” basis, as many of you in this room are doing or have done in the past, become absolutely critical to achieving due process.

 

This problem is particularly acute in so-called “detention courts.” We know that representation makes a huge difference. Represented individuals succeed at rates four to five times greater than unrepresented individuals.

 

Accordingly, an Attorney General truly interested in due process, fairness, and efficiency, would emphasize the need to insure adequate access to counsel. Instead, Sessions has gone out of his way to wrongly characterize attorneys as potential “fraudsters” who supposedly are impeding the progress of his “deportation railway” with dilatory requests for continuances and applications for asylum provided by U.S. and internal law. Session’s intentional distortion of what is really happening in Immigration Court should outrage every American who cares about the Constitutional right to due process and integrity and intellectual honesty from U.S. government officials!

 

There have been a number of studies documenting the substandard conditions in immigration detention, particularly those run by private contractors, which in some cases prove deadly or debilitating. Some of these studies have recommended that immigration detention be sharply reduced and that so-called “family detention” be discontinued immediately.

 

A rational response might have been to develop creative alternatives to detention, and to work closely with and support efforts to insure access to legal representation for all individuals in Removal Proceedings. Instead, the response of the current Administration has been to “double down” on detention, by promising to detain all undocumented arrivals and to create a new “American Gulag” of detention centers, most privately run, along our southern border, where access to attorneys and self-help resources intentionally is limited to non-existent.

 

The documentation of the need for attorneys to represent respondents in Removal Proceedings to achieve fundamentally fair results is extensive and widely available. Given that, I ask you what kind of Attorney General and what kind of Government would intentionally locate traumatized individuals, many women and children, who are seeking potentially life-saving relief under our laws, in obscure poorly run detention facilities where access to counsel is impeded? Is this something of which we can be proud as a nation or should accept as simply “business as usual” in the age of Trump and Sessions?

 

Third, the Immigration Courts have an overwhelming caseload. Largely as a result of “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” by Administrations of both parties, the courts’ backlog has now reached an astounding 650,000 cases, with no end in sight. Since 2009, the number of cases pending before the Immigration Courts has tripled, while court resources have languished.

 

The Administration’s detention priorities and essentially random DHS enforcement program are like running express trains at full throttle into an existing train wreck without any discernable plan for clearing the track!” You can read about it in my article in the May 2017 edition of The Federal Lawyer.

 

Fourth, the immigration system relies far too much on detention. The theory is that detention, particularly under poor conditions with no access to lawyers, family, or friends, will “grind down individuals” so that they abandon their claims and take final orders or depart voluntarily. As they return to their countries and relate their unhappy experiences with the U.S. justice system, that supposedly will “deter” other individuals from coming.

 

Although there has been a downturn in border apprehensions since this Administration took office, there is little empirical evidence that such deterrence strategies will be effective in stopping undocumented migration in the long run. In any event, use of detention, as a primary deterrent for non-criminals who are asserting their statutory right to a hearing and their constitutional right to due process is highly inappropriate. Immigration detention is also expensive, and questions have been raised about the procedures used for awarding some of the contracts.

 

Fifth, we need an appellate court, the Board of Immigration Appeals, that functions like a real court not a high-volume service center. Over the past decade and one-half, the Board has taken an overly restrictive view of asylum law that fails to fulfill the generous requirements of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Cardoza-Fonseca and the Board’s own precedent in Matter of Mogharrabi. The Board has also failed to take a strong stand for respondents’ due process rights in Immigration Court.

 

Largely as a result of the Board’s failure to assert positive leadership, there is a tremendous discrepancy in asylum grant rates – so-called refugee roulette.” Overall grant rates have inexplicably been falling. Some courts such as Atlanta, Charlotte, and some other major non-detained courts have ludicrously low asylum grant rates, thereby suggesting a system skewed, perhaps intentionally, against asylum seekers. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Board has become totally “government-dominated” with no member appointed from the private sector this century.

 

Moreover, Sessions has publicly delivered shockingly extreme anti-asylum statements directly to EOIR adjudicators. He intentionally and substantially mis-stated the full scope of asylum protection by suggesting that critical “particular social group” protection that is a key element of both U.S. and international protection laws is somehow “less worthy” than other grounds; suggested rampant asylum fraud without supporting evidence; criticized case law that has appropriately recognized rights to protection greater than Sessions and his restrictionist allies want; and suggested, again without evidence, that lawyers are the problem, rather than the solution.

 

Sessions’s “cure” would be further reductions in the rights of asylum seekers, and more use of “expedited removal” which assigns nearly absolute ability to block asylum seekers from receiving full hearings to totally unqualified and biased law enforcement personnel.

 

Since retiring, I have been a forthright critic of some of the Obama Administration’s misguided and overly restrictive immigration policies, particularly the unnecessary prioritization and detention of scared women and children from the Northern Triangle seeking asylum. However, Sessions has heaped unjustified criticism on the Obama Administration for the things they did absolutely correctly and in accordance with the law: correctly applying “credible fear standards in exactly the generous manner contemplated by law and for properly releasing good faith asylum seekers from detention, rather than making them part of Sessions’s un-American “New American Gulag.”

 

Folks, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Corey Booker, and the Congressional Black Caucus tried to tell the nation and the world why Jeff Sessions was clearly unqualified to serve as Attorney General. They were ignored and in Senator Warren’s case rudely silenced by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for speaking truth. Now those of us who believe in the Constitutional Due Process and fairness for all, the rule of law, and a proper and generous application of U.S. asylum and refugees laws are seeing the disturbing results.

 

That an individual with such high biased, legally inaccurate, factually unsupported, and inappropriately negative views of U.S asylum law and the plight of refugees and asylees would hold any position of responsibility in the Government of the U.S. is disturbing at best. That he would be in charge of a court system that is often the last and only resort for those seeking due process, fundamental fairness, and legal protection from persecution and torture under our domestic laws and international conventions is simply appalling.

 

 

Sixth, the DOJ selection process for Immigration Judges and BIA Members has become both incredibly ponderous and totally one-sided. According to a recent GAO study, it takes on the average nearly two years to fill an Immigration Judge position. No wonder there are scores of vacancies and an unmanageable backlog!

 

While Sessions claims that he has “streamlined” the process in some mysterious way, his goal of a 6-8 month hiring cycle is still beyond what should be necessary in a properly run and administered merit-based system.

 

And, the results to date have been less than impressive. Most of the recent hires appear to have been “in the pipeline” under the last Administration. As the system crumbles and the DOJ requests additional Immigration Judges, the reality is that 45 judicial positions, more than 10% of the total authorized, remain vacant.

 

And, it’s not that the results of this glacial process produce a representative immigration judiciary. During the Obama Administration, approximately 88% of the Immigration Judge appointments came directly from government backgrounds. In other words, private sector expertise has been almost totally excluded from the 21st Century immigration judiciary.

 

Sessions has actually done slightly better at hiring those with experience in the private sector. However, most attribute this to applicants whose selection was pending “background clearance” at the end of the last Administration, rather than to any conscious decision by Sessions to create a more diverse and representative Immigration Judiciary.

 

Seventh, and finally, the Immigration Courts need e-filing NOW! Without it, the courts are condemned to “files in the aisles,” misplaced filings, lost exhibits, and exorbitant courier charges. Also, because of the absence of e-filing, the public receives a level of service disturbingly below that of any other major court system. That gives the Immigration Courts an “amateur night” aura totally inconsistent with the dignity of the process, the critical importance of the mission, and the expertise, hard work, and dedication of the judges and court staff who make up our court.

 

Sessions has assured us that an “E-Filing Pilot Program” will be in place in the Immigration Courts at some point in mid-2018. But, folks, EOIR has been “studying” and “developing” e-filing since 2001 — a period of nearly 17 yearswithout achieving any meaningful end product! Indeed, most of us involved in that initial e-filing study are now retired, dead, or both. (Happily, I’m in “group one.”)

 

Moreover, those of us who have lived through past DOJ/EOIR “pilot programs,” “upgrades,” and “rollouts” know that they are often are plagued by slipping implementation dates, “Not Quite Ready For Prime Time”(“NQRFPT”) hardware and software, and general administrative chaos.

 

The U.S. Immigration Court, its employees, and its hundreds of thousands of frustrated “customers” deserve modern, professional court management which simply is not going to happen under the DOJ, particularly in the “Age of Trump & Sessions.”

 

III. ACTION PLAN

 

Keep these thoughts in mind. Not surprisingly, based on actions to date, I have no hope that Attorney General Sessions will support due process reforms or an independent U.S. Immigration Court, although it would be in his best interests as well as those of our country if he did.

 

Outrageously, Sessions actually proposes to move the court system in the opposite direction – elevating false efficiencies, case completions, and legislative and administrative gimmicks to truncate rights above fairness, quality, and guaranteeing due process for individuals. What kind of court system does that? Sounds like something out of a Third World dictatorship, not a 21st Century democracy!

 

However, eventually our opportunity will come. When it does, those of us who believe in the primary importance of constitutional due process must be ready with concrete reforms.

 

So, do we abandon all hope at present? No, of course not!   Because there are hundreds of newer lawyers out there who are former Arlington JLCs, interns, my former students, and those who have practiced before the Arlington Immigration Court.

 

They form what I call the “New Due Process Army!” And, while my time on the battlefield is winding down, they are just beginning the fight! They will keep at it for years, decades, or generations — whatever it takes to force the U.S. immigration judicial system to live up to its promise of “guaranteeing fairness and due process for all!”

 

What can you do to get involved now? The overriding due process need is for competent representation of individuals claiming asylum and/or facing removal from the United States. Currently, there are not nearly enough pro bono lawyers to insure that everyone in Immigration Court gets represented.

 

And the situation is getting worse. With the Administration’s expansion of so-called “expedited removal,” lawyers are needed at earlier points in the process to insure that those with defenses or plausible claims for relief even get into the Immigration Court process, rather than being summarily removed with little, if any, recourse.

 

Additionally, given the pressure that the Administration is likely to exert through the Department of Justice to “move” cases quickly through the Immigration Court system with little regard for due process and fundamental fairness, resort to the Article III Courts to require fair proceedings and an unbiased application of the laws becomes even more essential. Litigation in the U.S. District and Appellate Courts has turned out to be effective in forcing systemic change. However, virtually no unrepresented individual is going to be capable of getting to the Court of Appeals, let alone prevailing on a claim.

 

 

Several state and local government initiatives like those in New York, California, and Chicago have been very successful in expanding Immigration Court representation, particularly in detained cases, improving results, and resisting Administration enforcement overreach. I understand that a similar movement in Maryland might soon be underway. If it happens, all you Maryland residents in the audience should let your state legislators know that you stand behind due process, fairness, and justice for our immigrant communities.

 

I have been working with groups looking for ways to expand the “accredited representative” program, which allows properly trained and certified individuals who are not lawyers to handle cases before the DHS and the Immigration Courts while working for certain nonprofit community organizations, on either a staff or volunteer basis. The “accredited representative” program is also an outstanding opportunity for retired individuals, like professors, teachers, and others who are not lawyers but who can qualify to provide pro bono representation in Immigration Court to needy migrants thorough properly recognized religious and community organizations.

 

Even if you are a lawyer not practicing immigration law, there are many outstanding opportunities to contribute by taking pro bono cases. Indeed, in my experience in Arlington, “big law” firms were some of the major contributors to highly effective pro bono representation. It was also great “hands on” experience for those seeking to hone their litigation skills.

 

Those of you with language and teaching skills can help out in English Language Learning programs for migrants. I have observed first hand that the better that individuals understand the language and culture of the US, the more successful they are in navigating our Immigration Court system and both assisting, and when necessary, challenging their representatives to perform at the highest levels. In other words, they are in a better position to be “informed consumers” of legal services.

 

Another critical area for focus is funding of nonprofit community-based organizations, and religious groups that assist migrants for little or no charge. Never has the need for such services been greater.

 

Many of these organizations receive at least some government funding for outreach efforts. We have already seen how the President has directed the DHS to “defund” outreach efforts and use the money instead for a program to assist victims of crimes committed by undocumented individuals.

 

Undoubtedly, with the huge emphases on military expansion and immigration enforcement, to the exclusion of other important programs, virtually all forms of funding for outreach efforts to migrants are likely to disappear in the very near future. Those who care about helping others will have to make up the deficit. So, at giving time, remember your community nonprofit organizations that are assisting foreign nationals.

 

Finally, as an informed voter and participant in our political process, you can advance the cause of Immigration Court reform and due process. We have seen a graphic example this week of how decent citizens who have had enough of this Administration’s lawless behavior, anti-American attitudes, and trampling on our Constitution and our humane national values can rise up, be heard, and succeed in changing the future for the better, even against supposedly prohibitive odds. For the last 16 years politicians of both parties have largely stood by and watched the unfolding due process disaster in the U.S. Immigration Courts without doing anything about it, and in some cases actually making it worse.

 

The notion that Immigration Court reform must be part of so-called “comprehensive immigration reform” is simply wrong. The Immigration Courts can and must be fixed sooner rather than later, regardless of what happens with overall immigration reform. It’s time to let your Senators and Representatives know that we need due process reforms in the Immigration Courts as one of our highest national priorities.

 

Folks, the U.S Immigration Court system is on the verge of collapse. And, there is every reason to believe that the misguided “enforce and detain to the max,” “haste makes waste” policies being pursued by this Administration will drive the Immigration Courts over the edge. When that happens, a large chunk of the entire American justice system and the due process guarantees that make American great and different from most of the rest of the world will go down with it.

 

Trump, Sessions, and their arrogant cronies have a dark xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic plan for America that completely ignores or downgrades the essential contributions of immigrants of all types, all nationalities, and all economic and educational levels. It essentially “ disses” our true heritage and greatness as a “country of immigrants.”

 

This darkness does not represent my view of America as a humane, generous, and tolerant nation of immigrants, both “documented” and “undocumented,” nor do they reflect my understanding of the proper meaning of the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which applies equally to all individuals in the U.S., not just citizens. I sincerely hope that they do not reflect your views either! If not, please join me in standing up and being heard in opposition to this Administration’s aggressively xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic programs and their intentional downgrading of due process and fairness in our U.S. Immigration Courts.

 IV. CONCLUSION

 

In conclusion, I have shared with you the U.S. Immigration Court’s noble due process vision and the ways it currently is being undermined and disregarded. I have also shared with you some of my ideas for effective court reforms that would achieve the due process vision and how you can become involved in improving the process.

 

Now is the time to take a stand for fundamental fairness! Join the New Due Process Army! Due process forever!

 

Thanks again for inviting me and for listening.

 

(Revised, 12-19-17)

 

[1] I’ve since joined the WBA.

 

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PWS

12-19-17

MILESTONE: Nolan Publishes 50th Article In “The Hill” — Read It Here! — “Like it or hate it, Trump’s immigration enforcement is failing”

http://thehill.com/opinion/immigration/364839-like-it-or-hate-it-trumps-immigration-enforcement-program-is-failing

Nolan writes:

“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released its FY2017 immigration enforcement report. It indicates that President Trump has reduced the number of illegal border crossings, but it shows no progress at all on reducing the number of undocumented aliens who are in the United States already.

An immigration court backlog crisis is making it extremely difficult for him to move new cases through removal proceedings.

. . . .

Trump’s internal removal statistics show an average of 7,637 removals a month over an eight-month period. If he maintains this rate, he will remove approximately 91,644 undocumented aliens a year from the interior of the country, which would only be 366,564 removals by the end of his term in office.

That isn’t even enough to keep up with the number of aliens that become a part of the undocumented population in a single year as overstays. According to the Fiscal Year 2016 Entry/Exit Overstay Report, 739,478 aliens who entered the United States in FY2016 on temporary nonimmigrant visas did not leave at the end of their authorized period of stay.

According to the Pew Research Center, the undocumented immigrant population in 2015 was 11.3 million, and I think the actual number is much larger. I explain why in my analysis of PEW’s methods for making such estimates.

The backlog crisis.

At a Center for Immigration Studies panel discussion on the immigration court backlog, Immigration Judge Larry Burman said, “I cannot give you a merits hearing on my docket unless I take another case off. My docket is full through 2020, and I was instructed by my assistant chief immigration judge not to set any cases past 2020.”

This is going to get much worse.”

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Congratulations, Nolan, on your milestone! I know that writing 50 published articles is a monumental achievement and contribution to the immigration dialogue. Thanks for sharing your analysis with all!

Read Nolan’s complete article (with charts that I omitted) at the link.

PWS

12-14-17

 

EXPOSED! — AILA’S JOHNSON SHOWS HOW “GONZO” INTENTIONALLY MISUSES DATA TO CREATE A FALSE ANTI-ASYLUM, ANTI-LAWYER NARRATIVE TO CONCEAL THE REAL GLARING PROBLEM DRIVING US IMMIGRATION COURT BACKLOGS — AIMLESS DOCKET RESHUFFLING (“ADR”) DRIVEN BY POLITICOS ATTEMPTING TO STACK THE COURT SYSTEM AGAINST DUE PROCESS AND TILT IT IN FAVOR OF DHS/ADMINISTRATION ENFORCEMENT INITIATIVES!!!!!!! — SURPRISE — By Far The Biggest Increase In Continuances Comes From DHS & EOIR Itself!

http://www.aila.org/advo-media/press-releases/2017/ag-sessions-cites-flawed-facts-imm-court-system

From AILA Executive Director Ben Johnson:

“Once again, the Attorney General cites flawed facts to castigate the immigration bar for the significant case backlog and inefficiencies in our immigration court system,” said Benjamin Johnson, AILA Executive Director. “He blames immigration attorneys for seeking case continuances, disregarding the fact that continuances are also routinely requested by counsel for the government, or are issued unilaterally by the court for administrative reasons. In fact, although the report cited by the Attorney General indicates an 18% increase in continuances requested by respondents, that same report found a 54% increase in continuances requested by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and a 33% increase in ‘Operational-related’ continuances. That said, continuances are often a necessary means to ensure due process is afforded in removal proceedings. The number one reason a continuance is requested by a respondent is to find counsel. Other reasons include securing and authenticating documentary evidence from foreign countries, or to locating critical witnesses. And when the government refuses to share information from a client’s immigration file and instead makes them go through the lengthy process of a Freedom of Information/Privacy Act request, a continuance is often a client’s only lifeline to justice. For the AG to blame immigration lawyers for imagined trespasses is both malicious and wrong. We will not let that misinformation pass without setting the record straight.

“The immigration court backlog is a function of years and years of government spending on enforcement without a commensurate investment in court resources. Our nation would be better served if the immigration courts were an independent judiciary, free from the auspices of the Department of Justice, where every immigrant has access to counsel. Immigration court is not small claims court or traffic court; each decision has the potential to tear apart families or keep them together, to destroy businesses or build our economy, to send someone back to certain death, or bring hope for a new and better life. Immigration judges should make those decisions with all information at hand, without any undue influence or arbitrary case completion requirements. That is a goal we can all work toward.”

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

Sure matches my observations from the latter part of my career at the U.S. immigration Court in Arlington, VA!

Probably 75% of the cases on my “Non-Detained Docket” were there NOT at the request of a respondent or his or her attorney. No, they were “mass transferred and continued” to my docket unilaterally by EOIR to fulfill “Border Priorities” established by the DOJ during the Obama Administration as an adjunct to changing DHS Enforcement priorities.

And, these weren’t “short continuances” to find a lawyer or prepare an application as might be requested by a respondent or a private bar lawyer. NO, these were “Merits Hearing” cases that had often been set for late 2016 or 2017 hearings before one of my colleagues, only to be “continued” by EOIR to my docket for dates many additional years in the future. Indeed, many of these cases were unilaterally removed by EOIR from “Individual Dockets” and “orbited” to my “Master Calendars” (arraignments) years in the future — indeed years after I would be retired. That’s because my docket was already completely full for several years when this chapter of ADR started.

And the same was true for my colleague Judge Lawrence O. Burman. Indeed, at the time I retired, Judge Burman and I were the ONLY judges hearing “nonpriority, non-detained cases” — even though those cases were BY FAR the majority of cases on the Arlington Court Docket. And, to make things worse, my “replacement” retired at the end of 2016 thus resulting in a whole new “round” of ADR. 

Talk about ADR driven by incompetent administration and improper political meddling from the DOJ. And, from everything “Gonzo” has said and I have heard about what’s happening at EOIR, such impropriety has become “normalized” under the Trump Administration.

No court system can run efficiently and fairly when the perceived interests of one of the parties are elevated over fairness, Due Process, equal justice, and reaching correct decisions under the law. No court system can run efficiently and fairly when control over day-to-day dockets is stripped from the local US Immigration Judges and Court Administrators and hijacked by officials in Washington and Falls Church driven by political performance objectives  not by practical knowledge and day-to-day considerations of how to construct and run a docket for maximum fairness and efficiency under local conditions (the most important of which is the an adequate number of pro bono lawyers to represent respondents).

NO OTHER MAJOR COURT SYSTEM IN AMERICA OPERATES THE WAY EOIR DOES! THAT SHOULD TELL US SOMETHING!

So, why is “Gonzo Apocalypto” being allowed to get away with misrepresenting the facts and intentionally running the Immigration Court system for the perceived benefit of one of the parties and against the interests of the other? There is a simple term for such conduct: Ethical Misconduct. Usually, it results in the loss or suspension of the offender’s license to practice law. Why is Gonzo above accountability?

PWS

12-12-17

READ THE FALL 2107 EDITION OF “THE GREEN CARD” FROM THE FBA IMMIGRATION SECTION HERE! — Special Message From Immigration Section Chair Betty Stevens, Esq.!

Here’s The Link:

GC Fall 2017 Final

Among other things, a reprint of my tribute to the late Hon. Juan Osuna is on p. 5. And, check out the picture from the Denver Conference on p. 6! Hope everyone will join us for the May 2018 Immigraton Section Conference in Memphis, TN. It will be spectacular!

Also congrats and best wishes to my good friend (and former Arlington Immigraton Court JLC) Betty Stevens on her election as Section Chair. We all look forward to working with you, Betty!

PWS

09-21-17

MUST SEE TV FROM PBS: Judge Dana Leigh Marks Explains The Dire Backlogs In U.S. Immigration Courts & Why They Are Becoming Worse Every Day!

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/dire-immigration-court-backlog-affects-lives/

Click the above link to see John Yang of PBS interview United States Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks of the U.S. Immigration Court in San Francisco, speaking in her capacity as President of the National Association of Immigration Judges (“NAIJ”).

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a “retiree member” of the NAIJ.

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

As this interview shows, this problem has been building steadily under the past three Administrations. However, the “gonzo enforcement” policies of the Trump Administration, combined with “ADR” (“Aimless Docket Reschuffling”) caused by poorly planned, and in many cases unneeded, details of Immigration Judges from backlogged “home dockets” to obscure detention centers along the Southern Border in response to Trump’s Executive Orders on enforcement, made worse by constant threats to mindlessly throw DACA individuals and TPS holders into the already overwhelmed system have greatly and unnecessarily aggravated an already bad situation.

Judge Marks points out that nearly 40% of the current U.S. Immigration Judiciary, including all of the most experienced judges, are eligible or nearly eligible to retire. That would mean a whopping 140 new Immigration Judge hires in a short period of time in addition to filling the current approximately 50 vacancies and any other positions that might become available. That adds up to approximately 200 new judicial vacancies, not counting any additional positions that Congress might provide.

No Administration has been able to competently hire that many new judges using a proper merit selection process. Indeed, the last Administration, using a system that could hardly be viewed as ”merit based,” took an astounding average of nearly two years to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Immigration Court! That’s amazing considering that these are administrative judges who do not require Senate confirmation.

The total unsuitability of the U.S. Justice Department to be administering the U.S. Immigration Courts has been demonstrated not only in terns of misuse of the courts for politicized law enforcement objectives, but also in terms of poor planning and stunningly incompetent judicial administration.

We need an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court, and we need it now!

PWS

09-20-17

 

 

U.S. IMMIGRATION COURTS: Judge Lawrence O. “Burmanator” Burman (SOLELY In His NAIJ Officer Capacity) Gives Rare Peek Inside U.S. Immigration Courts’ Disaster Zone From A Sitting Trial Judge Who “Tells It Like It Is!”

Judge Burman appeared at a panel discussion at the Center for Immigration Studies (“CIS”). CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian; Hon. Andrew Arthur, former U.S. Immigration Judge and CIS Resident Fellow; and former DOJ Civil Rights Division Official Hans von Spakovsky, currently Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation were also on the panel entitled “Immigration Court Backlog Causes and Solutions” held at the National Press Club on Aug. 24, 2017.  Here’s a complete transcript furnished by CIS (with thanks to Nolan Rappaport who forwarded it to me).

Here’s the “meat” of Judge Burman’s remarks:

“First, the disclaimer, which is important so I don’t get fired. I’m speaking for the National Association of Immigration Judges, of which I am an elected officer. My opinions expressed will be my own opinions, informed by many discussions with our members in all parts of the country. I am not speaking on behalf of the Department of Justice, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the chief judge, or anybody else in the government. That’s important.

What is the NAIJ, the National Association of Immigration Judges? We’re a strictly nonpartisan organization whose focus is fairness, due process, transparency for the public, and judicial independence. We’re opposed to interference by parties of both administrations with the proper and efficient administration of justice. We’ve had just as much trouble with Republican administrations as Democratic administrations.

It’s been my experience that the people at the top really don’t understand what we do, and consequently the decisions they make are not helpful. For example, the – well, let me backtrack a little bit and talk about our organization.

Immigration judges are the – are the basic trial judges that hear the cases. Above us is the Board of Immigration Appeals, who function as if they were an appellate court. We, since 1996, have been clearly designated as judges by Congress. We are in the statute. We have prescribed jurisdiction and powers. Congress even gave us contempt authority to be able to enforce our decisions. Unfortunately, no administration has seen fit to actually give us the contempt authority. They’ve never done the regulations. But it’s in the statute.

The Board of Immigration Appeals is not in the statute. It has no legal existence, really. It’s essentially an emanation of the attorney general’s limitless discretion over immigration law. The members of the Board of – Board of Immigration Appeals are – in some cases they’ve got some experience. Generally, they don’t have very much. They’re a combination of people who are well-respected in other parts of the Department of Justice and deserve a well-paid position. Very often they’re staff attorneys who have basically moved up to become board members, skipping the immigration judge process. Very few immigration judges have ever been made board members, and none of them were made board members because they had been immigration judges. If they were, it was largely a coincidence.

The administration of the Executive Office for Immigration Review in which we and the BIA are housed is basically an administrative agency. We are judges, but we don’t have a court. We operate in an administrative agency that’s a lot closer to the Department of Motor Vehicles than it is to a district court or even a bankruptcy court, an Article I type court.

Our supervisors – I’m not sure why judges need supervisors, but our supervisors are called assistant chief immigration judges. Some of them have some experience. Some of them have no experience not only as judges, but really as attorneys. They were staff attorneys working in the bowels of EOIR, and gradually became temporary board members, and then permanent board members.

Interestingly, when a Court of Appeals panel is short a judge, they bring up a district judge. EOIR used to do that, by bringing up an immigration judge to fill out a panel at the board. They don’t do that anymore. They appoint their staff attorneys as temporary board members, a fact that is very shocking when we tell it to federal judges. They can’t imagine that a panel would be one member short and they’d put their law clerk on the panel, but that’s what goes on.

The top three judges until recently – the chief judge and the two primary deputies – had no courtroom experience that I’m aware of. Two of them have gone on. Unfortunately, one of them has gone on to be a BIA member. The other retired.

Our direct supervisors are the assistant chief immigration judges. Some are in headquarters, and they generally have very little experience. Others are in the field, and they do have some experience – although, for example, the last two ACIJs – assistant chief immigration judges – who were appointed became judges in 2016. So they don’t have vast experience. Well, they may be fine people with other forms of experience, but this agency is not run by experienced judges, and I think it’s important to understand that.

There’s a severe misallocation of resources within EOIR. I think Congress probably has given us plenty of money, but we misuse it. In the past administration, the number of senior executive service – SES – officials has doubled. Maybe they needed some more administrative depth, although I doubt it. The assistant chief immigration judges are proliferating. I think there’s 22 of them now. These are people who may do some cases. Some of them do no cases. They generally don’t really move the ball when it comes to adjudicating cases. Somehow, the federal courts are able to function without all of these intermediaries and supervisory judges, and I think that we would function better without them as well.

To give you a few examples – I could give you thousands of examples, and if you want to stick around I’ll be happy to talk about it. Art was talking about the juvenile surge. I think it was approximately 50,000 juveniles came across the border. To appear to be tough, I guess, they were prioritized. The official line is, you know, we’re going to give them their asylum hearings immediately. I’m not sure what kind of asylum case that a 6-year-old might have, but we would hear the case and do it quickly, and then discourage people from coming to our country. But, in fact, what’s actually happened is the juvenile docket is basically a meet-and-greet. The judges are not – first of all, I’m not allowed to be a juvenile judge. The juvenile judges are carefully selected for people who get along well with children, I guess. (Laughter.) Really, what they do is they just – they see the kids periodically, and in the meantime the children are filing their asylum cases with the asylum office, where they’re applying for special immigrant juvenile status, various things. But judge time is being wasted on that.

Another example is the current surge. I have a really busy docket. Art was talking about cases being scheduled in 2021. The backlog for me is infinite. I cannot give you a merits hearing on my docket unless I take another case off. My docket is full through 2020, and I was instructed by my assistant chief immigration judge not to set any cases past 2020. So they’re just piling up in the ether somewhere.

As busy as I am, they send me to the border, but these border details are politically oriented. First of all, we probably could be doing them by tele-video. But assuming that they want to do them in person, you would think that they would only send the number of judges that are really needed. But, in fact, on my last detail of 10 business days, two-week detail, two days I had no cases scheduled at all. And back home having two cases off the docket, which almost never happens – or two days off the docket, which almost never happens, would be useful because I could work on motions and decisions. But when I’m in Jena, Louisiana, I can’t really work on my regular stuff. So I’m just reading email and hanging out there.

The reason for that is because there’s been no attempt to comply with the attorney general’s request that we rush judges to the border with, at the same time, making sure that there’s enough work or not to send more judges than is really necessary to do the work. I assume the people that run our agency just want to make the attorney general happy, and they send as many judges to the border as possible.

One particularly bizarre example was in San Antonio. The San Antonio judges were doing a detail to one of the outlying detention facilities by tele-video. But they wanted to rush judges to the border, so they assigned a bunch of judges in the country that had their own dockets to take over that docket by tele-video on one week’s notice. Well, one week’s notice meant that the judges in San Antonio couldn’t reset cases. You’ve got to give at least 10 days’ notice of a hearing by regulation. So we had judges taken away from their regular dockets to do that; judges who normally would have done that who already were on the border – San Antonio is pretty closer to the border – didn’t have anything to do.

Now, those may be extreme cases, but this happens all too much, and it’s because of political interference. And like I say, it’s got nothing to do with party. We’ve had the same problem with Democratic and Republican administrations. It comes from political decisions animating the process and people who don’t really understand what they’re managing, just attempting to placate the guy on the top. So that’s basically what’s been happening.

Am I over my 10 minutes here?

MR. KRIKORIAN: Yeah. Well, I mean, you’re right at it. If you’ve got a couple more minutes, that’s fine.

JUDGE BURMAN: Well, let me just go over some possible suggestions.

Let judges be judges – immigration judges that control their own courts and their own dockets. We should be able to supervise our own law clerks and our own legal assistants, which currently we don’t. And the contempt authority we were given in 1996 should eventually – should finally get some regulations to implement it.

EOIR’s overhead needs to be reduced. There’s too many positions at headquarters and too few positions in the field. When EOIR was originally set up, the idea was that each judge would need three legal assistants to docket the cases and find the files and make copies and all that. At one point last year we were down to less than one legal assistant per judge in Arlington, where I am, and in Los Angeles it was even worse. When you do that, the judge is looking for files, the judge is making copies, the judge doesn’t have the evidence that’s been filed. There’s nothing more annoying than to start a hearing and to find that evidence was filed that I don’t have. The case has to be continued. I have to have a chance to find the evidence and review it.

It would be nice if our management were more experienced than they are, or at least have some more courtroom experience.

We need an electronic filing system like all the other courts have. Fortunately, that’s one thing that Acting Director McHenry has said is his top priority, and I think that he will take care of that.

The BIA is a problem. The BIA doesn’t have the kind of expertise that the federal courts would defer to. Consequently, I think a lot of the bad appellate law that Art was referring to is caused by the fact that the BIA really doesn’t have any respect in the federal court system. They’re not immigration experts. They want their Chevron deference, but they are not getting it. They’re not getting it from the Court of Appeals. They’re not getting it from the Supreme Court, either.

The BIA also remands way too many cases. When we make a decision, we send it up to the BIA. We don’t really care what they do. They could affirm us. They could reverse us. We don’t want to see it back. We’ve got too much stuff to see them back. And this happens all the time. If they remand the case, they don’t ever have to take credit for the decision that they make. I assume that’s why they’re doing it, to try to make us do it.

We need a proper judicial disciplinary system. Starting in 2006, which is where the backlog problem began, the attorney general first of all subjected us to annual appraisals, evaluations, which previously OPM had waived due to our judicial function. So that’s a waste of time. Judges were punished for the – for things that are not punishment. Judges were punished because a Court of Appeals would say that you made a mistake or he was rude or – it’s just crazy. Judges were punished or could be punished for granting – for not granting continuances. No judge was ever punished for granting a continuance. So it’s no surprise that, as I pointed out, continuances have been granted at a much greater level – in fact, too great a level. But when in doubt, we continue now because if we don’t do that we’re subject to punishment, and nobody really wants that.

And finally, the ultimate solution, I think, is an Article I court like the bankruptcy court – a specialized court, could be in the judicial branch, could be in the executive branch – to give us independence, to ensure that we have judges and appellate judges who are appointed in a transparent way, being vetted by the private bar, the government, and anybody else.

And I’m way over my 10 minutes, so I’ll be – I’ll be sure to babble on later if you want me to. Thank you.”

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

Judge Arthur’s kind opening words about the late Juan Osuna were a nice touch. One of Juan’s great strengths as person, executive, judge, and teacher was his ability to maintain good friendships with and respect from folks with an assortment of ideas on immigration.

Judge Burman’s “no BS” insights are as timely as they are unusual. That’s because U.S. Immigration Judges are not encouraged to speak publicly and forthrightly about their jobs.

The Supervisory Judge and the EOIR Ethics Office must approve all public appearances by U.S. Immigration Judges including teaching and pro bono training. A precondition for receiving permission is that the judge adhere to the DOJ/EOIR “party line” and not say anything critical about the agency or colleagues. In other words, telling the truth is discouraged.

As a result, most Immigration Judges don’t bother to interact with the public except in their courtrooms. A small percentage of sitting judges do almost all of the outreach and public education for the Immigration Courts.

While EOIR Senior Executives and Supervisors often appear at “high profile events” or will agree to limited press interviews, they all too often have little if any grasp of what happens at the “retail level” in the Immigration Courts. Even when they do, they often appear to feel that their job security depends on making things sound much better than they really are or that progress is being made where actually regression is taking place.

In reality, the system functioned better in the 1990s than it does two decades later. Due Process protection for individuals — the sole mission of EOIR — has actually regressed in recent years as quality and fairness have taken a back seat to churning numbers, carrying out political priorities, not rocking the boat, and going along to get along. Such things are typical within government agency bureaucracies, but atypical among well-functioning court systems.

I once appeared on a panel with a U.S. District Judge. After hearing my elaborate, global disclaimer, he chuckled. Then he pointedly told the audience words to the effect of  “I’m here as a judge because you asked me, and I wanted to come. I didn’t tell the Chief Judge I was coming, and I wouldn’t dream of asking his or anyone else’s permission to speak my mind.”

I hope that everyone picked up Judge Burman’s point that “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” or “ADR” is still in full swing at EOIR. Cases are shuffled, moved around, taken off docket, and then restored to the docket to conceal that the backlog in Arlington goes out beyond the artificial “2020 limit” that Judge Burman has been instructed to use for “public consumption.” But there are other cases out there aimlessly “floating around the ether.” And, based on my experience, I’m relatively certain that many courts are worse than Arlington.

Judge Burman also makes another great  “inside baseball” point — too many unnecessary remands from the BIA. Up until the very ill-advised “Ashcroft Reforms” the BIA exercised de novo factfinding authority. This meant that when the BIA disagreed with the Immigration Judge’s disposition, on any ground, they could simply decide the case and enter a final administrative order for the winning party.

After Ashcroft stripped the BIA of factfinding  authority, nearly every case where the BIA disagrees with the lower court decision must be returned to the Immigration Court for further proceedings. Given the overloaded docket and lack of e-filing capability within EOIR, such routine remands can often take many months or even years. Sometimes, the file gets lost in the shuffle until one or both parties inquire about it.

The Immigration Courts are also burdened with useless administrative remands to check fingerprints in open court following BIA review. This function should be performed solely by DHS, whose Counsel can notify the Immigration Court in rare cases where the prints disclose previously unknown facts. In 13 years as an Immigration Judge, I had about 3 or 4 cases (out of thousands) where such “post hoc” prints checks revealed previously unknown material information. I would would have reopened any such case. So, the existing procedures are unnecessary and incredibly wasteful of limited judicial docket time.

I agree completely with Judge Burman that the deterioration of the Immigration Courts spans Administrations of both parties. Not surprisingly, I also agree with him that the only real solution to the Courts’ woes is an independent Article I Court. Sooner, rather than later!

PWS

09-03-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

TAL KOPAN & JIM ACOSTA ON CNN: Speaker Ryan Says Trump Should Delay DACA Decision While Congress Works On Extension! — Also, Top Seattle Execs Urge Trump To Keep DACA

http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/01/politics/paul-ryan-daca-trump-immigration/index.html

Tal & Jim write:

“(CNN)House Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday gave a major boost to legislative efforts to preserve protections for young undocumented immigrants — and urged President Donald Trump to not tear up the program.

Trump told reporters Friday he was still mulling the decision.
Responding to a question about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, on his hometown radio station WCLO in Janesville, Wisconsin, Ryan said Congress was working on a legislative fix to preserve the program.
“I actually don’t think he should do that,” Ryan said of Trump’s consideration of terminating the program. “I believe that this is something that Congress has to fix.”
'Dreamers' anxious as Trump DACA decision looms
‘Dreamers’ anxious as Trump DACA decision looms
Ryan’s statement offers the most public support by anyone in the Republican congressional leadership for some sort of legislation to protect the “Dreamers” under DACA.
The popular Obama administration program — which gives protections from deportation to undocumented immigrants that were brought to the US as children to work or study — has long been targeted by Republicans as an overreach of executive authority.
Nevertheless, a number of moderate Republicans alongside Democrats support the program and have offered legislation that would make the protections permanent.

. . . .

The popular Obama administration program — which gives protections from deportation to undocumented immigrants that were brought to the US as children to work or study — has long been targeted by Republicans as an overreach of executive authority.
Nevertheless, a number of moderate Republicans alongside Democrats support the program and have offered legislation that would make the protections permanent.
Ryan, who worked on comprehensive immigration reform before he became part of House leadership, endorsed that approach in the interview.
“President (Barack) Obama does not have the authority to do what he did … we’ve made that very clear,” Ryan said in the radio interview. “Having said all of that, there are people who are in limbo. These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home. And so I really do believe there that there needs to be a legislative solution.”
Trump’s decision
Asked whether he’s made a decision on DACA, Trump said: “Sometime today, maybe over the weekend.”
“We love the Dreamers,” he said.
The Trump administration has been discussing for weeks what to do about DACA, responding to the deadline on an ultimatum issued by 10 state attorneys general, led by Texas. The threat: Sunset DACA by September 5 or the states will try to end it in court.
Discussions have heated up this week as officials have met to chart a path forward. While a decision had been possible Friday, and one source familiar had believed a decision was pending Friday morning, by midday, sources familiar with the deliberations did not expect a decision before the weekend.
Parts of the Department of Homeland Security, which administers DACA, have been told to prepare for a decision but have not been given any potential details of what a decision may be.
White House discussing whether DACA deadline can be moved
White House discussing whether DACA deadline can be moved
Sources inside and outside the administration said the White House continues to explore buying itself time and is also considering allowing the attorneys general to proceed with their threat.
That course of action could potentially remove pressure from the White House, where the President has promised to act with “heart” on the matter and give Congress time to pass a legislative fix, and one source said it was under consideration.
Any action by the President to sunset DACA would put immediate pressure on Congress to act, something the White House and a senior congressional source recognize would be a challenge with many other pressing priorities at the moment, from Harvey relief to the debt ceiling to government spending. A go-slow approach on DACA is preferred, the congressional source added.
Big congressional boost
Ryan has long been sympathetic to the plight of Dreamers. At a CNN town hall at the beginning of the year, Ryan was asked by a young woman protected under DACA whether he wanted her deported. He said he was working with the Trump administration and seeking a “humane solution.”
“What we have to do is find a way to ensure that you can get right with the law,” the speaker told the young woman.
But until now, leadership has not helped the push by moderate Republicans to advance legislation to do so. Four different options have been introduced in Congress, including two bipartisan solutions led by Sens. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. Another proposal from Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo has entirely Republican support and is expected to be introduced in a similar form in the Senate by North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis.
In addition to Ryan’s endorsement, another conservative boost on Friday came from Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a staunch conservative who has in the past supported immigration reform.
“I’ve urged the President not to rescind DACA, an action that would further complicate a system in serious need of a permanent, legislative solution,” Hatch said in a statement. “Like the President, I’ve long advocated for tougher enforcement of our existing immigration laws. But we also need a workable, permanent solution for individuals who entered our country unlawfully as children through no fault of their own and who have built their lives here. And that solution must come from Congress.”
Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, a moderate Republican, announced on Thursday he would try to force a vote on one of the bipartisan bills when Congress returns next week through what’s known as a discharge petition, which would require a majority of House members to sign on to work. The speaker’s office had no comment on that effort.”

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

Additionally, as reported in the Seattle Times, the CEOs of Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks have added their voices of support for Dreamers:

“The leaders of Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks joined other corporate executives in asking President Donald Trump to keep in place a program that shields from deportation young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects about 800,000 “Dreamers,” is said to be a target for repeal as Republican attorneys general threaten to sue to push the Trump administration to carry out the president’s hard-line pledges on immigration.

 

Supporters of the program, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, came to its defense this week, urging the White House to keep DACA intact. Those ranks swelled with hundreds of corporate executives, lawyers and other organizations who made largely economic arguments in a separate open letter.

“Dreamers are vital to the future of our companies and our economy,” the letter said. Signatories include Amazon.com chief executive Jeff Bezos, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and Starbucks boss Kevin Johnson.”

http://www.seattletimes.com/business/microsoft-amazon-starbucks-leaders-voice-support-for-dreamers/?utm_source=referral&utm_medium=mobile-app&utm_campaign=ios

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

Read Tal’s complete article at the link.

A legislative solution seems to be in everyone’s best interests here!  Let’s hope it will happen.

PWS

O9-01-17

IMMIGRATION HISTORY: Here’s The Chase-Burman Mini-Library Of Immigration History, Courtesy Of “The Green Card!”

75 Years of the BIA

http://www.fedbar.org/Image-Library/Sections-and-Divisions/Immigration/Green-Card-Spring-2016-updated.aspx

“Matter of L-, 1 I&N Dec. 1 (BIA 1940), was issued on August 29, 1940, the day before the Board of Immigration Appeals came into existence.2 Some background about the Board’s early history is required to explain this. From 1922 until 1940, a five-member Board of Review existed within the Department of Labor to review all immigration cases. The Board of Review had no decision- making authority of its own; it could only recommend action to the Secretary of Labor. In 1933, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was formed within the Department of Labor,3 and from 1933 until 1939 the Board of Review made its recommendations to the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization.4″

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

Commentary on “Pattern or Practice” Persecution

http://www.fedbar.org/Image-Library/Sections-and-Divisions/Immigration/Green-Card-Fall-2016-.aspx

In INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, its landmark 1987 decision establishing that the burden of proving a “well-founded fear of persecution” is significantly less than fifty percent, the Supreme Court relied on the following scholarly example: “Let us…presume that it is known that in applicant’s country of origin every tenth adult male person is either put to death or sent to some remote labor camp… In such a case it would be only too apparent that anyone who managed to escape from the country would have ‘well-founded fear of being persecuted’ on his eventual return.”2 While the Court’s decision predates the “pattern or practice” regulation by more than three years, the example it relies on (which predates the regulation by 24 years) presents a classic “pattern or practice” scenario. The hypotheti- cal establishes (1) a group, i.e., all adult males in a particular country; and (2) information establishing systemic persecution of one in ten members of such group. all members of the group therefore have a well-founded without the need to explain their individual circumstances.”

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

The History of Racism in U.S. Immigration


http://www.fedbar.org/Image-Library/Sections-and-Divisions/Immigration/the-green-card-winter-2017.aspx

“Racism was codified in this country’s original natu- ralization law. The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited the right to naturalize to “free white persons.” Following the Civil War, the Act of July 14, 1870, added “aliens of African nativity” and “aliens of African descent” to those eligible to naturalize. However, all others considered “non-white” continued to be barred from obtaining United States citizenship. In 1922, the Supreme Court denied Takao Ozawa, a Japanese immigrant who had lived in the U.S. for 20 years, the right to become a naturalized citizen because he “clearly” was “not Caucasian.” In interpreting the term “free white persons,” the Court found that “the framers did not have in mind the brown or yellow races of Asia.”1 In United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind,2 the Supreme Court reached the same conclusion regarding an “upper-caste Hindu” who claimed a lineage classi ed as “Aryan” or “Caucasian.” The Court determined that “Aryan” related to “linguistic, and not at all with physical, characteristics,” and concluded that the term “free white persons” as understood by the common man, would not include those of Hindu ancestry.3 It was not until passage of the McCarran-Walter Act in 1952 that the naturalization law was amended to read that “[t]he right of a person to become a naturalized citizen shall not be denied or abridged because of race or sex…”4

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

Read all three of Judge Chase’s outstanding histories and get some “instant perspective” on how we got to where we are today as a nation of immigrants. There was no shortage of hypocracy. And, I submit that in the course of history some of today’s politicians advocating restrictive racially and religiously charged immigration policies are going to look just as distasteful, arrogant, prejudiced, and ignorant as some of the judges, lawmakers, and government officials described in these articles.

PWS

06-19-17

UPDATE

Judge Chase has reminded me that there is a fourth part to this collection:

The History of U.S. Asylum Law

http://www.fedbar.org/Image-Library/Sections-and-Divisions/Immigration/Green-Card-Summer-2016.aspx

“U.S. asylum policy is a product of the tension between the public sentiments of compassion and fear. In the words of a former Deputy UN High Commissioner: “The public will not allow governments to be generous if it believes they have lost control.” 1 Although asylum can be traced back at least to the Old Testament, for all practical purposes, U.S. asylum policy began on the eve of World War II.”

PWS

06-21-17

COME ONE, COME ALL! — FBA IMMIGRATION SECTION HONORS ARLINGTON JUDGE RODGER HARRIS ON HIS TRANSFER TO CHARLOTTE! — Details Below!

Dear Colleagues,
Immigration Judge Rodger Harris will be leaving Arlington for Charlotte NC.  The local FBA members would like to celebrate his service here in Arlington.  It is also an excellent opportunity for ILS members to get together!
The party will be TUESDAY June 20 @ 5:30 pm.  Location: McCormick & Schmick at the corner of Crystal Drive and 20th Street, in beautiful Crystal City Just a stone’s throw from the court.
Suggested contribution is $20.  You may pay at the door, or bring a check payable to Eileen Blessinger who has undertaken the thankless task of organizing the event.  NO NEED TO REGISTER!  Just come if you can.  There will be a cash bar.
Feel free to spread the word to other Judge Harris fans.
I hope to see you there!
Larry Burman
Immigration Law Section
*************************************************************
Judge Harris is a wonderful colleague, an amazing person, and a great judge. I know he will be missed by all at the Arlington Immigration Court. But, we’re all happy that he finally gets to be “closer to home.” No more weekend commutes on I-95! Hope everyone in the Arlington area will turn out to honor Judge Harris for his service and to wish him well in his new location.
Hope to see you there,
PWS
06-14-17

“IMMIGRATION COURTS — RECLAIMING THE VISION” — Read My Article In The Latest Federal Bar News!

Here is the link:

immigration courts

And, here’s an excerpt:

“Our immigration courts are going through an existential crisis that threatens the very foundations of our American justice system. I have often spoken about my dismay that the noble due process vision of our immigration courts has been derailed. What can be done to get it back on track?

First, and foremost, the immigration courts must return to the focus on due process as the one and only mission. The improper use of our due process court system by political officials to advance enforcement priorities and/or send “don’t come” messages to asylum seekers, which are highly ineffective in any event, must end. That’s unlikely to happen under the Department of Justice—as proved by over three decades of history, particularly recent history. It will take some type of independent court. I think that an Article I Immigration Court, which has been supported by groups such as the American Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association, would be best.

Clearly, the due process focus has been lost when officials outside the Executive Office for Immigration Review have forced ill-advised “prioritization” and attempts to “expedite” the cases of frightened women and children from the Northern Triangle (the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) who require lawyers to gain the protection that most of them need and deserve. Putting these cases in front of other pending cases is not only unfair to all, but has created what I call “aimless docket reshuffling” that has thrown our system into chaos.

Evidently, the idea of the prioritization was to remove most of those recently crossing the border to seek protection, thereby sending a “don’t come, we don’t want you” message to asylum seekers. But, as a deterrent, this program has been spectacularly unsuccessful. Not surprisingly to me, individuals fleeing for their lives from the Northern Triangle have continued to seek refuge in the United States in large numbers. Immigration court backlogs have continued to grow across the board, notwithstanding an actual reduction in overall case receipts and an increase in the number of authorized immigration judges.”

I encourage you to read the entire article.

Additionally, this entire issue of The Federal Lawyer is devoted to Immigration Law. Kudos to Judge Lawrence O. Burman of the Arlington Immigration Court and Judge Robin Feder of the Boston Immigration court for their key roles in FBA leadership and for inspiring this effort. There are four other great articles that will help you understand what is happening today in this most important area. Check them all out at this link:

http://www.fedbar.org/magazine.html

Finally, if you aren’t currently a member of the Federal Bar Association (“FBA”), please join the FBA and the Immigration Section today! The price is very reasonable, you get access to The Green Card (the Immigration Section newsletter, Edited by Judge Burman) and some other great educational materials, and you support the effort for due process, collegiality, and badly needed U.S. Immigration Court Reform, which the FBA advocates. The current “powers that be” are not going to fix the broken U.S. Immigration Court System without outside involvement and, ultimately, Congressional action. This won’t happen by itself.  So, if like me, you are appalled and dismayed by what has happened to due process in our U.S. Immigration Court system, now is the time to get involved and work to change it!

Also, check out my previous blogs on the recent FBA Immigration Seminar in Denver.

http://wp.me/p8eeJm-O1

http://wp.me/p8eeJm-Oa

http://wp.me/p8eeJm-OU

http://wp.me/p8eeJm-P4

PWS

06-05-17

 

 

 

 

FBA Denver Wrap-Up — The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly!

The Good

It was a great conference in a great location — Denver. Lots of restaurants and things to do (although I was actually too busy to get out much).

Hats off to Conference Co-Chairs Barry Frager and the Honorable Lawrence O. (“The Burmanator”) Burman for putting the whole thing together and pulling it off without a hitch. Judge Burman, one of the few real judicial leaders at EOIR, also serves as the Chair of the Immigration Law Section (“ILS”) and editor of the outstanding newsletter, The Green Card.

An impressive group of approximately 400 attended, consisting of private practitioners, NGO lawyers, government attorneys, and several Federal Judges. They came from across the country. They heard from a faculty of dozens of experts covering 60 separate learning sessions over two days.

I particularly enjoyed catching up with old friends like fellow retired U.S. Immigration Judges Joan Churchill, Eliza Klein, and Bill Joyce and my former BIA colleague, Judge Lory Rosenberg. I was pleased to serve with Lory as the other member of the Due Process Panel, and I want to thank her for her very kind remarks about me.

A number of folks commented that they had never seen a happier and more relaxed group of Immigration Judges than our “Gang of Four” retired jurists. I should add that Bill and Eliza are both still actively practicing law, while Joan and I have chosen different retirement paths.

I loved the tremendous energy and spirit that the many younger practitioners brought to the conference. As I pointed out in my three presentations, never has the need for skilled immigration lawyers, ready to strongly and courageously fight the battle for due process, been greater. As one panelist put it, this is the time to show off and improve real legal skills and display creativity and toughness in conducting aggressive litigation in an era where the Government is seeking and intentionally provoking confrontation. Enjoy the moment! And these folks are ready to step up to the plate and give the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant agenda all it can handle on every front.

It was heartening to see many “charter members” of the “New Due Process Army” (“NDPA”) — folks like Alex Ribe, Claudia Cubas, Eileen Blessinger, Jillian Blake, Robyn Barnard, Paromita Shah, and others — participating in the activities. I believe I also got some “new recruits” for the NDPA.

I’m already looking forward to next year in Memphis!

The Bad

Although The Office of Immigration Litigation (“OIL”), the DHS, U.S. Attorneys, and U.S. Magistrates participated in the panels, not a single current EOIR employee was on the faculty, although a number had been invited. The local U.S. Immigration Judges were “no shows,” although they would have had much to offer the group and vice versa.

Only a handful of EOIR employees attended, in their “personal capacities” and at their own expense. A troubling performance from an agency that amazingly cancelled their badly needed judicial training conference. And, the FBA is the only nationwide bar association concentrating on Federal Practice that encourages and makes possible full membership by both Federal employees and private sector attorneys.

The Ugly

In three words: “The Immigration Courts.” Everyone there, including government attorneys, has been affected in one way or another by the ridiculous backlog of non-detained cases. My references to “ADR” – aimless docket reshuffling – and feeling like I was in “Clown Court” some days struck a real chord with the audience.

Almost every session I attended was replete with descriptions of inappropriate behavior from several courts, Charlotte and Atlanta in particular. Things like Immigration Judges going off record and saying that they didn’t believe in A-R-C-G- (asylum for domestic violence) or asylum for Central Americans. Rude and intimidating treatment of counsel, failure to listen to arguments, unwillingness to grant bond, applying wrong legal standards, and inappropriately going “off record” were among the “horror stories” mentioned. It’s quite obvious that Atlanta and Charlotte, among others, are failing to follow the generous standards for granting asylum set forth by the Supreme Court in Cardoza-Fonseca and reinforced by the BIA in Mogharrabi.

It’s not about what an Immigration Judge personally believes. It’s about fairly and impartially applying the law, particularly to those needing protection. Gosh, I often had to apply BIA precedents that I not only disagreed with, but where I had actually dissented from the majority decision. But, the job of a judge is to follow the law, whether one likes it or not.

Much of the blame goes to the BIA. It sometimes appears to me that certain BIA Appellate Immigration Judges and panels are committed neither to enforcing due process nor their own precedent in Mogharrabi. Some folks are fortunate enough to be in Circuits that hold the BIA to the appropriate standards; others labor away in Circuits that have “blown off” their judicial review function by ”over-deferring” to the BIA. Clearly, the BIA has lost sight of its vision of “being the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.”

In any event, while some of the behavior issues could perhaps be addressed by EOIR management through the complaint system, that won’t solve the problem. Only the BIA has the ability to correct incorrect applications and attitudes about the law and due process in the U.S. Immigration Courts. Only the BIA can bring “outlier courts” – those with far too many asylum denials – into line with the law.

As I gave my keynote speech involving the history of EOIR, it occurred to me that EOIR, quite sadly, was actually returning to what the Immigration Courts were before the “spinoff” from the “Legacy INS:” inbred, staffed almost exclusively with former prosecutors, not user friendly, mismanaged, lacking necessary technology, and essentially being used as a tool for immigration enforcement. In other words, there is a notable lack of judicial independence. Very sad. It appears that as an due process oriented court system, EOIR has “run its course” in the DOJ and is now returning to it’s origins as a captive of the enforcement system.

The Immigration Courts’ problems have been aggravated by DHS leadership’s apparent decision to limit “prosecutorial discretion,” discourage cooperation and stipulation, and to “go to the mat” on everything. At a time when DHS should be looking for ways to get cases off the dockets, they instead appear to be looking for ways to jam the docket even fuller with cases, many of which are unlikely to be resolved in the next decade.

 

 

PWS

05-16-17

More Pics From Denver FBA!

Hon. Eliza Klein, USIJ (Ret.), Chicago, IL; Hon. William P. Joyce, USIJ (Ret.), Boston, MA

Hon. Lawrence O. ‘The Burmanator” Burman, Arlington, VA, ILS Chair & Conference Co-Chair; Eileen Blessinger, Esq., Falls Church, VA; Me; Barry Frager, Esq., Memphis TN, Conference Co-Chair

Hon. Lawrence O. Burman, Arlington, VA; Hon. Joan Churchill, USIJ (Ret.), Arlington, VA; Me; Hon. Eliza Klein, USIJ (Ret.), Chicago, IL

Hon. Lawrence O. Burman, Arlington, VA; Eileen Blessinger, Esq., Falls Church, VA; Me; Claudia Cubas, Esq., Washington, DC

Views From Denver FBA

Photos 1 & 2: Eileen Blessinger, Esq., Blessinger Legal PLLC, Falls Church, VA with Hon. Lawrence O. “The Burmanator” Burman, U.S. Immigration Judge, Arlington, VA, Chair, Immigration Law Section, at the Immigration Law Section Awards Reception held at the Colorado Supreme Court.

Photos 3-6: Denver Sunset