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

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

Lorelei reports:

“In the fall of 2016, the Executive Office for Immigration Review was busy addressing these problems by hiring aggressively, spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly said.

As of March, she said the agency had 301 seated judges and had requested authorization for a total of 399 judgeships. Those new judges are welcomed by legal and immigration groups—including the ABA, which called for more immigration judges with 2010’s Resolution 114B.

But that effort may be overwhelmed by changes under the Trump administration. Trump’s actions since taking office emphasize enforcement; his executive orders call for 10,000 more ICE agents and 5,000 more CBP officers, and they substantially reduce use of prosecutorial discretion. In his first months in office, there were several high-profile deportations of immigrants who had previously benefited from prosecutorial discretion and had little or no criminal record.

Although the DOJ eventually said immigration judges weren’t subject to the hiring freeze, it’s unclear whether immigration courts will be funded enough to handle all the additional cases. If not, Schmidt says, wait times will only worsen.

“If they really put a lot more people in proceedings, then it seems to me the backlog’s going to continue to grow,” he says. “How are they going to take on more work with the number of cases that are already there?”

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This is just a small sample. Read Lorelei’s much lengthier and complete analysis of all of the problems, including interviews with a number of other experts and a cross-reference to the ABA’s previous work predicting just such a docket disaster at the above link.

In my view, the Trump Administration is aggravating the problem, rather than seeking to improve the delivery of due process. Given the nature of the system, they might get away with it for awhile. But, eventually, one way or another, these chickens are coming home to roost. And, when they do, it won’t be pretty for the Administration, for anyone involved with the U.S. Immigration Court system, and for the American system of justice.

PWS

03/27/17

HuffPost: The Dark Lord’s Budget

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-budget_us_58cb0384e4b0ec9d29da5634

“A presidential budget isn’t so much a policy proposal as a statement of an administration’s moral vision for the country. The budget presented by President Donald Trump on Thursday is a document fundamentally unconcerned with the government’s role in improving the plight of its most vulnerable citizens.

That message is clear in the budget’s topline proposals and its deeper details. Trump calls for a $54 billion boost in defense spending and immigration enforcement. More border patrol agents, more Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, more fighter jets that don’t work, and a border wall with Mexico. To offset those fresh expenses, he wants to take an ax to a host of anti-poverty programs ― everything from public housing to food programs helping elderly people with disabilities.”

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Tax breaks for the rich, more bombs for the military, an un-needed wall, dirty air, no diplomacy, and lumps of coal for the poor.

PWS

03/16/17

Arlington Immigration Court Report: New — 10 Judges, No Waiting (Well, At Least The First Part Isn’t “Fake News”)

The local AILA Chapter reports that effective on March 6, 2017, the U.S. Immigration Court in Arlington, Virginia will have ten publicly accessible courtrooms, on two floors “up and running.” Here’s the “lineup:”

2nd floor
Courtroom 1 – Judge Robert P. Owens
Courtroom 2 – Judge Thomas G. Snow
Courtroom 3 – Judge Lawrence O. Burman
Courtroom 4 – Judge J. Traci Hong
Courtroom 5 – Judge Rodger C. Harris
Courtroom 6 – Judge John M. Bryant
Courtroom 7 – Judge Quynh V. Bain
Courtroom 8 – Judge Emmett D. Soper

4th floor
Courtroom 15 – Judge Karen D. Stevens
Courtroom 16 – Judge Roxanne C. Hladylowycz

And, there are plans to open the 3rd floor with six new courtrooms and judges in the near future! Combined with the news that the Immigration Court has been exempted from the hiring freeze by AG Jeff Sessions, http://wp.me/p8eeJm-qP that should bring much-needed relief to the conscientious, hard-working judges of Arlington, the local immigration bar, and the Office of Chief Counsel, and the many individuals with cases pending in Arlington. With at least 30,000 cases by last count, help could not come fast enough!

The only question I have: Will progress be derailed by detailing some or all of the Arlington Judges to the Southern Border as part of the Administration’s new immigration enforcement and detention initiative? Only time will tell. Stay tuned.

But, for now, congrats to the Arlington Immigration Court and to EOIR for a job well done and for making needed progress on the due process front!

PWS

03/05/17

Zoe Tillman on BuzzFeed: U.S. Immigration Courts Are Overwhelmed — Administration’s New Enforcement Priorities Could Spell Disaster! (I’m Quoted In This Article, Along With Other Current & Former U.S. Immigration Judges)

https://www.buzzfeed.com/zoetillman/backlogged-immigration-courts-pose-problems-for-trumps-plans?utm_term=.pokrzE6BW#.wcMKevdYG

Zoe Tillman reports:

“ARLINGTON, Va. — In a small, windowless courtroom on the second floor of an office building, Judge Rodger Harris heard a string of bond requests on Tuesday morning from immigrants held in jail as they faced deportation.
The detainees appeared by video from detention facilities elsewhere in the state. Harris, an immigration judge since 2007, used a remote control to move the camera around in his courtroom so the detainees could see their lawyers appearing in-person before the judge, if they had one. The lawyers spoke about their clients’ family ties, job history, and forthcoming asylum petitions, and downplayed any previous criminal record.
In cases where Harris agreed to set bond — the amounts ranged from $8,000 to $20,000 — he had the same message for the detainees: if they paid bond and were set free until their next court date, it would mean a delay in their case. Hearings set for March or April would be pushed back until at least the summer, he said.
But a couple of months is nothing compared to timelines that some immigration cases are on now. Judges and lawyers interviewed by BuzzFeed News described hearings scheduled four, five, or even six years out. Already facing a crushing caseload, immigration judges are bracing for more strain as the Trump administration pushes ahead with an aggressive ramp-up of immigration enforcement with no public commitment so far to aid backlogged courts.
Immigration courts, despite their name, are actually an arm of the US Department of Justice. The DOJ seal — with the Latin motto “qui pro domina justitia sequitur,” which roughly translates to, “who prosecutes on behalf of justice” — hung on the wall behind Harris in his courtroom in Virginia. Lawyers from the US Department of Homeland Security prosecute cases. Rulings can be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is also part of the Justice Department, and then to a federal appeals court.
As of the end of January, there were more than 540,000 cases pending in immigration courts. President Trump signed executive orders in late January that expanded immigration enforcement priorities and called for thousands of additional enforcement officers and border patrol officers. But the orders are largely silent on immigration courts, where there are dozens of vacant judgeships. And beyond filling the vacancies, the union of immigration judges says more judges are needed to handle the caseload, as well as more space, technological upgrades, and other resources.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly acknowledged the immigration court backlog in a memorandum released this week that provided new details about how the department would carry out Trump’s orders. Kelly lamented the “unacceptable delay” in immigration court cases that allowed individuals who illegally entered the United States to remain here for years.
The administration hasn’t announced plans to increase the number of immigration judges or to provide more funding and resources. It also isn’t clear yet if immigration judges and court staff are exempt from a government-wide hiring freeze that Trump signed shortly after he took office. There are 73 vacancies in immigration courts, out of 374 judgeships authorized by Congress.
“Everybody’s pretty stressed,” said Paul Schmidt, who retired as an immigration judge in June. “How are you going to throw more cases into a court with 530,000 pending cases? It isn’t going to work.”

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Zoe Tillman provides a well-reaserched and accurate description of the dire situation of justice in the U.S. Immigration Courts and the poorly conceived and uncoordinated enforcement initiatives of the Trump Administration. Sadly, lives and futures of “real life human beings” are at stake here.

Here’s a “shout out” to my good friend and former colleague Judge Rodger Harris who always does a great job of providing due process and justice on the highly stressful Televideo detained docket at the U.S. Immigration Court in Arlington, VA. Thanks for all you do for our system of justice and the cause of due process, Judge Harris.

PWS

02/24/17

What Are The Odds Of The US Immigration Courts’ Surviving The Next Four Years?

What Are The Odds Of The U.S. Immigration Courts’ Survival?

by Paul Wickham Schmidt

Despite the campaign promises to make things great for the American working person, the Trump Administration so far has benefitted comedians, lawyers, reporters, and not many others. But there is another group out there reaping the benefits — oddsmakers. For example, Trump himself is 11-10 on finishing his term, and Press Secretary Sean “Spicey” Spicer is 4-7 to still be in office come New Year’s Day 2018.

So, what are the odds that the U.S. Immigration Courts will survive the next four years. Not very good, I’m afraid.

Already pushed to the brink of disaster, the Immigration Courts are likely to be totally overwhelmed by the the Trump Administration’s mindless “enforcement to the max” program which will potentially unleash a tidal waive of ill-advised new enforcement actions, detained hearings, bond hearings, credible fear reviews, and demands to move Immigration Judges to newly established detention centers along the Southern Border where due process is likely to take a back seat to expediency.

While Trump’s Executive Order promised at least another 15,000 DHS immigration enforcement officers, there was no such commitment to provide comparable staffing increases to the U.S. Immigration Courts. Indeed, we don’t even know at this point whether the Immigration Courts will be exempted from the hiring freeze.

At the same time, DHS Assistant Chief Counsel are likely to be stripped of their authority to offer prosecutorial discretion (“PD”), stipulate to grants of relief in well-documented cases, close cases for USCIS processing, and waive appeals.

Moreover, according to recent articles from the Wall Street Journal posted over on LexisNexis, individual respondents are likely to reciprocate by demanding their rights to full hearings, declining offers of “voluntary departure” without hearing, and appealing, rather than waiving appeal of, most orders of removal. Additionally, the Mexican government could start “slow walking” requests for documentation necessary to effect orders of removal.

Waiting in the wings, as I have mentioned in previous posts, are efforts to eliminate the so-called “Chevron doctrine” giving deference to certain BIA decisions, and constitutional challenges that could bring down the entire Federal Administrative Judiciary “house of cards.”

The sensible way of heading off disaster would be to establish an independent Article I Court outside the Executive Branch and then staff it to do its job. Sadly, however, sensibility so far has played little role in the Trump Administration. Solving the problem (or not) is likely to fall to the Article III Courts.

So, right now, I’m giving the U.S. Immigration Courts about 2-3 odds of making it through 2020. That’s a little better chance than “Spicey,” but worse than Trump himself.

To read the WSJ articles on the “clogging the courts” strategy, take this link over to LexisNexis:

https://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/immigration/b/outsidenews/archive/2017/02/13/will-strong-defensive-tactics-jam-immigration-jails-clog-immigration-courts-wsj.aspx?Redirected=true

PWS

02/14/17

 

 

The Sessions Era Begins At The USDOJ

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2017/02/09/jeff-sessions-is-now-the-attorney-general-here-are-the-four-biggest-things-to-fear/

Greg Sargent  writes in The Morning Plum in today’s Washington Post:

“Jeff Sessions has now been confirmed as attorney general, and this vaults him to a position in American life that is unique. Perhaps more than any other person, Sessions stands at the nexus of many of the potential plot lines that we should fear most about the Donald Trump presidency.

Here are the possibilities we need to worry about. President Trump’s refusal to divest from his business holdings creates the possibility of untold conflicts of interest and even full-blown corruption on an unprecedented scale. The hostility of Trump and Republicans to a full, independent probe into Russian meddling in the election may mean there will never be a full public accounting of what happened, which could make a repeat more likely.
Trump’s year of lies about voter fraud, and his campaign vows of explicit persecution of minorities, could signal further voter suppression efforts, weakened civil rights protections, and the use of state power against Muslims and undocumented immigrants in draconian or discriminatory ways. Trump’s well-documented authoritarian impulses could conceivably tip him into genuine authoritarian rule, in which, for instance, the power of the state is turned against critics or political opponents.

Sessions is now in a unique position to facilitate and enable — or, by contrast, to act as a legal check on — some or all of these possibilities, should they metastasize (or metastasize further) into serious threats to vulnerable minorities or, more broadly, to our democracy. Here are the things to fear:

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You can read the full article at the link.  Although noting Session’s involvement with immigration, Sargent overlooks what is likely to be AG Session’s biggest legacy, for better or, as many expect, for worse.  That is his unilateral control over the United States Immigration Courts, perhaps America’s largest and most important Federal Court System, with 530,000+ pending cases, and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) about to be pushed into the already clogged “pipeline” under President Trump’s Executive Orders on immigration enforcement. Unlike most administrative courts within the Executive Branch, the Immigration Court not only has authority to order what in many cases can be indefinite “civil detention” but also to impose permanent exile on individuals (and, as a de facto matter on their U.S. citizen families), including some who were legally admitted to the United States and have resided here many years with “green cards.” Even in the area of criminal  law, few judges in any system possess comparable authority to permanently affect the lives  of so many individuals, their families, and their communities.

PWS

02/09/17

Julia Preston (Retired From The NYT, Now At The Marshall Project) Explains Trump’s Immigration Executive Orders

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2017/02/03/decoding-trump-s-immigration-orders?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=share-tools&utm_source=facebook&utm_content=post-top#.aYfs86zr3

“The refugee program was not the only part of the immigration system that sustained shocks this week from three executive orders by President Donald Trump. While the White House scrambled to contain the widening furor over his ban on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, the administration was laying the groundwork for a vast expansion of the nation’s deportation system. How vast? Here’s a close reading of Trump’s orders:”

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Read Julia’s full analysis at the link.

Not to beat a dead horse, but it’s hard to resist. To show what a “parallel universe” executives at the EOIR live in, the article says that without the Trump priorities EOIR believes it could have begun to reduce the backlog with 330 Immigration Judges (they currently have 305, and approximately 370 are authorized). What!!!!

Math wasn’t my strong point, but let’s do some basics here. There are more than 530,000 currently pending cases in the U.S. Immigration Courts. An experienced fully trained, fully productive Immigration Judge (which none of the new Immigration Judges will be for several years, if then) can do a reasonable job on at best 750 cases per year. So, 330 fully trained Immigration Judges might be able to do approximately 250,000 cases per year without stomping on individuals’ due process rights. That’s barely enough to keep up with the normal (pre-Trump Administration) annual filings of new cases, let alone make realistic progress on a one half million backlog.

But, even that would be highly optimistic.  The real minimum number of Immigration Judges needed to keep the system afloat and “guarantee fairness and due process for all,” even without the distorted Trump priorities, is 500 Immigration Judges as determined by the consensus of “outside-EOIR/DOJ management” observers. And, that’s not even considering that many of the best and most experienced Immigration Judges will be retiring over the next few years.

So, even without the Trump Executive Orders, EOIR executives were living in a dream world that had little relationship to what is happening at the “retail level” of the system, in the Immigration Courts. And, because none of the folks who sit in the EOIR HQ “Tower” in Falls Church, well intentioned as they might be, actually hear and decide cases in the Immigration Courts, the gap between reality and bureaucracy at EOIR is simply off the charts!

This system needs help, and it needs it fast! The DOJ and EOIR, as currently structured and operated, simply cannot solve the real problems of one of America’s largest, most important, most under-resourced, and most out off control court systems. Unless the Trump Administration and Congress can “get smart” in a hurry and pull together on legislation to get the Immigration Courts out of the DOJ and into an independent Article I structure, this system is heading for a monumental due process train wreck that could threaten to take the rest of the U.S. justice system along with it.

PWS

02/06/17

 

BREAKING: From “The Hill” — Sessions Nomination As AG Approved By Senate Judiciary Committee — Moves To Full Senate Where Approval Is A Foregone Conclusion!

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/317035-sessions-approved-by-senate-committee

The Hill writes:

“A Senate committee voted to confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to be attorney general on Wednesday, two days after the growing controversy surrounding President Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim nations led to the firing of an acting attorney general for insubordination.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Sessions 11-9 along party lines. His nomination now goes to the floor, where he is widely expected to be confirmed given the GOP’s 52-seat majority.

The committee vote comes as Senate Democrats have sought to slow progress on other Trump nominees, including Steve Mnuchin, the pick at the Treasury Department, and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trump’s pick to lead the Health and Human Services Department.

The Alabama senator’s already difficult path to confirmation was made more contentious by Trump’s firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who deemed the president’s order illegal and said she would not have Justice attorneys defend it.”

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As we have known for weeks, Jeff Sessions will soon be the Attorney General of the United States.  What exactly does that mean for our justice system and particularly for the beleaguered and backlogged United States Immigration Courts which he will now control?

Among the most immediate questions:

Will he exempt the Immigration Courts from the Administration’s hiring freeze?

If so, what will he do with the many “pipeline candidates” for existing Immigration  Judge vacancies who were “caught in limbo” when the hiring freeze went into effect?

Will he continue with the existing DOJ hiring process for the Immigration Judiciary, or will he establish his own recruitment and hiring system for Immigration Judges and BIA Judges.

We’ll soon find out.  Stay tuned to immigrationcourtside.com for all the latest!

PWS

02/01/17

CBS News: “Overloaded U.S. immigration courts a ‘recipe for disaster'”

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/trump-us-immigration-courts-deportations/

AIMEE PICCHI/MONEYWATCH writes:

“President Donald Trump is taking what he portrays as a hard-nosed approach to undocumented immigrants, issuing an order this week to boost the number of U.S. border patrol agents and to build detention centers.

But what happens when a federal push to ramp up arrests and deportations hits a severely backlogged federal court system?

“It’s a recipe for a due process disaster,” said Omar Jadwat, an attorney and director of the Immigrant Rights Project at the ACLU. Already, he pointed out, there are “large, large numbers of caseloads” in immigration court, and Mr. Trump’s directives threaten to greatly increase the number of people caught in the system, he said.

Just how backlogged is the system for adjudicating deportations and related legal matters? America’s immigration courts are now handling a record-breaking level of cases, with more than 533,000 cases currently pending, according to Syracuse University’s TRAC, a data gathering site that tracks the federal government’s enforcement activities. That figure is more than double the number when Mr. Obama took office in 2009.

As a result, immigrants awaiting their day in court face an average wait time of 678 days, or close to two years.
Immigrant rights advocates say the backlog is likely to worsen, citing Mr. Trump’s order on Wednesday to hire 5,000 additional border patrol agents while also enacting a freeze on government hiring. Whether the U.S. Justice Department, which oversees the immigration courts, will be able to add judges given the hiring freeze isn’t clear.

A spokeswoman from the DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review said the agency is awaiting “further guidance” regarding the hiring freeze from the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management. In the meantime, she said, the agency “will continue, without pause, to protect the nation with the available resources it has today.”

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There is video to go with the complete story at the link.

The situation is likely to get much worse in the U.S. Immigration Courts.  Obviously, due process is not going to be a high priority for this Administration.  And, while the Executive Orders can be read to give Attorney General Jeff Sessions authority to continue hiring Immigration Judges, filling the 75 or so currently vacant positions won’t begin to address the Immigration Courts’ workload problems.

Then, there are the questions of space and support staff. One of the reasons more vacancies haven’t been filled to date is that many Immigration Courts (for example, the U.S. Immigration Court in Arlington, VA) have simply run out of space for additional judges and staff.

The parent agency of the Immigration Courts, “EOIR,” is counting on being allowed to continue with expansion plans currently underway.  But, even if Attorney General Sessions goes forward with those plans, that space won’t be ready until later in 2017, and that’s highly optimistic.

This does not seem like an Administration that will be willing to wait for the current lengthy highly bureaucratic hiring system to operate or for new Immigration Judges to be trained and “brought up to speed.”  So various “gimmicks” to speed hiring, truncate training, and push the Administration’s “priority cases” — likely to be hundreds of thousands of additional cases — through the Immigration Courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals at breakneck speed.

Consequently, the whole “due process mess” eventually is likely to be thrown into the U.S. Courts of Appeals where “final orders of removal” are reviewed by Article III Judges with lifetime tenure, rather than by administrative judges appointed and supervised by the Attorney General.

PWS

01/28/17

 

 

 

Washington Post: Q&As On Fed Hiring Freeze — Many DOJ Employees (Including Immigration Courts) Might Be Exempt — Employees On Board On 01-22-17 NOT Affected!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/01/23/what-does-a-hiring-freeze-mean-for-the-federal-workforce/?hpid=hp_rhp-top-table-main_freeze-pp-1213pm:homepage/story&utm_term=.16a898e72b47

“Are all federal employees affected?

No. The wording of his memorandum exempts “military personnel” and says “the head of any executive department or agency may exempt from the hiring freeze any positions that it deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.”

“Military personnel” generally refers to those in uniform, but if Trump also means civilian employees of the Defense Department, that alone would exclude about a third of the workforce.

Exempting public safety could wall off much of other large agencies such as the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. If public safety includes public health workers, more would be excluded.

. . . .

How would a freeze be implemented?

Trump’s order says “no vacant positions existing at noon on January 22, 2017, may be filled and no new positions may be created, except in limited circumstances.” The directors of the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management were told to “recommend a long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition. This order shall expire upon implementation of the OMB plan.” The memorandum also “does not revoke any appointment to Federal service made prior to January 22, 2017.”

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Looks like understaffed Immigration Courts might be able to continue hiring.  But, can’t tell for sure at this point.  If somebody out there has more specific information relating to Immigration Court hiring, please let me know.

PWS

01/23/17