MICA ROSENBERG, READE LEVINSON, & RYAN McNEILL EXPOSE UNEQUAL JUSTICE & ABUSE OF VULNERABLE ASYLUM SEEKERS FROM “COURT” SYSTEM LACKING BASIC JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE! Sessions’s Chilling Response: Speed Things Up, Establish Deportation Quotas, Strip Asylum Seekers Of Rights To Due Process, Eliminate Professional Judicial Training, & Aimlessly Throw More Inexperienced, Untrained Judges Into This Mess! – Will He Get Away With His Atrocious Plan To Make Immigration Courts The “Killing Floor?” — AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE UNFOLDING IN U.S. IMMIGRATION COURT ON A DAILY BASIS!

https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-immigration-asylum/

Mica Rosenberg, Read Levinson, & Ryan McNeill report:

“They fled danger at home to make a high-stakes bet on U.S. immigration courts

Threatened by gangs in Honduras, two women sought asylum in the United States. Their stories illustrate what a Reuters analysis of thousands of court decisions found: The difference between residency and deportation depends largely on who hears the case, and where.

Filed

OAKLAND, California – The two Honduran women told nearly identical stories to the immigration courts: Fear for their lives and for the lives of their children drove them to seek asylum in the United States.

They were elected in 2013 to the board of the parent-teacher association at their children’s school in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. They hoped that mothers working together could oust the violent gangs that plagued the campus.

Instead, they became targets. Weeks apart, in the spring of 2014, each of the women was confronted by armed gang members who vowed to kill them and their children if they didn’t meet the thugs’ demands.

Unaware of each other’s plight, both fled with their children, making the dangerous trek across Mexico. Both were taken into custody near Hidalgo, Texas, and ended up finding each other in the same U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Artesia, New Mexico. There, they applied for asylum.

That’s when their fates diverged.

Sandra Gutierrez joined her husband in California, where her case was heard by a San Francisco immigration court judge. At the end of her asylum hearing in September 2016, she received a one-page form, with an “X” in the box next to “granted.” She was free to settle into life with her family in the United States.

The other woman, Ana, joined her daughter’s father in the southeastern United States, and her case was assigned to an immigration court in Charlotte, North Carolina. The judge denied her petition and ordered her deported. She is now awaiting a court date after new lawyers got her case reopened.

Ana declined to be interviewed for this article. Through her lawyers, she asked that her full name not be used because of her uncertain status and her fear that Honduran gangs could find her.

The women’s lawyers framed their respective cases with some important differences. However, the women said their reasons for seeking asylum were the same: Gangs had targeted them because of their involvement in the parent-teacher association, and for that, they and their families had been threatened.

Taken together, the two cases – nearly indistinguishable in their outlines but with opposite outcomes – illustrate a troubling fact: An immigrant’s chance of being allowed to stay in the United States depends largely on who hears the case and where it is heard.

Judge Stuart Couch, who heard Ana’s case in Charlotte, orders immigrants deported 89 percent of the time, according to a Reuters analysis of more than 370,000 cases heard in all 58 U.S. immigration courts over the past 10 years. Judge Dalin Holyoak, who heard Gutierrez’s case in San Francisco, orders deportation in 43 percent of cases.

In Charlotte, immigrants are ordered deported in 84 percent of cases, more than twice the rate in San Francisco, where 36 percent of cases end in deportation.

Couch and Holyoak and their courts are not rare outliers, the analysis found. Variations among judges and courts are broad.

Judge Olivia Cassin in New York City allows immigrants to remain in the country in 93 percent of cases she hears. Judge Monique Harris in Houston allows immigrants to stay in just four percent of cases. In Atlanta, 89 percent of cases result in a deportation order. In New York City, 24 percent do.

The Reuters analysis used data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the U.S. Justice Department unit that oversees immigration courts. The count of deportations included cases in which judges allowed immigrants to leave the country voluntarily.

The analysis excluded immigrants who were in detention when their cases were heard because such cases are handled differently. It also excluded cases in which the immigrant did not appear in court, which nearly always end in a deportation order, and cases terminated without a decision or closed at the request of a prosecutor.

About half the cases in the analysis were filed by asylum seekers like the two Honduran women. The rest were requests for cancellation of deportation orders or other adjustments to immigration status.

“GROSS DISPARITIES”

Of course, other factors influence outcomes in immigration court.  For example, U.S. government policy is more lenient toward people from some countries, less so for others.

Also, immigration judges are bound by precedents established in the federal appeals court that covers their location. Immigration courts in California and the Pacific Northwest fall under the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and they rule in favor of immigrants far more often than courts in the 4th Circuit, which includes North and South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia, Reuters found.

Even so, the Reuters analysis determined that after controlling for such factors, who hears a case and where it is heard remain reliable predictors of how a case will be decided. An immigrant was still four times as likely to be granted asylum by Holyoak in San Francisco as by Couch in Charlotte.

The Reuters analysis also found that an immigration judge’s particular characteristics and situation can affect outcomes. Men are more likely than women to order deportation, as are judges who have worked as ICE prosecutors.  The longer a judge has been serving, the more likely that judge is to grant asylum.

“These are life or death matters. … Whether you win or whether you lose shouldn’t depend on the roll of the dice of which judge gets your case.”

Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings School of the Law in San Francisco

The findings underscore what academics and government watchdogs have long complained about U.S. immigration courts: Differences among judges and courts can render the system unfair and even inhumane.

“It is clearly troubling when you have these kinds of gross disparities,” said Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings School of the Law in San Francisco. “These are life or death matters. … Whether you win or whether you lose shouldn’t depend on the roll of the dice of which judge gets your case.”

EOIR spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly said the agency does not comment on external analyses of its data.

Devin O’Malley, a Department of Justice spokesman, challenged the Reuters analysis, citing “numerous conflicting statements, miscalculations, and other data errors,” but declined to elaborate further.

Immigration judges, appointed by the U.S. attorney general, are not authorized to speak on the record about cases.

Dana Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said each case is like “a 1,000 piece puzzle.” While two cases might look identical on the surface, she said, each judge has to weigh the nuances of immigration law to allow someone to stay in the country, which could lead to different outcomes.

The question of equality of treatment among judges has gained urgency as the number of cases in immigration court has ballooned to record highs. Under President Barack Obama, the courts began efforts to hire more immigration judges to reduce the system’s burgeoning backlog, which now stands at more than 620,000 cases, nearly 100,000 of them added since last December.

The administration of President Donald Trump is continuing the effort. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in April that the Justice Department planned to hire more than 50 judges this year and 75 in 2018, which would put the total number of sitting judges above 400.

Of the 28 immigration judges Sessions has appointed so far, 16 are former ICE prosecutors. That experience, the Reuters analysis found, makes them 23 percent more likely to order deportation. (Neither Holyoak nor Couch worked as an ICE prosecutor, according to their EOIR biographies.)

In a wish list of immigration proposals sent to Congress on Oct. 8, the White House said that “lax legal standards” had led to the immigration court backlog and that “misguided judicial decisions have prevented the removal of numerous criminal aliens, while also rendering those aliens eligible to apply for asylum.” Among the proposals offered in exchange for a deal with Congress on the roughly 800,000 “dreamers” – children brought to the country illegally by their parents – the Trump administration said it wanted to hire even more immigration judges and 1,000 ICE attorneys, while “establishing performance metrics for Immigration Judges.”

Video: High-stakes game of chance in U.S. immigration courts

CRISIS AT THE BORDER

In 2014, an unprecedented 68,000 parents and children, most of them fleeing violence and lawlessness in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, crossed into the United States from Mexico – a refugee crisis that has contributed to the bloated backlog of asylum petitions. Many of the migrants, including Gutierrez and Ana, convinced initial interviewers that they had a “credible fear” of returning home, the first step in filing an asylum claim.

Having come from a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world may have helped establish “credible fear.” But the two women were already at a disadvantage – precisely because they came from Honduras.

Country of origin is a big factor in determining who gets to stay in the United States because immigrants from some countries are afforded special protections. For example, courts ruled in favor of Chinese immigrants 75 percent of the time, the Reuters analysis found. A 1996 law expanded the definition of political refugees to include people who are forced to abort a child or undergo sterilization, allowing Chinese women to claim persecution under Beijing’s coercive birth-control policies.

Hondurans enjoy no special considerations. They were allowed to stay in the United States in just 16 percent of cases, the Reuters analysis found.

The mass exodus from Central America was under way when Gutierrez and Ana were elected to the board of the parent-teacher association at their children’s school in spring 2013.

Two rival gangs – the Barrio 18 and the Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13 – were operating brazenly in the neighborhood. The year before, according to police records in Honduras, gang members killed a school security guard. Now, they were extorting teachers, selling drugs openly and assaulting or killing anyone who confronted them.

The new six-member association board set about trying to improve security at the school, which sits on a dirt road behind a high wall topped with razor wire.

“Before, no one wanted to say anything about the gangs,” Gutierrez said. “We were the brave ones. The previous president was a man, so we thought, ‘We are women, they won’t do anything to us.’ ”

The school’s principal, who asked that he and the school not be identified out of fear of retaliation, worked with the board. They had early success, he said, when they persuaded police to provide officers to guard the school. But the patrols left after a few weeks, probably intimidated by the gangs.

One evening in April 2014, Gutierrez was watching television at home with her two sons, ages 5 and 11, when she heard banging at the front door. Her older boy recognized the three armed and heavily tattooed young men on the stoop as the same ones who had thrown him to the ground earlier that day, telling him, not for the first time, that they wanted him to join their ranks. Now they had come to deliver a message to Gutierrez.

“They said they knew I was involved in the parents’ association,” Gutierrez said. “They said they would kill me and my children.

“I began to panic and shake,” she said. “I thought, ‘I have to go now. I am not going to risk my child’s life.’ ”

She quickly packed some backpacks for her and her children and called the only friend she knew who had a car. They drove all night to her friend’s mother’s house in another town.

“NO POLICE HERE”

Two months later, according to court documents, Ana was walking her 7-year-old daughter home from school when three members of a rival gang confronted them. Two of them grabbed Ana and her daughter, pinned their wrists behind their backs, and pointed a gun at the child’s head. The third pointed a gun at Ana’s head. They demanded that a payment of more than $5,000 be delivered in 24 hours, a huge sum for a woman who sold tortillas for a living.

Ana testified in her asylum hearing that she knew they were gang members “because they were dressed in baggy clothing and they also had ugly tattoos … all over their bodies and faces.”

Ana and her daughter ran home and then, fearing the gang would come after them, fled out the back door. “We had to jump over a wall, and I hurt my foot doing so,” she said in an affidavit. “I was desperate and knew that I had to leave – my daughter’s life and mine were in danger.”

The school principal said he understands why Gutierrez and Ana left Honduras. “Because there were no police here, (the gangs) did what they wanted,” he said. “They said, ‘We’re going to kill the members of the parent-teacher association to get them out of here.’ So the women fled.”

Gutierrez hid for two months at her friend’s mother’s house outside Tegucigalpa. She joined another woman and, with their children, they set out to cross Mexico. On the journey, they were kidnapped – common for Central American migrants – and held for a $3,500 ransom. Gutierrez contacted relatives who wired the money. The kidnappers released her and her two sons near the U.S. border.

There they piled with another group of migrants into an inflatable raft and crossed the Rio Grande, the border between Mexico and the United States. They landed near Hidalgo, Texas.

After walking for an hour and a half, lost and desperate, Gutierrez and her sons sat down in the middle of a dirt road and waited for someone to pass. Two officials in uniforms picked them up. They were eventually transferred to the ICE detention center in Artesia.

Ana fled with her daughter the night the gang members threatened them on the street. “We bought a bus pass to go to Guatemala and from Guatemala to Mexico and to the U.S.-Mexico border,” according to her court testimony. The journey took three weeks. In Mexico, she hired a coyote – a smuggler – to help them cross into the United States and then turned herself in to Border Patrol agents near Hidalgo. She arrived at the Artesia detention center just weeks after Gutierrez.

“The other women in the center told me that there was someone else from Honduras who I might know, but I wasn’t sure who they were talking about,” Gutierrez said. “And then one day we went to lunch, and there they were.”

Gutierrez said that was when she first learned that her fellow parent-teacher association board member had been threatened and had fled from home.

Volunteer lawyers helped the women prepare and submit their applications for asylum.

In late 2014, the two women were released on bond. Gutierrez moved with her boys to Oakland, California, to join her husband, and petitioned to have her case moved to San Francisco. Ana moved with her daughter to live with her daughter’s father and petitioned to have her case moved to Charlotte.

“ASYLUM FREE ZONES”

Many immigrants released on bond before their cases are heard have no idea that where they settle could make the difference between obtaining legal status and deportation.

People familiar with the system are well aware of the difference. When Theodore Murphy, a former ICE prosecutor who now represents immigrants, has a client in a jurisdiction with a high deportation rate but near one with a lower rate, “I tell them to move,” he said.

The Charlotte court that would hear Ana’s case was one of five jurisdictions labeled “asylum free zones” by a group of immigrant advocates in written testimony last December before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The courts in Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas and Atlanta also received the designation.

The advocates testified that, while asylum is granted in nearly half of cases nationwide, Charlotte judges granted asylum in just 13 percent of cases in 2015. The Charlotte court was singled out for displaying a particular “bias against Central American gang and gender-related asylum claims.”

Couch is the toughest of Charlotte’s three immigration judges, according to the Reuters analysis.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research organization at Syracuse University in New York, first sounded the alarm about disparities in immigration court decisions in 2006. The next year, researchers at Temple University and Georgetown Law School concluded in a study titled “Refugee Roulette” that “in many cases, the most important moment in an asylum case is the instant in which a clerk randomly assigns an application to a particular asylum officer or immigration judge.” In 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found similar disparities in its own study.

In response to the rising criticism, the Executive Office for Immigration Review began tracking decisions to identify judges with unusually high or low rates of granting asylum. Mattingly, the EOIR spokeswoman, said the agency held training sessions for judges to address the disparities in 2008 and 2009. It then created a system for the public to file complaints against immigration judges.

In a 2016 report, the GAO found that little had changed. EOIR held a two-day training session last year. There is no training on the 2017 calendar.

From 2012 to 2016, EOIR received 624 complaints against judges. The 138 complaints lodged in 2016 alone included allegations of bias, as well as concerns about due process and judges’ conduct within the courtroom. Of the 102 complaints that had been resolved when the data were published, only three resulted in discipline, defined as “reprimand” or “suspension” of the judge. “Corrective actions” such as counseling or training were taken in 39 cases. Close to half the complaints were dismissed.

The agency does not identify judges who were the subjects of complaints.

Mattingly, the EOIR spokeswoman, said the agency “takes seriously any claims of unjustified and significant anomalies in immigration judge decision-making and takes steps to evaluate disparities in immigration adjudications.”

DAY IN COURT

Asylum applicants cannot gain legal U.S. residency because they fled their countries in mortal fear of civil strife or rampant crime or a natural disaster. They must convince the court that they have well-founded fears of persecution in their country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinions or membership in a particular social group. The definition of a “particular social group” has been subject to conflicting interpretations in the courts, but in general, such a group comprises people who share basic beliefs or traits that can’t or shouldn’t have to be changed.

In the San Francisco court, Gutierrez’s lawyers argued that she qualified for asylum because as a leader of the parent-teacher association, she was at risk for her political opinion – her stand against gangs – and for belonging to a particular social group of Hondurans opposed to gang violence and recruitment in schools. The lawyers also argued that she was part of another particular social group as the family member of someone under threat, since the gangs had terrorized her son in trying to recruit him.

Holyoak was convinced. Gutierrez told Reuters that during her final hearing, the judge apologized for asking so many questions about what had been a painful time in her life, explaining that he had needed to establish her credibility.

In the Charlotte court, Ana’s lawyer focused more narrowly on her political opinion, arguing that she was at risk of persecution for her opposition to gangs in her position on the parent-teacher association board.

After hearing Ana’s case, Couch concluded in his written opinion that Ana was not eligible for asylum because she had “not demonstrated a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of a statutorily protected ground.” He wasn’t convinced that she risked persecution in Honduras because of her political opinion.

Well-established law recognizes family as a protected social group, according to the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies. Cases that claim opposition to gangs as a protected political opinion, the center says, have generated fewer precedent-setting decisions, making that argument a more difficult one to win in court, though it has prevailed in some cases.

Ana’s response to Couch’s extensive questioning played a part in the decision. In immigration court, the asylum seeker is typically the only witness.  As a result, “credibility is really the key factor. Persecutors don’t give affidavits,” said Andrew Arthur, a former immigration judge who now works at the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit organization that supports lower levels of immigration.

Couch wrote in his opinion that Ana’s difficulty recounting the names of the women on the association board weighed against her credibility. He noted that she testified about her fears of the gang “with a flat affect and little emotion,” displaying a “poor demeanor” that “did not support her credibility.”

The judge also questioned why, in an early interview with an asylum officer, Ana never mentioned threats to the parent-teacher association, and instead said she thought the gangs were targeting her for the money her daughter’s father was sending from the United States to build a house in Honduras.

Ana’s assertion that she learned from Gutierrez in detention about gang threats to the parent-teacher association was not “persuasive,” Couch wrote. “The evidence indicates this is a case of criminal extortion that the respondent attempts to fashion into an imputed political opinion claim.”

“SOMEONE WANTS TO KILL THEM”

Gutierrez said Ana told her in one of their occasional phone conversations that she felt intimidated by the intense questioning of the ICE attorney. Gutierrez also said her friend “is very forgetful. … It’s not that she is lying. It’s just that she forgets things.”

Lisa Knox, the lawyer who represented Gutierrez, said judges where she practices tend to give applicants the benefit of the doubt. “They have more understanding of trauma survivors and the difficulty they might have in recounting certain details and little discrepancies,” she said.

Further, Knox said, asylum seekers aren’t thinking about the finer points of U.S. asylum law when they are fleeing persecution. “People show up in our office (and) they have no idea why someone wants to kill them. They just know someone wants to kill them.”

Ana’s lawyer appealed her case to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the first step in the appellate process. This time, her lawyer included arguments about her membership in a particular social group. She lost. In a three-page ruling, one board member said Ana’s lawyer could not introduce a new argument on appeal and agreed with Couch that Ana hadn’t proved a political motive behind the gang members’ attack.

Ana missed the deadline to appeal the BIA decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because her lawyer confused the deadline. She petitioned the BIA through new lawyers to reopen her case and send it back to the immigration court to allow her to present new evidence of her persecution. The new lawyers argued that her previous representation had been ineffective.

In July, the BIA granted Ana the right to a rehearing in immigration court, sending her case back to Charlotte, where it could be heard again by Couch.

Gutierrez can live and work legally in the United States and will ultimately be able to apply for citizenship. The 43-year-old, who worked as a nurse in Honduras, lives in a small one-bedroom apartment with her husband, her two sons – now 15 and 8 – her adult daughter and her grandson. She works as an office janitor and is taking English classes. Her boys are in school. The older one, once threatened by gangs in Honduras, likes studying history and math and is learning to play the cello.

Ana, 31, has had a baby since arriving in the United States and has been granted work authorization while she awaits a final decision on her case. She and her lawyers declined to share more detailed information about her situation because she remains fearful of the gangs in Honduras.

“I am very worried about her,” Gutierrez said. “The situation in our country is getting worse and worse.”

Last February, a 50-year-old woman and her 29-year-old son who were selling food at the school Gutierrez and Ana’s children attended were kidnapped from their home and decapitated, according to police records.

The head of the son was placed on the body of the mother and the head of the mother was placed on the body of the son. The murders, like more than 93 percent of crimes in Honduras, remain unsolved.

Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia and Kristina Cooke

U.S. immigration courts are administrative courts within the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review. Unlike federal court judges, whose authority stems from the U.S. Constitution’s establishment of an independent judicial branch, immigration judges fall under the executive branch and thus are hired, and can be fired, by the attorney general.

More than 300 judges are spread among 58 U.S. immigration courts in 27 states, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. Cases are assigned to an immigration court based on where the immigrant lives. Within each court, cases are assigned to judges on a random, rotational basis.

The courts handle cases to determine whether an individual should be deported. Possible outcomes include asylum; adjustments of status; stay of deportation; and deportation. Decisions can be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, an administrative body within the Department of Justice. From there, cases can be appealed to federal appeals court.

The Federal Bar Association and the National Association of Immigration Judges have endorsed the idea of creating an immigration court system independent of the executive branch. The Government Accountability Office studied some proposals for reform in 2017, without endorsing any particular model.

Reade Levinson

Heavy Odds

By Mica Rosenberg in Oakland, California, and Reade Levinson and Ryan McNeill in New York, with additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco

Data: Reade Levinson and Ryan McNeill

Graphics: Ashlyn Still

Photo editing: Steve McKinley and Barbara Adhiya

Video: Zachary Goelman

Design: Jeff Magness

Edited by Sue Horton, Janet Roberts and John Blanton”

Go to the link at the beginning to get the full benefit of the “interactive” features of this report on Reuters.

Also, here is an interactive presentation on the Trump Administration’s overall immigration policies:

http://www.reuters.com/trump-effect/immigration

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Great reporting by Mica and her team!

Interesting to note that the Arlington Immigration Court, where I sat for 13 years, has one of the most consistent “grant rates” in the country, ranging from approximately 54% to 60% grants. Compare that with the Charlotte Immigration Court at 11% to 28% grants within the same judicial circuit (the Fourth Circuit). Something is seriously wrong here. And, Jeff Sessions has absolutely no intent of solving it except by pushing for 100% denials everywhere! That’s the very definition of a “Kangaroo Court!”

It’s time for an Article I Court. But, not sure it will happen any time soon. Meanwhile Sessions is making a mockery out of justice in the Immigration Courts just as he has in many other parts of the U.S. Justice system.

PWS

10-17-17

 

ASSEMBLY LINE “JUSTICE” IS “INJUSTICE” — U.S. Immigration Judges Are NOT “Piece Workers,” & Fair Court Decisions Are Not “Widgets” That Can Be Quantified For Bogus “Performance Evaluations!” — Are Three Wrong Decisions “Better” Than One Right Decision?

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/10/13/doj-immigration-judges-assembly-line/

Katie Shepherd writes in Immigration Impact:

“The Department of Justice (DOJ) is reportedly intending to implement numerical quotas on Immigration Judges as a way of evaluating their performance. This move would undermine judicial independence, threaten the integrity of the immigration court system, and cause massive due process violations.

As it currently stands, Immigration Judges are not rated based on the number of cases they complete within a certain time frame. The DOJ – currently in settlement negotiations with the union for immigration judges, the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) – is now trying to remove those safeguards, declaring a need to accelerate deportations to reduce the court’s case backlog and ensure more individuals are deported.

This move is unprecedented, as immigration judges have been exempt from performance evaluations tied to case completion rates for over two decades. According to the NAIJ, the basis for the exemption was “rooted in the notion that ratings created an inherent risk of actual or perceived influence by supervisors on the work of judges, with the potential of improperly affecting the outcome of cases.”

If case completion quotas are imposed, Immigration Judges will be pressured to adjudicate cases more quickly, unfairly fast-tracking the deportation of those with valid claims for relief. Asylum seekers may need more time to obtain evidence that will strengthen their case or find an attorney to represent them. Only 37 percent of all immigrants (and merely 14 percent of detained immigrants) are able to secure legal counsel in their removal cases, even though immigrants with attorneys fare much better at every stage of the court process.

If judges feel compelled to dispose of cases quickly decreasing the chances that immigrants will be able to get an attorney, immigrants will pay the price, at incredible risk to their livelihood.

The Justice Department has expressed concern in recent weeks about the enormous backlog of 600,000 cases pending before the immigration courts and may see numerical quotas as an easy fix. Just this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called on Congress to tighten up rules for people seeking to “game” the system by exploiting loopholes in a “broken” and extremely backlogged process. However, punishing immigration judges with mandatory quotas is not the solution.

The announcement, however, has sparked condemnation by immigration judges and attorneys alike; in fact, the national IJ Union maintains that such a move means “trying to turn immigration judges into assembly-line workers.”

Tying the number of cases completed to the evaluation of an individual immigration judge’s performance represents the administration’s latest move to accelerate deportations at the expense of due process. Judges may be forced to violate their duty to be fair and impartial in deciding their cases.”

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The backlog problems in U.S. Immigration Court have nothing to do with “low productivity” by U.S. Immigration Judges.

It’s a result of a fundamentally flawed system created by Congress, years of inattention and ineffective oversight by Congress, political interference by the DOJ with court dockets and scheduling, years of “ADR,” and glaringly incompetent so-called judicial management by DOJ. There are “too many chefs stirring the pot” and too few “real cooks” out there doing the job.

The DOJ’s inappropriate “Vatican style” bureaucracy has produced a bloated and detached central administrative staff trying unsuccessfully to micromanage a minimalist, starving court system in a manner that keeps enforcement-driven politicos happy and, therefore, their jobs intact.

How could a court system set up in this absurd manner possibly “guarantee fairness and due process for all?” It can’t, and has stopped even pretending to be focused on that overriding mission! And what competence would Jeff Sessions (who was turned down for a Federal judgeship by members of his own party because of his record of bias) and administrators at EOIR HQ in Falls Church, who don’t actually handle Immigration Court dockets on a regular basis, have to establish “quotas” for those who do? No, it’s very obvious that the “quotas” will be directed at only one goal: maximizing removals while minimizing due process

When EOIR was established during the Reagan Administration the DOJ recognized that case completion quotas would interfere with judicial independence. What’s changed in the intervening 34 years?

Two things have changed: 1) the overtly political climate within the DOJ which now sees the Immigration Courts as part of the immigration enforcement apparatus (as it was before EOIR was created); and 2) the huge backlogs resulting from years of ADR, “inbreeding,” and incompetent management by the DOJ. This, in turn, requires the DOJ to find “scapegoats” like Immigration Judges, asylum applicants, unaccompanied children, and private attorneys to shift the blame for their own inappropriate behavior and incompetent administration of the Immigration Courts.

In U.S. Government parlance, there’s a term for that:  fraud, waste, and abuse!

PWS

10-17-17

NICKOLE MILLER IN THE WASHPOST: The Truth About Vulnerable Asylum Seekers Refutes Sessions’s False Narrative!

Safari – Oct 16, 2017 at 10:17 AM

Inaccurate claims from Mr. Sessions

The Oct. 13 news article “Citing ‘rampant abuse and fraud,’ Sessions urges tighter asylum rules” quoted Attorney General Jeff Sessions as saying that many asylum claims “lacked merit” and are “simply a ruse to enter the country illegally.” As one of the “dirty immigration lawyers” who has represented hundreds of asylum seekers, I find these claims wildly inaccurate and dangerous. When I ask my clients, the majority of them children, why they came to the came to the United States, they invariably tell me the same thing: I had no choice — I was running for my
life. Indeed, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 58 per cent of Northern Triangle and Mexican children displaced in the United States suffered or faced harms that indicated need for international protection. These children are not gaming the system; they are seeking refuge from rampant gender based violence, MS-13 death threats and child abuse.
While I like to think I am a “smart” attorney, even immigrants represented by the smartest attorneys do not stand a chance in places such as Atlanta, where the asylum grant rate is as low as 2 per cent. Yes, reform is needed, but the only reform we should consider is one that provides more robust protections and recognizes our moral and legal obligation to protect asylum seekers.

Nickole Miller, Baltimore The writer is a lawyer with the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

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Nickole speaks truth.  Almost all of the “credible fear” reviews involving folks from the Northern Triangle that I performed as a U.S. Immigration Judge, both at the border and in Arlington, presented plausible claims for at least protection under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”) if the rules were properly applied (which they often are not in Immigration Court — there is a strong bias against granting even the minimal protection that CAT provides). Many also had plausible gender-based, religious, or political asylum claims if they were allowed to gather the necessary evidence.

Whether ultimately successful or not, these individuals were clearly entitled to their day in court, to be listened to by an unbiased judicial decision maker, to have the reasons for the decision to accept or reject them carefully explained in language they can understand, and to have a right to appeal to a higher authority.

Of course, without a lawyer and some knowledge of the complicated CAT regulations and administrative and Federal Court case-law, a CAT applicant would have about “0 chance” of success. The same is true of asylum which requires proof not only of the possibility of future harm, but also proof of causal relationship to a “protected ground” an arcane concept which most unfamiliar with asylum law cannot grasp.

In other words, our system sends back individuals who have established legitimate fears of death, rape, or torture, just because they fail to show that it is “on account” of race, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. These concepts are often applied, particularly in Immigration Court where respondents are unrepresented, in the manner “most unfavorable” to the claimant.  This is in direct violation of the U.N. guidance which holds that credible asylum seekers should be given “the benefit of the doubt.”

Moreover, assuming that we have the “right” to send good folks, who have done no wrong, back to be harmed in the Northern Triangle, that doesn’t mean that we should be doing so as either a legal or moral matter. That’s what devices like Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”), Deferred Enforced Departure (“DED”), and just “plain old Prosecutorial Discretion (“PD”) are for: to save lives and maintain the status quo while deferring the more difficult decisions on permanent protection until later. Obviously, this would also allow  at least minimal protections to be granted by DHS outside the Immigration Court system, thus relieving the courts of thousands of cases, but without endangering lives, legal rights, or due process.

I agree with Nickole that the “asylum reform” needed is exactly the opposite of that being proposed by restrictionist opportunists like Trump and Sessions. The first step would be insuring that individuals seeking protections in Immigration Court have a right to a hearing before a real, impartial judicial official who will apply the law fairly and impartially, and who does not work for the Executive Branch and therefore is more likely to be free from the type of anti-asylum and anti-migrant bias overtly demonstrated by Sessions and other enforcement officials. 

PWS

10-16-17

GONZO’S “KANGAROO COURT PLAN” MOCKS CONSTITUTION – “Performance Metrics For Judges” Are Thinly Disguised “Deportation Quotas” for “Assembly Line Injustice” — Last Pretense Of “Fair & Impartial Adjudication” About To Disappear!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration/immigration-judges-say-proposed-quotas-from-justice-dept-threaten-independence/2017/10/12/3ed86992-aee1-11e7-be94-fabb0f1e9ffb_story.html?utm_term=.bcee5ec17f24

Maria Sacchetti reports for the Washington Post:

“The Trump administration is taking steps to impose “numeric performance standards” on federal immigration judges, drawing a sharp rebuke from judges who say production quotas or similar measures will threaten judicial independence, as well as their ability to decide life-or-death deportation cases.

The White House says it aims to reduce an “enormous” backlog of 600,000 cases, triple the number in 2009, that cripples its ability to deport immigrants as President Trump mandated in January.

The National Association of Immigration Judges called the move unprecedented and says it will be the “death knell for judicial independence” in courts where immigrants such as political dissidents, women fleeing violence and children plead their cases to stay in the United States.

“That is a huge, huge, huge encroachment on judicial independence,” said Dana Leigh Marks, spokeswoman and former president of the association and a judge for more than 30 years. “It’s trying to turn immigration judges into assembly-line workers.”

The White House tucked its proposal — a six-word statement saying it wants to “establish performance metrics for immigration judges” — into a broader package of immigration reforms it rolled out Sunday night.

But other documents obtained by The Washington Post show that the Justice Department “intends to implement numeric performance standards to evaluate Judge performance.”

The Justice Department, which runs the courts through the Executive Office for Immigration Review, declined to comment or otherwise provide details about the numeric standards.

The Justice Department has expressed concern about the backlog and discouraged judges from letting cases drag on too long, though it has insisted that they decide the cases fairly and follow due process. On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed concern that false asylum cases are clogging up the courts.

The judges’ union says its current contract language prevents the government from rating them based on the number of cases they complete or the time it takes to decide them.

But now, they say, the department is trying to rescind that language, and advocates say it could violate a federal regulation that requires judges to “exercise their independent judgment and discretion” when deciding cases.

Advocates and immigration lawyers say imposing numerical expectations on judges unfairly faults them for the massive backlog. Successive administrations have expanded immigration enforcement without giving the courts enough money or judges to decide cases in a timely way, they say. An average case for a non-detained immigrant can drag on for more than two years, though some last much longer.

“Immigration judges should have one goal and that goal should be the fair adjudication of cases,” said Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center, a nonprofit that provides legal services and advocacy to immigrants nationwide. “That’s the only metric that should count.”

Immigration lawyers say the proposed standards risk adding to disadvantages immigrants already face in immigration courts. Most defendants do not speak English as their first language if at all, are not entitled to lawyers at the government’s expense, and thousands end up trying to defend themselves.

Often immigrants are jailed and given hearings in remote locations, such as rural Georgia or Upstate New York, which makes it difficult to gather records and witnesses needed to bring a case.

“People’s lives are at risk in immigration court cases, and to force judges to complete cases under a rapid time frame is going to undermine the ability of those judges to make careful, well thought-out decisions,” said Gregory Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which has 15,000 members.

Traditional federal judges are not subject to quotas.

The rare public dispute between the immigration judges and the Justice Department comes as the Trump administration is demanding a commitment to increased enforcement and other immigration restrictions in exchange for legal status for 690,000 young undocumented immigrants who, until recently, were protected from deportation under an Obama-era program. Sessions announced the end of the program last month, and the young immigrants will start to lose their work permits and other protections in March.

In January, Trump issued a slate of executive orders that sought to crack down on immigration. He revoked President Barack Obama’s limits on enforcement and effectively exposed all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States to arrest.

On Sunday, Trump also called for more immigration-enforcement lawyers and more detention beds, which would further increase the caseloads of the courts.

He is also planning to seek congressional funding for an additional 370 immigration judges, which would more than double the current number.

Immigration arrests are up more than 40 percent since Trump took office, and deportation orders are also rising. From Feb. 1 to August 31, judges have issued 88,383 rulings, and in the majority of cases — 69,160 — immigrants were deported or ordered to voluntarily leave the country, a 36 percent increase over the corresponding period in 2016.

The immigration courts have clamored for greater independence from the Justice Department for years and also have sought greater control over their budget. They have long complained about a lack of funding, burnout rates that rival that of prison wardens, and caseloads exceeding 2,000 each. Some judges are scheduling cases into 2022.

On Sunday, Sessions — who appoints the immigration judges and is the court’s highest authority — called the White House’s broad immigration proposals “reasonable.”

“If followed, it will produce an immigration system with integrity and one in which we can take pride,” he said.”

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Will the stunningly xenophobic “Gonzo Apocalypto” get away with his lawless plan to strip migrants of the last vestiges of their already restricted Constitutional rights to due process? Or, will the Article III Courts step in, assert themselves, insist on due process and fair and impartial adjudication in Immigration Court, and throw the already staggering Immigration Court System into complete collapse, thereby stopping the “Removal Railway?”

The showdown is coming. I think the eventual outcome is “too close to call.”  So far, Sessions is well on his way to co-opting the Immigration Court as just another “whistle stop on the Removal Railway!”

The current backlog has multiple causes: 1) failure of Congress and the DOJ to properly fund and staff the U.S. Immigration Courts; 2) poor enforcement strategies by DHS resulting in too many “low priority” cases on the dockets; 3) often politicized, always changing, sometimes conflicting “case priorities and goals” established by DOJ and EOIR; 4) lack of authority for Immigration Judges to control their own dockets; 5) outdated technology resulting in a “paper heavy” system where documents are often misfiled or missing from the record when needed by the Judges;  and 6) “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” caused by moving cases around to fit DHS Enforcement priorities and ill-conceived and poorly planned details of Immigration Judges away from their normal dockets. “Productivity,” which consistently far exceeds the “optimal” 500 completions per Judge annually (currently approximately 770 per Judge) is not one of the primary factors causing the backlog.

Overall, the current backlog is the product of mismanagement of the Immigration Courts by the DOJ spanning multiple Administrations. No wonder the politos at the Sessions DOJ are trying to shift blame to the Immigration Judges, hapless migrants struggling to achieve justice in an “intentionally user unfriendly system,” and stressed out private attorneys, many serving pro bono or for minimal compensation. How would YOU like to be a migrant fighting for your life in a so-called “court system” beholden to Jeff Sessions?

We’re starting to look pretty “Third World.” Sessions and the rest of the “Trump Gang” operate much like corrupt Government officials in “Third World” countries where the rulers control the courts, manipulation of the justice system for political ends is SOP, and claims to aspire to “fairness” ring hollow.

PWS

10-13-17

 

GONZO DELIVERS LARGELY FACT-FREE ATTACK ON VULNERABLE ASYLUM SEEKERS! — USES NONEXISTENT “ASYLUM FRAUD CRISIS” TO COVER UP DOJ POLITICAL INTERFERENCE WITH IMMIGRATION COURTS CAUSING LARGER BACKLOGS & UNDERMINING CONSTITUTIONAL DUE PROCESS FOR MIGRANTS!

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/10/12/attorney-general-sessions-attacks-asylum-deportations/

Joshua Briesblatt reports for Immigration Impact:

“During a public appearance at the Department of Justice on Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called on Congress to curb due process for immigrants by making it more difficult for an individual to seek asylum and to increase fast-track deportations.

In his speech, Sessions focused heavily on America’s long-standing system that provides asylum to those seeking safety and protection, claiming it is “subject to rampant abuse and fraud.” He argued that increased claims of “credible fear”—where an individual apprehended at the border expresses fear of persecution if returned to their home country—are an indicator of asylum seekers abusing loopholes in the immigration system.

The fact is that the uptick in protection claims has corresponded with the dramatic increase in violence in Central America during that same period. In particular, in the spring and summer of 2014, when many thousands of women and unaccompanied children from Central America journeyed to the United States seeking asylum, they were fleeing unprecedented violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, then the murder capital of the world.

Thursday’s call for cracking down on children and asylum seekers at the border is illogical given the dramatic drop in border crossings this past year, which Sessions himself admitted at the beginning of his speech.

The Attorney General also focused his attention on the growing backlog of immigration court cases and called for an expansion of expedited removal, initially proposed in President Trump’s January immigration executive orders. Expedited removal is a process by which immigration officers can quickly deport certain noncitizens who are undocumented without bringing them before an immigration judge.

This rapid process, which is currently only applied to individuals apprehended within two weeks of arrival and 100 miles of the Canadian or Mexican border, increases the possibility that people are being erroneously deported from the United States, potentially to imminent harm or death. Expansion of this process would further curtail due process by preventing more individuals from having their day in immigration court.

Since many, but not all, of these changes require legislative action, Sessions urged Congress to pass laws in order to effectuate these changes. Many of these ideas came directly from the White House “principles” released last week.

Thursday’s attack on children and asylum seekers, coupled with calls to curtail due process for those seeking protection, struck a new low. Sessions’ speech was just more of the same from an administration that has continuously shown it is determined to make America a less welcoming nation.“

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In his speech to the EOIR — obviously intended to impede the fair and impartial adjudication of asylum claims by judges who work for him by instilling bias against asylum seekers — Sessions cited a 2015 GAO Report on Asylum Fraud. That report did not cite any increase in Southern Border asylum fraud by individuals fleeing the Northern Triangle of Central America.  The anecdotal incidents noted in the report related to Chinese asylum fraud. That fraud was actually detected and successfully prosecuted by DHS.

Additionally, the GAO Report not recommend any changes in the procedures for adjudicatiing asylum claims in Immigration Court. It did recommend improvements in fraud detection techniques by DHS and EOIR.

To my knowledge, Sessions has never adjudicated any asylum claim. I’ve adjudicated lots of Central American asylum claims. Almost all of them involved individuals with credible evidence that they would face harm upon return. Some were able to fit that harm within the protection laws, and others were turned down, many because our laws have been skewed against granting protection to Central Americans. But few, if any, involved apparent fraud.

Gonzo attacked individuals who are merely seeking fair and impartial due process and decent humane  treatment (not unjustified detention) with respect to their claims for protection under U.S. and international law. I agree with Bliesblatt that Gonzo “struck a new low” in a career filled with “cheap shots” on the most vulnerable among us.

PWS

10-12-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AMERICA’S KANGAROO COURT SYSTEM: EOIR HELPING DHS COME UP WITH WAYS TO DUMP ON UNACCOMPANIED KIDS! — THE “THE FACADE OF JUSTICE AT JUSTICE” CONTINUES WHILE CONGRESS AND ARTICLE III COURTS ABDICATE RESPONSIBILITY FOR A SYSTEM THAT MOCKS DUE PROCESS AND THE CONSTITUTION! — CNN’S Tal Kopan With The Scoop!

http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/11/politics/trump-administration-dhs-immigration-policies/index.html

Tal reports:

“Washington (CNN)Even as the Trump administration is asking Congress to approve a tough overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, the Department of Homeland Security is also quietly exploring ways it could transform the US immigration system on its own.

The department has been examining a range of subtle modifications to immigration policies that could have major consequences, including limiting protections for unaccompanied minors who come to the US illegally, expanding the use of speedy deportation proceedings, and tightening visa programs in ways that could limit legal immigration to the US, according to multiple sources familiar with the plans.
None of the policies being explored are finalized, according to the sources, and are in various stages of development. Any of them could change or fall by the wayside. Some of them are also included at least in part in the wish list of immigration priorities that President Donald Trump sent to Congress this week, and it’s unclear whether the administration will wait to see the results of negotiations over the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that President Donald Trump has chosen to end.

Still, the proposals under consideration illustrate the extent to which the administration could attempt to dramatically change immigration in the US through unilateral executive action.
“Do you think Obama did a lot? That’s my answer,” said one former DHS official when asked how transformative the change could be. “They could do quite a bit.”
DACA itself was an example of how former President Barack Obama, frustrated with congressional inaction, sought to use executive authority to take action on immigration, putting in place the program to protect young undocumented immigrations brought to the US as children from deportation in 2012.
But the administration is now exploring rolling back more Obama-era policies, and changing even older systems.
DHS did not respond to a request for comment about the policies being explored or its process.
Targeting protections for unaccompanied minors
One effort underway is exploring what can be done about unaccompanied children (UACs), a category of undocumented immigrants who are caught illegally crossing the border into the US, are under age 18, and are not accompanied or met by a parent or guardian in the US. Those UACs, by law and legal settlement, are handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services for settling in the US, given protections from expedited removal proceedings and given special opportunities to pursue asylum cases in the US.
DHS and the Department of Justice have been exploring options to tighten the protections for UACs, including no longer considering them UACs if they’re reunited with parents or guardians in the US by HHS or once they turn 18.

In a previously unreported memo, obtained by CNN, the general counsel of the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which manages the nation’s immigration courts, wrote in a legal opinion that the administration would be able to decide a UAC was no longer eligible for protections — a sea change in the way the 2008 law granting those protections has been interpreted.
The Trump administration has portrayed the UAC protections as a loophole in the law that can be exploited by gangs, though experts have testified before Congress that the minors under the program are more likely to be victimized by gangs in the US due to a lack of a support network than to be gang members. The administration also has sought to crack down on parents who pay smugglers to bring their children into the US illegally, even to escape dangerous situations in Central America.
The White House also asked Congress to amend the 2008 law to restrict UAC protections.
In previously unreported comments made last month at a security conference in Washington, acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tom Homan said that ICE is actively looking at the adults HHS places UACs with, and if they are in the US illegally, they will be processed for deportation — and if a smuggler was paid, they could be prosecuted for human trafficking.
DOJ touts effects of surge of immigration judges sent to border
DOJ touts effects of surge of immigration judges sent to border
“You cannot hide in the shadows, you can’t be an illegal alien in the United States, have your undocumented child smuggled at the hands of a criminal organization, and stay in the shadows,” Homan said. “We’re going to put the parents in proceedings, immigration proceedings, at a minimum. … Is that cruel? I don’t think so. Because if that child is really escaping fear and persecution, he’s going to stand in front of an immigration judge to plead his case, his parents should be standing shoulder to shoulder with him. I call that parenting.”
DHS is also continuing to weigh its options to expand the use of expedited removal more generally — a speedier process of deportation that bypasses a lengthy court process in particular cases — as authorized by Trump’s January executive order on immigration.
Legal immigration tightening
Other efforts in the works include ways to tighten legal avenues to come to the US.
Two policies being looked at are the subject of litigation in the DC Circuit court — work authorizations for spouses of high-skilled visa holders and an expansion of a program that allows STEM students to stay in the US an extra two years for training.
Both policies were challenged in the courts, and now the administration is considering whether to roll them back.
On the spousal authorizations, DHS told the court as much in a filing last month, asking for extra time for the DHS review to finish.
That filing points to a DHS review of “all” of the agency’s immigration policies, citing the President’s Executive Order to “buy American and hire American.”
“Executive Order 13,788 is an intervening event necessitating careful, considered review of all of DHS’s immigration policies to ensure that the interests of US workers are being protected,” the attorneys wrote, citing the order’s instructions to create new rules, if necessary, “to protect the interests of United States workers in the administration of our immigration system.”
Trump admin quietly made asylum more difficult in the US
Trump admin quietly made asylum more difficult in the US
DHS has also moved to tighten asylum claim credibility thresholds, and is exploring asking Congress for more authority to do so. Another target is reportedly cultural exchange visas, which according to The Wall Street Journal are also under scrutiny after the “hire American” order.
Further unilateral moves wouldn’t even require policy changes, immigration attorneys fear. Attorneys who represent immigration clients fear that simply by slowing down the visa process, DHS could substantially decrease the number of immigrants admitted to the United States. US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced this summer it would begin requiring interviews for all green card applicants on employment and refugee grounds, and that it would roll out required interviews for other categories over time, adding a substantial and potentially lengthy hurdle to achieving legal permanent residency.
“If the wait time for naturalizations increases by three months, USCIS can naturalize 25% fewer people per year, which would mean millions of people over a four-year period,” said Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney and former Obama administration DOJ official. “Even without a policy change, the administration (can accomplish) dramatic reductions to legal immigration through increases in processing times and taking a hawkish approach to finding reasons for denials of immigration applications.”
DHS pointed CNN to statistics showing no increase in the rate of denials of immigration applications, though the backlog of pending applications has grown steadily over the past two years.
Internal jockeying
One-quarter of DACA renewals not in on deadline day
One-quarter of DACA renewals not in on deadline day
Sources familiar with the inner workings of DHS describe an environment where political appointees and policy staff with strongly held opinions circulate ideas that sometimes reach the press before front office and secretarial staff are even aware of the discussions.
While political appointees and career officials are not described as butting heads, some of policy ideas do end up moderated by career employees on practical grounds. One source also described some employees of USCIS, which administers DACA, as getting emotional when the plan was made to end the program.
“Once it gets to a senior level, there are pretty robust discussions,” another source familiar said. “And once it gets to that level there are folks with ideas, and then folks who have been around for a while who say, ‘That won’t work.'”
Those competing ideas are then ultimately decided on by the secretary and high-level decision makers, though sources say political appointees are sometimes in a position to have influence over what information flows to the front office and top officials.
“The secretary and the decision makers end up with that (dynamic),” the source said.”

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Immigration “Courts” run and controlled by Political Enforcement Officials and actively engaged in looking for ways to diminish the rights of individuals coming before them are not “real courts” and are not capable for delivering fair, unbiased, and impartial justice in accordance with the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. This kangaroo court system, operating under false premises, is unconstitutional (in addition to be incompetently administered)! 

Will the Article III Courts ever do their duty, put this corrupt and unlawful system out of its misery, and restore at least some semblance of due process and justice for immigrants? Or, will they “go along to get along” and thus make themselves part of one of the most shameful charades of justice In American Legal History?

HON. JEFFREY S. CHASE: Alimbaev v. Att’y Gen (3rd Cir.) Shows How BIA Is Willing To Overlook Rules To Avoid Political Threat to Existence — No Wonder Due Process Is No Longer The Vision Or Goal Of The Immigraton Courts! — Read My Latest “Mini-Essay:” TIME TO END THE “CHARADE OF QUASI-JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE” AT THE BIA (With Credit to Peter Levinson)

https://www.jeffreyschase.com/blog/2017/10/5/3d-cir-rebukes-bia-for-troubling-erroneous-overreach

Here’s Jeffrey’s Blog:

“Oct 5 3d Cir. Rebukes BIA for Troubling, Erroneous Overreach

Alimbaev v. Att’y Gen. of U.S., No. 16-4313 (3d Cir. Sept. 25, 2017) opens with unusual language: “This disconcerting case, before our court for the second time, has a lengthy procedural history marked by confiict between the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and the Immigration Judge (IJ)…” The court observed that the case involved “troubling allegations that the Petitioner…relished watching terroristic videos, while apparently harboring anti-American sympathies.” But the court noted that the question before it was whether the BIA applied the correct legal standard for reviewing the IJ’s factual findings, which the court found necessary for “preserving the rule of law, safeguarding the impartiality of our adjudicatory processes, and ensuring that fairness and objectivity are not usurped by emotion, regardless of the nature of the allegations.”

There is some history behind the correct legal standard mentioned by the circuit court. Prior to 2002, the BIA could review factual findings de novo, meaning it could substitute its own judgment as to whether the respondent was truthful or not for that of the immigration judge. In 2002, then attorney general John Ashcroft enacted procedural reforms which limited the scope of the Board’s review of factual findings to “clear error.” The new review standard meant that even if the Board strongly disagreed with the immigration judge’s fact finding, it could only reverse if it was left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake had been made. The stated reason for the change was that the overwhelming majority of immigration decisions were correct. The actual motive for the change was more likely that the Board was seen as too liberal by Ashcroft; the new standard would therefore make it more difficult for the Board to reverse deportation orders based on the immigration judges’ finding that the respondent lacked credibility.

The following year, Ashcroft purged the Board of all of its more liberal members. The resulting conservative lean has not been offset by subsequent appointments, in spite of the fact that several of those appointments were made under the Obama administration. The Board regularly uses boilerplate language to affirm adverse credibility findings on the grounds that they do not meet the “clearly erroneous” standard. Furthermore, 2005 legislation provided immigration judges with a broader range of bases for credibility determinations, which again made it more difficult for the Board and the circuit courts to reverse on credibility grounds.

The provisions safeguarding an IJ’s credibility finding should apply equally to cases in which relief was granted, making it difficult for a conservative panel of the Board to reverse a grant of relief where the IJ found the respondent credible. Alimbaev was decided by an outstanding immigration judge, who rendered a fair, detailed, thoughtfully considered decision. Factoring in the REAL ID Act standards and the limited scope of review allowed, the Board should have affirmed the IJ’s decision, even if its members would have reached a different factual finding themselves. Instead, the Board panel ignored all of the above to wrongly reverse the IJ not once but three times.

The immigration judge heard the case twice, granting the respondent’s applications for relief each time. In his second decision, the IJ found the respondent’s testimony to be “candid, internally consistent, generally believable, and sufficiently detailed.” In reversing, the BIA turned to nitpicking, citing two small inconsistencies that the Third Circuit termed so “insignificant…that they would probably not, standing alone, justify an IJ making a general adverse credibility finding, much less justify the BIA in rejecting a positive credibility finding under a clear error standard.” The Court therefore concluded that the BIA substituted its own view for the permissible view of the IJ, which is exactly what the “clear error” standard of review is meant to prevent.

The Board cited two other dubious reasons for reversing. One, which the circuit court described as “also troubling,” involved a false insinuation by the Board that a computer containing evidence corroborating the claim that the respondent had viewed “terrorist activity” was found in his residence. In fact, the evidence established that the computer in question was not the respondents, but one located in a communal area of an apartment in which the respondent lived; according to the record, the respondent used the communal computer only on occasion to watch the news. In a footnote, the court noted that none of the videos found on the communal computer were training materials; several originated from the recognized news source Al Jazeera, and “that on the whole, the computer did not produce any direct or causal link suggesting that [they] espoused violence, such as email messages of a questionable nature.” The circuit court therefore remanded the record back to the BIA, with clear instructions to reconsider the discretionary factors “with due deference to the IJ’s factfinding before weighing the various positive and negative factors…”

The question remains as to why the BIA got this so wrong. One possibility is that as the case involved allegations that the respondent might have harbored terrorist sympathies, the Board members let emotion and prejudice take over (apparently three separate times, over a period of several years). If that’s the case, it demonstrates that 15 years after the Ashcroft purge, the one-sided composition of the Board’s members (with no more liberal viewpoints to provide balance) has resulted in a lack of objectivity and impartiality in its decision making. Unfortunately, the appointment of more diverse Board members seems extremely unlikely to happen under the present administration.

But I believe there is another possibility as well. 15 years later, the Board remains very cognizant of the purge and its causes. It is plausible that the Board made a determination that as a matter of self-preservation, it is preferable to be legally wrong than to be perceived as being “soft on terrorism.” If that is the case, there is no stronger argument of the need for an independent immigration court that would not be subject to the type of political pressures that would impact impartiality and fairness.

It also bears mention that unlike the Board, the immigration judge in this case faced the same pressures, yet did not let them prevent him from issuing an impartial, fair, and ultimately correct decision (in spite of having his first decision vacated and remanded by the Board). Unlike the BIA, whose members review decisions that have been drafted for them in a suburban office tower, immigration judges are on the front lines, addressing crippling case loads, being sent on short notice to remote border locations, and dealing with DHS attorneys who now, on orders from Washington, cannot exercise prosecutorial discretion, must raise unnecessary objections, reserve appeal on grants of relief, and oppose termination in deserving cases. Yet many of these judges continue to issue their decisions with impartiality and fairness. Their higher-ups in the Department of Justice should learn from their performance the true meaning of the “rule of law.”

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

Reprinted With Permisison

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Here’s a link to my previously-published analysis of Alimbaev: http://wp.me/p8eeJm-1tX

 

TIME TO END THE “CHARADE OF QUASI-JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE” AT THE BIA (With Credit to Peter Levinson)

By Paul Wickham Schmidt

United States Immigration Judge (Retired)

The “grand experiment” of trying to have the BIA operate as an independent appellate court along the lines of a U.S. Court of Appeals ended with the advent of the Bush II Administration in 2001 and Ashcroft’s not too subtle suggestion that he wanted me out as BIA Chairman (presumably, the ”implied threat” was to transfer me to an SES “Hallwalker” position elsewhere in the DOJ if I didn’t cooperate. I cooperated and became a Board Member until he bounced me out of that job in 2003).

Since then, and particularly since the “final purge” in 2003, the BIA has operated as a “captive court” exhibiting a keen awareness of the “political climate” at the DOJ. Don’t rock the boat, avoid dissent, don’t focus too much on fairness or due process for immigrants, particularly if it might cause controversy, interfere with Administration Enforcement programs, or show up in a published precedent.

I agree with everything Jeffrey says. It’s totally demoralizing for U.S. Immigration Judges who are willing to “do the right thing” and stand up for due process and fairness for respondents when the BIA comes back with a disingenuous reversal, sometimes using canned language that doesn’t even have much to do with the actual case.

You should have seen the reaction of some of our former Judicial Law Clerks in Arlington (a bright bunch, without exception, who hadn’t been steeped in the “EOIR mystique”) when a specious reversal of an asylum, withholding, or CAT grant came back from the BIA, often “blowing away” a meticulously detailed well-analyzed written grant with shallow platitudes. One of them told me that once you figured out what panel it had gone to, you could pretty much predict the result. It had more to do with the personal philosophies of the Appellate Judges than it did with the law or due process or even the actual facts of the case. And, of course, nobody was left on the BIA to dissent.

And, as I have pointed out before, both the Bush and Obama Administrations went to great lengths to insure that no “boat rockers,” “independent thinkers” or “outside experts” were appointed to appellate judgeships at the BIA for the past 17 years. Just another obvious reason why the promise of impartiality, fairness, and due process from the U.S. Immigration Courts has been abandoned and replaced with a “mission oriented” emphasis on fulfilling Administration Enforcement objectives. In other words, insuring that a party in interest, the DHS, won’t have its credibility or policies unduly hampered by a truly independent Board and that the Office of Immigration Litigation will get the positions that it wants to defend in the Circuit Courts.

When is the last time you saw the BIA prefer the respondent’s interpretation to the DHS’s in interpreting an allegedly “ambiguous” statutory provision under the Chevron doctrine? Even in cases where the respondent invokes “heavy duty assistance” on its side, like for example the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in an asylum case, the BIA basically “blows them off” without meaningful consideration and finds the DHS position to be the “most reasonable.” For one of the most egregious examples in modern BIA history, see the insulting “short shrift” that the BIA gave to the well-articulated views of the UNHCR (who also had some Circuit Court law on its side) in Matter of  M-E-V-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 207, 248-49 (BIA 2014) (“We believe that our interpretation in Matter of S-E-G- and Matter of E-A-G-, as clarified, more accurately captures the concepts underlying the United States’ obligations under the Protocol and will ensure greater consistency in the interpretation of asylum claims under the Act.”)

The whole Chevron/Brand X concept is a joke, particularly as applied to the BIA. It’s high time for the Supremes to abandon it (something in which Justice Gorsuch showed some interest when he was on the 10th Circuit). If we’re going to have a politicized interpretation, better have it be from life-tenured, Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed Article III Judges, who notwithstanding politics actually possess decisional independence, than from an administrative judge who is an employee of the Attorney General (as the DOJ always likes to remind Immigration Judges).

It’s also a powerful argument why the current “expensive charade” of an independent Immigration Court needs to be replaced by a truly independent Article I Court. Until that happens, the Article III Courts will be faced with more and more “life or death” decisions based on the prevailing political winds and institutional preservation rather than on Due Process and the rule of law.

PWS

10-05-17

BREAKING: TAL KOPAN AT CNN: REBUTTAL — DOJ/EOIR CLAIM (WITHOUT MANY SPECIFICS) THAT “SURGE’ OF DETAILED JUDGES TO S. BORDER INCREASED OVERALL PRODUCTIVITY BY 2,700!

http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/04/politics/immigration-courts-judges/index.html

Tal reports:

“Washington (CNN)Sending immigration judges to the border has resulted in thousands of more cases being handled, the Justice Department announced Wednesday, though a substantial backlog in the immigration courts remain.

The Justice Department released new statistics on Wednesday touting the effects of reassigning more than 100 immigration judges to the southern border, saying it has resulted in 2,700 more cases being completed than would have otherwise.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which manages the Justice Department’s immigration court system, estimated that the judges moved to the border completed significantly more cases than if they had remained at home, and completed 21% more cases than judges historically assigned to those areas as their home courts.
Still, the 2,700-case-increase remains a drop in the bucket compared to the backlog in the immigration courts, which are separate from the broader criminal justice and civil law system and have different rules.
According to data from Syracuse University’s TRAC system, the authority for tracking the backlog, there were more than 630,000 cases pending for fiscal year 2017 through the end of August, with more than 100,000 each in Texas and California.
The backlog of pending cases is a major contributor to issues with immigration enforcement and illegal immigration. When undocumented immigrants are caught and processed to have their cases adjudicated, they can receive court dates years in the future. Unable for legal and resource reasons to detain people indefinitely, the government paroles many of those individuals until their court dates, leaving them to establish lives in the US for years before potentially being ordered to be deported.
DOJ released the statistics on the heels of an investigation by Politico Magazine that found some reassigned judges with unfilled dockets and little to do. Citing internal DOJ documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request as well as judge interviews, Politico Magazine reported underworked judges and 22,000 postponed cases in their home courts.
Wednesday’s announcement seemed to rebut that report, citing progress the Justice Department had seen made.
“EOIR is pleased with the results of the surge of immigration judges to detention facilities and the potential impact it has on the pending caseload nationwide,” said acting Director James McHenry in a statement. “The Justice Department will continue to identify ways in which it can further improve immigration judge productivity without compromising due process.”
President Donald Trump’s executive orders have called for dealing with the bottlenecked immigration courts, including by reassigning judges and hiring more judges and attorneys. His administration is also looking at whether technology, such as video conferencing, can help.”
 ***********************************************************
Without actually seeing the raw data, which apparently has not yet been released to the public, it’s hard to assess the accuracy of the DOJ/EOIR “victory dance.” So far, all of these “improvements” do not seem to have resulted in a decrease in overall Immigration Court backlogs. And, the “technology'” of video conferencing, cited by Director McHenry,  is hardly “new” even at EOIR. For example, the Arlington Immigration Court has been doing all detained cases by televideo since approximately 2004. So, it’s difficult to see how “televideo technology” is going to make a material dent in the administrative problems facing the Immigration Courts. But, we’ll see. If nothing else, seems that the reports on ADR and details “got the attention” of the folks at DOJ and Falls Church.
And, even assuming that these stats eventually support EOIR’s claim, it still neither explains nor justifies detailing Immigration Judges to locations where they were not fully occupied at a time when the backlog was building.
Stay tuned!
PWS
10–04-17

 

NBC4 NY: FRAUD, WASTE, & ABUSE AT USDOJ — “ADR” EXPOSED! — TRUMP ADMINISTRATION KNOWINGLY RAN UP U.S. IMMIGRATION COURT BACKLOGS WITH UNNEEDED REASSIGNMENT OF IMMIGRATION JUDGES TO S. BORDER — DOJ Politicos Caused 276% Jump In NY Court Adjournments! — Then, DOJ Tried To Cast False Blame On Immigration Attorneys, Judges, & Obama Administration For Wasteful Adjournments That Sessions’s Politicos Had ORDERED — More Of My Interview With NBC Investigative Reporter Jodie Fleischer As Nationwide Expose Widens! — Stop The Abuse Of Due Process & Public Purse For Political Ends! — America Needs An Independent U.S. Immigration Court NOW!

Here’s the TV clip:

http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Immigration-Court-New-York-Judge-Investigation-448498463.html

Here’s the story:

As part of a joint six-month investigation, NBC-owned television stations across the country interviewed retired and current immigration judges, some of whom said the backlog is threatening to overwhelm the court

By Chris Glorioso, Dave Manney, Erica Jorgensen and Evan Stulberger

Documents from the Trump administration show the president’s plan to ship more immigration judges for temporary assignments in border states is encountering a fundamental problem: there isn’t enough work for all the new judges to do.
According to an assessment of “Surge Hearing Locations,” dated April 4, 2017, the Department of Justice found six of the 17 immigration courts receiving transferred judges could not give those judges enough work to support a full docket.
INVESTIGATIVE’Phantom’ Judges Cause Confusion in NYC Immigration Court
In the assessment and supporting documents, DOJ staffers wrote about an immigration court in Karnes, Texas, where there was “concern regarding the lack of filings to sustain details from other courts”

Immigration: Crisis in the Courts
An overview on how immigration judges are struggling with a punishing backlog that in many cities is pushing cases far into the future, slowing deportations and leaving families in limbo.

The same assessment says another court in Texas’s Prairieland Detention Center “is not receiving enough cases to truly fill a docket or even come close to it.”
At the court inside Texas’s Dilly Family Residential Center, DOJ staffers wrote “the one judge detailed there is not occupied.”

At New Mexico’s Cibola County Detention Center, DOJ staffers found the caseload “has not been sufficient to keep the two immigration judges assigned to this docket occupied.”

Staffers also noted two empty courtrooms at New Mexico’s Otero immigration facility — and concluded there were “insufficient caseloads for further deployments.”

Scheduling records show the Justice Department repeatedly assigned five transferred judges to the immigration court in Louisiana’s LaSalle Detention Facility, even though an assessment of the court found “at this time there is not enough work for five judges. There is enough work for a reasonable docket and three judges.”

The report went on to conclude that inefficient transferring of detainees often means “there is very little work for a detailed judge to complete.”

In most cases, the transferred judges spend two weeks to a month hearing cases in out-of-state court.

The Department of Justice declined to comment for this story, but in response to a previous inquiry by Politico, an agency spokesman said “After the initial deployment, an assessment was done to determine appropriate locations to increase the adjudication of immigration court cases without compromising due process.”

While transferred judges may have had light workloads when they arrived in some of the border state courts, there is evidence the dockets they left behind suffered in their home courts.

A joint analysis by the News 4 I-Team and Telemundo 47 Investiga found case adjournments in New York City’s immigration court went up 276 percent — from an average of 139 adjournments in the three months before the judge transfers began, to 522 in the three months after judge transfers began.

Despite that, the Trump administration has increased its target from 50 judge reassignments, to at least 137 nationwide. Nineteen New York City immigration judges — more than half of the city’s 32-judge staff – participated in the temporary transfer program.

Olga Byrne, an advocate for refugees at Human Rights First, a nonprofit that represents asylum-seekers in court, said immigration attorneys at her organization have noticed the spike in adjournments and questioned whether judicial assignments border state assignments are worth the trouble.

“We’ve been in touch with a couple of judges who have expressed a lot of frustration about being sent to a detention center where they could take a long lunch break,” said Byrne. “They had only a few cases to consider for a whole week and yet they had to defer hundreds of cases from their docket in their home court.”


But it is clear the Trump Administration knew its decision to deploy more judges to border states would likely have negative impacts on dockets those judges leave behind in their home states.
In response to questions from U.S. Senate staffers, a DOJ memo concedes that “it is likely that the case backlog will increase for the locations from which an Immigration Judge is assigned.”

In New York City alone, there are more than 82,000 immigrants waiting for a court hearing. The average wait time is north of two and a half years. Nationwide, the immigration case backlog stands at more than 617,000.
Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D – Upper Manhattan), who came to America as an undocumented immigrant, said he fears the Trump administration is over-staffing border state courts to rapidly deport current border-crossers, while ignoring the population of non-detained immigrants who’ve been living and working in America’s big cities, hoping for a shot at citizenship for years.
“By shifting judges to the border, they are in fact maybe predicting that there will be lots of cases before them in those jurisdictions,” Espaillat said. “I am concerned this is part of a greater effort to put together a deportation machine – and proceed to arrest and deport thousands of people who are undocumented.”

This isn’t the first time a presidential initiative has been criticized for mucking up immigration court schedules and exacerbating the nationwide case backlog.
During the Obama Administration, the Justice Department launched an effort to prioritize court hearings for unaccompanied minors who enter the country illegally.

Byrne says that too was a political decision which negatively impacted the court’s ability to handle thousands of older cases languishing in the backlog.
“It’s not a new thing that they are basically fulfilling political objectives with the way that the immigration court dockets are managed,” Byrne said. “I think we should be equally critical of both [the Trump and Obama administrations] for using the immigration court to fulfill political objectives rather than focusing on making that court system work well and efficiently.”

 

Source: I-Team: Immigration Judges Sent to Courts With ‘Very Little Work’ – NBC New York http://www.nbcnewyork.com/investigations/Immigration-Court-New-York-Judge-Investigation-448498463.html#ixzz4uXiMR2xJ
Follow us: @nbcnewyork on Twitter | NBCNewYork on Facebook“

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

To put this in context, during this massive abuse of the US Immigration Courts at the direction of Sessions and his incompetent politicos at the DOJ, the Chief Immigration Judge issued the notorious “Continuance Policy.”  That document not not very subtilely implied that unjustified continuance requests by private attorneys (all of them overburdened by the effects of ADR, and many working on a pro bono or “low bono” basis) and laxity in granting continuances by overwhelmed and demoralized U.S. Immigration Judges were major contributing factors in increasing backlogs. Nothing could be further from the truth!

In fact, conscientious Immigration Judges and dedicated private attorneys are the only ones trying to make this broken system work and to maintain at least a semblance of due process. Their main obstacles: improper politically-motivated interference from the DOJ and poor administration and failure to stand up to the politicos by out of touch bureaucrats at EOIR Headquarters in Falls Church who are afraid to “blow the whistle”because they value their jobs over due process. 

What kind of incompetents would draw the bulk of unneeded judicial details from what are known to be the most seriously backlogged Immigration Courts in the US, such as New York and Arlington? What type of incompetents would “study” the impact and need for the details after the fact, rather than carefully planning in advance? Assuming they were necessary (which they weren’t) why weren’t judicial details drawn from among the Assistant Chief Immigration Judges in Falls Church Headquarters who are never assigned actual cases? They, actually have time on their hands. And why does a system in crisis with inept management have highly-paid bureaucratic administrators like the ACIJs who never do any real judging? What makes a person a “judge”if he or she never “judges” anything?

Yes, as I’ve stated before, the Obama Administration enforcement policies and political interference from the Obama DOJ helped drive the backlogs to new heights. But, after taking over an obviously broken system, rather than doing the right thing and fixing the Immigration Courts with bipartisan legislation to create an independent Immigration Court System, with adequate resources, professional court administration, and freedom from political interference in its due process functions, the Trump Administration intentionally made things much, much worse! More judges have resulted in more backlogs because of politicized, incompetent judicial administration and poorly designed enforcement policies at DHS. If that doesn’t tell you something is seriously wrong, what will?

PWS

10-04-17

 

 

 

 

DUE PROCESS WINS IN 9TH CIR! – DHS & IJS REQUIRED TO CONSIDER “ABILITY TO PAY” IN SETTING BOND! – HERNANDEZ V. SESSIONS

9TH-HERNANDEZ-BOND-2017

Hernandez v. Sessions, 9th Cir., 10-02-17 (Published)

PANEL: Stephen Reinhardt, Ferdinand F. Fernandez, and Kim McLane Wardlaw, Circuit Judges.

OPINION BY: Judge Reinhardt

CONCURRING & DISSENTING OPINION: Judge Fernandez

KEY QUOTE:

“Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their challenge under the Due Process Clause to the government’s policy of allowing ICE and IJs to set immigration bond amounts without considering the detainees’ financial circumstances or alternative conditions of release. The government has failed to offer any convincing reason why these factors should not be considered in bond hearings for non-citizens who are determined not to be a danger to the community and not to be so great a flight risk as to require detention without bond. The irreparable harm to Plaintiffs of detention pursuant to bond amounts determined through a likely unconstitutional process far outweighs the minimal administrative burdens to the government of complying with the injunction while this case proceeds.

The district court’s order granting the preliminary injunction is AFFIRMED.

 29 The government also challenges the requirement that it meet and confer with Plaintiffs to develop guidelines for future immigration hearings. According to the government, this requirement gives “Plaintiffs’ counsel veto authority over the terms and guidelines to be used in those bond proceedings, [which] violates Congress’s delegation of such authority to the Executive.” To the contrary, the district court retains authority to resolve any disputes between the parties regarding implementation of the injunction. The requirement that the parties meet and confer is merely an administrative mechanism to reduce unnecessary burdens on the district court’s resources. It is an entirely ordinary exercise of the district court’s authority to manage cases and to encourage cooperation before parties resort to asking the court to resolve a dispute. See, e.g., C.D. Cal. L.R. 7-3 (requiring parties to confer prior to filing most motions and to file the motion only if the parties are “unable to reach a resolution which eliminates the necessity for a hearing”).”

KEY QUOTE FROM JUDGE FERNANDEZ, CONCURRING & DISSENTING:

“I agree that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it decided to issue a preliminary injunction requiring the consideration of “financial ability” and “alternative conditions of supervision”1 in making determinations regarding the release of aliens who have been detained pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1226(a). However, I do not agree with the breadth of the injunctive order that was issued. Thus, I respectfully concur in part and dissent in part.”

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

Read the full decision at the above link.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT

With an estimated 10 to 11 million “undocumented migrants” currently in the U.S., hundreds of thousands of cases annually being added to the U.S. Immigration Courts’ already out of control docket of 630,000 cases, and the Trump Administration’s “gonzo” enforcement policy where line agents often arbitrarily decide which migrants to place in Immigration Court (presumably somewhat driven by the need to show “numbers” for budget and performance purposes), one thing is obvious: The system would collapse immediately if everyone apprehended by the DHS at the border and in the interior simply insisted on a full due process “Individual Merits” hearing. Thus, the migrants’s exercise of the Constitutional right to due process and a meaningful opportunity to be heard is the enemy of DHS’s out of control, “gonzo” enforcement.

So, what is DHS to do to suppress this dangerous exercise of constitutional rights? Here are DHS’s “strategies:”

  1. Avoid the hearing process entirely by using some form of “expedited removal” which avoids Immigration Court altogether;
  2. In absentia orders, often based on incomplete address information and inadequate warnings being given to migrants by DHS and/or on sloppy address recording and hearing notice procedures by DHS and EOIR resulting in individuals being clueless about their so-called “final orders” and therefore ill-equipped to exercise their statutory right to move for reopening;
  3. Coercive detention, used to demoralize, discourage, and duress migrants into “waiving” their due process rights and agreeing to depart without a merits hearing either by so-called “voluntary departure” or an uncontested final order.

Obviously, setting reasonable bonds that allow-income migrants can actually pay interferes with the full coerciveness of detention. Once released, migrants have a better chance of locating an attorney, filing a plausible application for relief, and ultimately being granted permission to stay. Therefore, resisting and “monkey wrenching” reasonable release on bonds is a key element of the current DHS “gonzo” enforcement strategy.

One of the ways that most fair U.S. Immigration Judges combat this is by using various “arbitration and mediation skills” to encourage DHS to accept reasonable bonds and waive appeal. But, as previously reported, counsel across the country report that DHS is refusing to negotiate bonds and appealing many of those set by the IJ. In other words, DHS is hoping that the coercive effect of detention will force folks to leave without a hearing before they run out of detention space in the New American Gulag.

Thus, U.S. Immigration Judges have become somewhat feckless in the bond process. DHS simply “blows off” the IJs’ entreaties to negotiate because DHS knows that they can unilaterally block release pending appeal anyway. And, as I previously pointed out, the BIA routinely holds bond appeals pending the completion of detained  merits hearings and then simply dismisses the bond appeal as “moot.” As one (now former) Assistant Chief Counsel in Arlington undiplomatically informed me during a bond hearing shortly after I took the bench in 2003: “You can enter any order you want Judge, but the Detention Officer is going to decide whether or not this respondent gets released.” That’s the point at which I became an “Article I convert.”

Consequently, an Article III (a/k/a “Real”) Court enforcing due process and also requiring the DHS to negotiate some reasonable criteria and procedures for release on bond is both essential to our Constitutional system of due process and justice and also is a direct threat to unbridled DHS “gonzo enforcement.” As you can see from “FN 29” above, DHS has absolutely no interest in settling this case on a reasonable basis, although urged to do so by both the US District Court and the Court of Appeals. They expect and want the Article III Courts to “just roll over” like the “captive” Immigration Courts do.

Consequently, we can expect the Administration to fight tooth and nail against all efforts to put meaning in the currently largely false promise of Due Process in Immigration Court! Expect a DHS appeal to the Supremes! Stay tuned!

PWS

10-03-17

 

 

 

POLITICO EXPOSES SHOCKING FRAUD, WASTE, & ABUSE IN SESSIONS’S U.S. IMMIGRATION COURTS — POLITICALLY DRIVEN “ADR” FUELS UNMANAGEABLE BACKLOGS WHILE DOJ TRIES TO FOB OFF BLAME ON HARD WORKING ATTORNEYS AND US IMMIGRATION JUDGES — DUE PROCESS MOCKED & DENIED — GOP-LED CONGRESS AWOL AS DOJ SQUANDERS TAXPAYER FUNDS & ASKS FOR MORE! — JUDGES FORCED TO LEAVE BACKLOGGED DOCKETS TO TWIDDLE THUMBS AND READ NEWSPAPERS AT BORDER — INCOMPETENT DOJ POLITICOS ALLOWED TO REARRANGE COURT DOCKETS WHILE LOCAL JUDGES IGNORED — WHEN WILL THIS ABUSE END! — Plus, I Take On Former Obama Official Leon Fresco For His Tone Deaf Dissing Of Vulnerable Migrants Seeking (But Not Finding) Justice In Trump’s America!

ADR = AIMLESS DOCKET RESHUFFLING

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/09/27/trump-deportations-immigration-backlog-215649

Meredith Hoffman reports for Politico:

“On September 4, immigration judge Denise Slavin followed orders from the Department of Justice to drop everything and travel to the U.S.-Mexico border. She would be leaving behind an overwhelming docket in Baltimore, but she was needed at “ground zero,” as Attorney General Jeff Sessions called it—the “sliver of land” where Americans take a stand against machete-wielding, poison-smuggling criminal gangs and drug cartels.

As part of a new Trump administration program to send justices on short-term missions to the border to speed up deportations and, Sessions pledged, reduce “significant backlogs in our immigration courts,” Slavin was to spend two weeks at New Mexico’s Otero County Processing Center.

But when Slavin arrived at Otero, she found her caseload was nearly half empty. The problem was so widespread that, according to internal Justice Department memos, nearly half the 13 courts charged with implementing Sessions’ directive could not keep their visiting judges busy in the first two months of the new program.

“Judges were reading the newspaper,” says Slavin, the executive vice president of the National Immigration Judges Association and an immigration judge since 1995. One, she told POLITICO Magazine, “spent a day helping them stock the supply room because she had nothing else to do.”

Slavin ended up leaving Otero early because she had no cases her last day. “One clerk said it was so great, it was like being on vacation,” she recalls.

In January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the DOJ to deploy U.S. immigration judges to U.S. detention facilities—most of which are located on or near the U.S.-Mexico border. The temporary reassignments were intended to lead to more and faster deportations, as well as take some pressure off the currently overloaded immigration court system. But, according to interviews and internal DOJ memos, since the new policy went into effect in March, it seems to have had the opposite result: Judges have frequently had to cancel cases on their overloaded home dockets only to find barely any work at their assigned courts—exacerbating the U.S. immigration court backlog that now exceeds 600,000 cases.

According to internal memos sent by the DOJ’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) and obtained by the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) via a Freedom of Information Act request, judges delayed more than 20,000 home court hearings for their details to the border from March to May.

“I canceled about 100 cases in my home court to hear 20,” says Slavin, who was forced to postpone those Baltimore hearings by a year since her court schedule was already booked through most of 2018. In Otero, she had no more than 50 hours of work over the course of two weeks (she typically clocks 50 hours per week in Baltimore). But she couldn’t catch up on her work at home because she had no access to her files.

Her three colleagues at the facility who had also been ordered there by the DOJ were no busier. One who had been sent to Otero previously told her the empty caseloads were normal.

“Sending judges to the border has made the backlog in the interior of the country grow,” says Slavin, “It’s done exactly the opposite of what they hoped to accomplish.”

***

On April 11 in Nogales, Arizona, Sessions formally rolled out the DOJ’s judge relocation program. “I am also pleased to announce a series of reforms regarding immigration judges to reduce the significant backlogs in our immigration courts,” he told the crowd of Customs and Border Protection personnel gathered to hear him. “Pursuant to the president’s executive order, we will now be detaining all adults who are apprehended at the border. To support this mission, we have already surged 25 immigration judges to detention centers along the border.”

The idea was to send U.S. immigration court judges currently handling “non-detained” immigration cases—cases such as final asylum decisions and immigrants’ applications for legal status—to centers where they would only adjudicate cases of those detained crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, along with others who had been picked up by ICE for possible deportation. More judges would follow, the attorney general said.

But as Sessions spoke, nearly half of those 25 “surge” judges—whose deployments typically last two weeks or a month—were largely unoccupied. One week before the attorney general’s Nogales announcement, EOIR—the Justice Department office that handles immigration cases—published an internal memo identifying six of 13 detention centers as offering inadequate work for their visiting justices.

“There are not enough cases to fill one immigration judge’s docket, let alone five,” the DOJ wrote of Texas’ T. Don Hutto facility, which had been assigned five Miami judges to hold hearings via video teleconference with the women detained there.

One judge sent to the South Texas Residential Center, a family detention facility, had no cases at all; a judge at another family facility, Karnes Residential Center, had a “light” docket; and Texas’ Prairieland Detention Center, which had received a judge, also was “not receiving enough cases to fill a docket or even come close to it,” the memo stated.

The two judges assigned to New Mexico’s Cibola Detention Facility also had barely any work to do, and Louisiana’s La Salle Detention Center—not on the border but treated as such in its receipt of five “surge” judges—had similarly been overstaffed. “There is not enough work for five judges,” said one DOJ memo. “There is enough work for a reasonable docket and three judges.”

The Justice Department documents also revealed a number of logistical issues with the border courts, including a lack of phone lines or internet connectivity, and noise infiltrating the courtroom from the detention facility. “The courtrooms at Imperial Regional Detention Facility are not suitable for in-person hearings because security is wholly inadequate,” said one memo of the California facility. “The court cannot do telephonic interpreters and the request for in-person interpreters remains pending. … Last week an immigration judge was left in the courtroom without a bailiff.”

Meanwhile, the judges sent to the border were forced to abandon thousands of home court cases—which the DOJ was aware could increase pressure on the U.S. immigration court system, where a specialized cadre of judges handles questions over whether people can remain in the country or face deportation. “It is likely that the backlog will increase for the locations from which a judge is assigned,” predicted one March 29 document, which also projected the deployments would cost $21 million per fiscal year.

Within the first three months of the program, judges postponed about 22,000 cases around the country, including 2,774 in New York City alone, according to the DOJ memos. (The delays added to an already clogged system: New York City’s immigration court backlog stood at 81,842 as of July, according to the immigration data tracker TRAC Immigration.)

When asked about these FOIA documents, and why the DOJ had deployed judges where they were not needed, a Justice Department spokesmanresponded that the program had improved in recent months. “After the initial deployment, an assessment was done to determine appropriate locations to increase the adjudication of immigration court cases without compromising due process,” he said.

Immigration judges and advocates acknowledge that the program has slightly improved since May—but many say that’s largely because the DOJ is sending fewer judges on temporary missions. “Some of the least productive assignments have either been discontinued or converted to video teleconferencing hearings, and it seems that fewer judges are being sent overall,” says National Association of Immigration Judges President Dana Marks, who serves as an immigration judge in San Francisco. But, she says, “the basic problem still persists.”

More than 100 total judges have been reassigned since March, but Politico was not able to obtain data on whether deployments are declining or increasing, or how many judges are still facing empty caseloads.

The spokesperson declined to comment on Slavin’s experience at Otero. But the DOJ discontinued deployments to Otero this month, as soon as Slavin completed her assignment there.

The U.S. immigration court backlog has increased under Trump, moving from 540,000 in January to 600,000 in July. But the DOJ spokesperson denied that the deployments were responsible for the bump, instead blaming the overloaded system on the Obama administration’s policies. He noted that the first six months of the Trump administration had seen a14.5 percent increase in final immigration court rulings from the previous year, and that more than 90 percent of cases by “surge” judges had led to deportation orders.

But just because judges have ruled on more cases doesn’t mean the Trump administration hasn’t worsened the backlog, NIJC communications director Tara Tidwell Cullen says. In fact, it could likely mean the opposite. Trump’s first six months in power saw 40 percent more immigration arrests in the country’s interior than the year before, adding more cases to already overloaded dockets.

“The ‘home’ courts where judges are sent from continue to be understaffed and their caseloads are adversely impacted as judges are sent to temporary assignments,” adds Marks, the San Francisco judge. Adding to the problem, she points out, is the administration’s decision to detain immigrants without allowing the Department of Homeland Security to grant them bonds. Now, detainees have to go to immigration court to get a bond, creating extra work for those justices.

***

Not everyone thinks sending judges to the border is a bad idea.

“The best use of resources is to throw them all at detention,” says Leon Fresco, who served as deputy assistant attorney general under President Barack Obama. Judges typically release individuals detained for more than 90 days with no trial on habeas corpus, he explains, in which case the government has “wasted money in detaining them” to start. Better, then, to hear all the detained cases quickly.

Any administration will have to make tough calls, says Fresco. “You have just about 300 judges to hear more than 500,000 cases, so you have to prioritize.” Under Obama, the DOJ—while it hadn’t sent judges to the border—had also prioritized recent border crossers in order to send a message that the U.S. would immediately hear their cases, rather than allow them to “wait eight years to be adjudicated” while staying in the country, Fresco says. Trump’s priorities similarly send a message to potential border crossers that “we do have quick justice.”

The problem, Fresco adds, is that the Trump administration has been clumsy in its border deployments—sending judges to places where they aren’t needed. “There are ways to do this, but they need to be more flexible and nimble, and they’re not being as nimble as they can be,” he says. “EOIR is an agency badly in need of some sort of consulting firm. … There’s still too little rhyme or reason about how case assignments work—you shouldn’t have weeks with judges with hours of idle time.”

Chicago immigration judge Robert D. Vinikoor says his deployment went smoothly. He had a full caseload in his two-week detail at Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego this April, and he maintains that the reassigned judges were necessary to get immigrants out of detention as expeditiously as possible. “DHS is detaining more and more people and keeping them in custody, so that’s the need for the judges,” says Vinikoor, who retired in June after serving 33 years as an immigration judge. “The question is: Are they over-detailing? In some cases they put the cart before the horse.”

But Marks, who has been an immigration judge for 30 years, disagrees. Even if the DOJ gets deployments right, she says, the surge policy shows the administration has the wrong priorities. She says the administration’s biggest mistake was making a “politically motivated decision” and not consulting immigration judges. “The judges weren’t asked and that’s always been our big frustration,” she says.” The judges are the ones who are the experts in handling their cases.”

Marks notes that her union had similar frustrations with the Obama administration’s prioritization of recent border crossers—predominantly Central American women and children seeking asylum—to send a message they would be deported quickly if they could not prove they qualified for asylum. That decision, she says, worsened the backlog, too.

The overloaded system jeopardizes due process for immigrants, says NIJC’s policy director Heidi Altman, who filed the FOIA for EOIR’s memos after hearing about “chaos” in the courts when the border details began.

“When the backlog is exacerbated it makes it exponentially harder for us and other legal services to take on clients,” says Altman, whose NIJC organizes pro-bono attorneys handling immigration cases, which do not guarantee legal representation. Without a lawyer handling a case, she says, it is less likely to proceed fairly.

But there’s another reason that Trump might want to reconsider the border surge, says John Sandweg, former acting director of ICE under the Obama administration: It takes the pressure off the undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country for years and may be fighting to prevent an order of deportation. “They’re basically giving amnesty ironically to the non-detained docket.”

“By shifting the judges away they’ll never have their hearing so they’ll never be ordered deported,” he says. “You’re letting them stay.”

Meredith Hoffman is a freelance journalist who who has covered immigration for AP, Rolling Stone, the New York Times, and VICE.
**************************************
Thanks, Meredith, for this very timely article that ties in nicely with the recent NBC 4 I-Team series on the unmitigated mess in the U.S. Immigration Courts and how Jeff Sessions’s xenophobia, patent disregard for Due Process, and gross mismanagement of the U.S. Immigration Courts is ruining lives and threatening the very underpinnings of the American Justice system.It would be nice to think that someone or somebody would hold this “Swamp Dweller” accountable for his lawless actions. But, to date, that seems unlikely as long as the GOP is in power.The judgment of history, however, is something quite different. And that’s why it is so critical that the truth be documented, especially since Sessions is wont to lie, misrepresent, and distort when it comes to furthering his White Nationalist agenda. He might get away with it in the short run, but in the end he will be held fully accountable and his memory forever tied to the false, xenophobic, White Nationalist views that he spent a lifetime trying (fortunately, usually with little success outside of Alabama) to advance.Also, my long time friend and former colleague Judge Bobby Vinakoor neglected to mention that for him to go to Otey Mesa, his previously set dockets at the Chicago Immigration Court were reset, something that the practitioners representing the respondents were less sanguine about than Bobby. I will say though, that knowing Bobby, if they had good reasons for being heard before his retirement date, he probably squeezed them in somewhere and took care of them. Bobby was never one to intentionally leave someone hanging.OK, Leon Fresco, on to you! I hope to hell that you and your fat-cat law firm Holland & Knight (which I’ll be the first to admit has been a consistent stalwart on the pro bono immigration scene going back to my days at the Legacy INS) have permanent offices somewhere down on the Southern border where you are providing free legal assistance to all the noncriminals being needlessly detained by the Administration in substandard (many would say subhuman) condititions. Your “wise-ass comments” about running folks through the courts in 90 days or less to prevent them from being properly released under court orders deserve censure.As a former head of OIL, you know better than anyone that refugees from the Northern Triangle have zip chances of winning their cases without good lawyers, adequate time to prepare, and the ability to corroborate their (often quite plausible) claims with documentation. None of that is readily available in the obscure locations where the Trump/Sessions crowd has purposely chosen  to detain immigrants. So, racing them though “court,” as your apparently advocate, in detention where there can’t get lawyers, can’t prepare, and can’t get evidence, and where they are regularly coerced by your former clients at DHS into abandoning claims, is pretty much a “death sentence” for any valid claim they might have for protection.

I also find your continuing advocacy of the misuse of the Immigration Courts to deny due process and send “enforcement messages” even more highly objectionable. As a former Immigration Judge at two levels, I can assure you that’s not what courts are for! It’s a grotesque abuse of the court system and makes a mockery of due process — exactly the things that EOIR was supposedly created to eliminate (but hasn’t been able to, thanks to “enablers” like you, Leon). You wouldn’t be so chipper if you or one of your fat cat clients were treated the way our system treats vulnerable migrants looking for justice. But, you have helped me illustrate why the U.S. Immigration Courts can’t function in a fair and impartial manner and provide due process while part of the highly politicized DOJ under Administrations of either party.  So, for that I have to thank you.

And, I’ve always maintained that the Obama Administration richly deserves a huge part of the blame for the Due Process disaster in the U.S. Immigration Courts. They took a troubled system and turned it into a disaster. Undoubtedly, your unwillingness to “just say no” to some of the unconscionable legal positions the DOJ took and their abandonment of the responsibility to create a balanced, fair, impartial, and diverse immigration judiciary played some role in that man-made disaster.

And don’t kid yourself, Leon. What you defended in the Obama Administration wasn’t “quick justice!” No, it was “little or no justice” for the majority of detainees who were railroaded through the system in detention, something that should keep you awake when you’re not out making the “big bucks practicing big law.”  

For those of you who don’t know him, Leon once made a career out of going around claiming that barely literate women and children didn’t need lawyers in Immigration Court because is would “open the floodgates.”

From NPR:

“Yet last week, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Leon Fresco appeared before a federal judge in Seattle to argue that providing legal representation for immigrant children facing deportation could create open borders and send the message that no one here illegally would be removed.

“It would create a magnet effect,” Fresco said in court.”

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/holder-says-immigrant-children-get-lawyers-department-disagrees/

Funny thing about due process and justice, Leon, sometimes they are inconvenient.

You’re not a shill for the Obama Administration any more, Leon. You’re no longer required to “defend the indefensible” (something that’s not unfamiliar to me from my INS career). Reflect on the errors of your past, leave the dark behind, and come on over to the light. The living’s better over here, and there’s plenty of room for all.  

Best wishes,

Paul

09-27

NO MORE BUREAUCRATIC BS – AMERICA NEEDS AN INDEPENDENT ARTICLE I IMMIGRATION COURT NOW — A RESPONSE TO THE DOJ’S ATTEMPT TO “COVER UP” THE SCANDALOUS, SELF-CREATED, DUE-PROCESS DENYING IMMIGRATON COURT BACKLOG EXPOSED BY NBC 4 DC’S I-TEAM — By Paul Wickham Schmidt, United States Immigration Judge (Retired)

  • NO MORE BUREAUCRATIC BS – AMERICA NEEDS AN INDEPENDENT ARTICLE I IMMIGRATION COURT NOW
  • A RESPONSE TO THE DOJ’S ATTEMPT TO “COVER UP” THE SCANDALOUS, SELF-CREATED, DUE-PROCESS DENYING IMMIGRATION COURT BACKLOG EXPOSED BY NBC 4 DC’S I-TEAM
  •  
  • By Paul Wickham Schmidt
  • United States Immigration Judge (Retired
  • Let’s look at a few pieces of the EOIR “response” to the I-Team’s Recent Expose. You can read that full exercise in bureaucratese in a separate blog right here:  http://wp.me/p8eeJm-1tn

First, the EOIR bureaucracy has no coherent plan to address the backlog that now has risen to more than 628,000 pending cases (even more than at the time Jodie interviewed me) notwithstanding more U.S. Immigration Judges on board! The agency is “studying” the matter. Usually that means that politicos at the DOJ are looking for ways to further truncate Due Process and fairness for respondents in the Immigration Courts.

 

“Studying” the matter. Oh, please! Let’s look at the most glaring failure highlighted by Jodie, the failure to have even a rudimentary e-filing system. Back in 2001, a group of us, including computer wonks, field personnel, and Senior Executives were assigned to an e-filing project. We submitted a detailed report, complete with plans for a pilot program to the EOIR Executive Group, where it promptly was buried. More than 15 year later, and following several more waste of time studies, there still is no e-filing system in the U.S. Immigration Courts! Not even a viable pilot program! In the meantime, almost every other court system in America has implemented e-filing. For heaven’s sake, even the local courts in Wisconsin have e-filing capability!

 

Second, EOIR makes the totally disingenuous statement that: “Although multiple factors may have contributed to this caseload, immigration judges must ensure that lower productivity and adjudicatory inefficiency do not further exacerbate this situation. To this end, EOIR recently issued Operating Policies and Procedures Memorandum 17-01: Continuances (available at https://www.justice.gov/eoir/oppm-log), which provides guidance on the fair and efficient handling of motions for continuance.”

 

This is a blatant misrepresentation of what caused the real problem and a grotesque failure to accept responsibility! The current crisis has little, if anything, to do with Immigration Judge productivity (at an average of 750 completions per judge, U.S. Immigration Judges are already working 50% above the recommended maximum level for their positions — if anything, as shown by some of the recent gross errors exposed by U.S. Circuit Courts, both the Immigration Judges and the BIA Judges should be slowing down to get things right — “haste makes waste”).

 

No the real problem here is quite simple: bureaucrats at EOIR, the politicos at DOJ, and Congress. Let’s start with Congress. While Congress has belatedly provided some extra positions and funding for the Immigration Courts, for years Congress has been responsible for overfunding DHS enforcement while underfunding the Immigration Court system.

 

Moreover, the idiotic Government shutdown during the Obama Administration hurt immeasurably. During at least one such shutdown, the vast majority of Immigration Judges, those assigned to the non-detained dockets, were determined by the DOJ to be “nonessential,” sent home on “furlough,” and our dockets were cancelled. When we finally returned to court, there was docket chaos. The system really never has recovered from that man-made disaster. Moreover, both Congress’s failure to fund and DOJ’s idiotic designation of us as “nonessential” sent strong messages that the entire Immigration Court is a “who cares” operation from both a Congressional and an Administration standpoint. And mindless hiring freezes resulting from incompetence in Congress and the Executive Branch didn’t help either.

 

Then, years of “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” at the behest of DOJ politicos carrying out improper enforcement initiatives through the courts turned chaos into absolute bedlam! Senior Immigration Judges were reassigned from “Merits Dockets” to “meet and greets” for Unaccompanied Minors who really belonged before the DHS Asylum Office. Other judges were taken off of “ready for trial” merits dockets and assigned to hear cases of recently arrived “Adults With Children,” many of whom had not received sufficient time to find lawyers and whose cases were often “Not Quite Ready For Prime Time.” Judges were detailed from full “home” dockets to the Southern Border where they often weren’t needed or didn’t have enough work to keep busy. Then, the Trump Administration took judges off of Merits Dockets that had been pending for years and reassigned them to obscure detention courts, where they often were not fully occupied or were taking over dockets from other judges who were left with nothing to do.

 

The DOJ/EOIR bureaucracy long ago deprived sitting Immigration Judges of any meaningful control over their local dockets. To now insinuate that Immigration Judge “productivity” or “continuances granted by local Immigration Judges” are significant causes of the problem is an outrageous attempt to cover up the sad truth. Additionally, over the past four Administrations, the DOJ has refused to implement Congress’s statutory grant of contempt authority to U.S. Immigration Judges. This deprives Immigration Judges of even the most rudimentary tools possessed by judges of comparable authority for maintaining order and control of their courts.

 

Then there are continuances. As Hon. Jeffrey Chase and I have both pointed out in our separate blogs, the attempt to blame judges and overwhelmed private counsel, particularly those serving for NGSs or pro bono, for requesting too many continuances is totally bogus. The majority of the lengthy continuances in Immigration Court are the result of Aimless Docket Reshuffling imposed by the politicos at DOJ and carried out by compliant administrators at EOIR who have lost sight of their due process mission but not of the need to save their jobs by cooperating with the politicos.

 

As Jodie pointed out, there are lots of folks out there, many with potentially winning cases, who are ready and would like their “day in court.” But, the system is too busy shuffling things around to satisfy the President’s Executive Orders and trying to fulfill the Attorney General’s enforcement priorities to deliver justice in a reasonable, predictable, and orderly manner.

 

The private bar and NGO attorneys, many of whom serve pro bono or low bono, are the unsung heroes of this system. They are the only reason the system hasn’t completely collapsed yet! Their intentional mistreatment and the disrespect showered on them by spineless bureaucrats at EOIR and the cowardly politicos at DOJ is nothing short of a national disgrace!

 

Then, let’s take a closer look at the DOJ/EOIR hiring fiasco! According to a recent GAO study recommending improvements at the Immigration Courts, Immigration Judge hiring has taken an astounding average of two years! That’s longer than it takes for a Senate-confirmed political appointment or than it took the Roosevelt Administration to build the Pentagon during the New Deal! But, the results of this glacial, “Rube-Goldberg” process are disturbingly predictable and pedestrian. Nearly 90% of the Immigration Judges hired over this and the past Administration came from prosecutorial or other government backgrounds. With due respect, one could probably have produced similar results by “blind drawing” applications from senior government attorneys from a box. Neither EOIR nor DOJ has put forth an efficient, transparent, merit-based program to replace this mess, although many worthy models exist — such as the merit hiring procedures for U.S. Bankruptcy Judges and Magistrates which usually involve widespread input from leading practitioners in the areas they will be serving.

 

Notwithstanding the current “crisis,” EOIR and DOJ are sitting on an Immigration Judge vacancy rate of 15%! There are currently 55 judicial vacancies! EOIR was only able to hire and bring on 64 new Immigration Judges during the entire past year. That will barely be enough to fill the currently vacant positions and any retirements or other departures. So, the idea that a DOJ plan to budget for more judges is going to solve this crisis any time in the foreseeable future is nonsense.

 

 

Let’s take a quick look at the numbers in the DOJ “never-never land.” They project 449 Immigration Judges by the end of FY 2018, which is September 30, 2018, one year from now. Let’s also assume the highly unlikely: that Congress grants the request, the money is appropriated, additional courtrooms are built, additional staff is hired, all the judicial positions are filled, and the additional Immigration Judges are all on board and up to speed by September 30, 2018.

 

449 Immigration Judges could at most, complete approximately 337,000 cases without impeding due process. Therefore, using the DOJ’s own figures, and giving the most optimistic outlook possible, it would take nearly two years, practically to the end of this Administration, just to complete all of the cases currently on docket if no additional cases were filed! The idea that 449 Immigration Judges could do that plus handle incoming cases without creating a new backlog is facially absurd. DOJ’s own numbers refute it. What is clear is that neither the politicos at DOJ nor the bureaucrats at EOIR have any idea of how to actually solve the backlog problem and reestablish order in the Immigration Courts.

 

So, what really needs to be done!

 

First and foremost, we need an independent U.S. Immigration Court outside the DOJ. And that means a return to Due Process as the sole function and guiding light of the Immigration Court just like it is for all other independent courts. DHS Enforcement priorities should be considered and accommodated where possible without compromising due process. But, they are just one of many factors that go into running an efficient due process court system. DHS Enforcement should not be “driving the train.”

Given that approximately half of the individuals now in Immigration Court appear to be entitled to some form of relief, independent U.S. Immigration Judges could develop ways to force the DHS to identify these cases and either resolve them outside of court or move them up to “short dockets” for quick resolutions based largely on stipulations and focused testimony or legal arguments.

 

Moreover, I know from hard experience that even though independent Article III judges were technically not supposed to review “prosecutorial discretion“ they had many creative ways to basically tell the INS (now DHS) to get certain low priority or extreme humanitarian cases off the docket — or else. The current Administration’s abusive removal of prosecutorial discretion from local DHS prosecutors is a major contributing factor in the current docket mess. An independent court would be able to stand up to this kind of nonsense, rather than “going along to get along.” No court system in American operates without a heavy dose of PD from the prosecutors.

 

Additionally, implementation of contempt authority, extending to both private attorneys and Government prosecutors, would give Immigration Judges real clout in stopping abuses of the court’s docket and moving cases along in a failure and reasonable manner.

 

Second, the EOIR bureaucracy needs to be replaced with a real court structure patterned on other Federal Courts. I’d hazard to say that no other functioning court system in America has as Byzantine and as bloated a bureaucracy as EOIR. Far too many of the positions and resources are in “Headquarters” in Falls Church rather than in the local courts where they belong. Docket control needs to be returned to sitting Immigration Judges who are in the best position to work with the local bar, pro bono providers, the DHS Office of Chief Counsel, and the Court Administrator to establish the most efficient and fair ways of scheduling cases and moving along dockets given local conditions and limitations.

 

And “Job One” at the local Immigration Court level should be to work with all parties to insure that Immigration Court cases are docketed and scheduled in a manner that insures, to the maximum extent humanly possible, that no individual who wants a lawyer is required to appear without one. Representation by competent counsel is the single most important ingredient of achieving due process in the U.S. Immigration Courts.

 

Third, the U.S. Immigration Courts need a new professional Administrative Office patterned on the Administrative Office for U.S. Courts and responsible to a Judicial Council, not politicos at the DOJ. Courtroom planning, technology, security, files management, training, planning for the future, and hiring are all not up to professional court management standards in the current system. In particular, the outdated, often unreliable technology and inadequate space are glaring issues in a high volume system like the Immigration Courts.

 

Also, the current judicial selection system is a bad joke. It is neither transparent nor timely, and it totally lacks credibility in the “real world” of immigration practice. The Immigration Courts need a non-partisan, merit-based, efficient hiring system that gives local practitioners and judges as well as government counsel some meaningful input while producing results in a timely fashion. There are many merit-based models out there like those for hiring U.S. Bankruptcy Judges, U.S. Magistrates, and Judges for the Superior Court of DC.

 

Fourth, the system needs an Appellate Court that acts like an independent appellate court not a service center catering to the politicos at the DOJ. The current BIA’s lack of diverse backgrounds among its Appellate Immigration Judges and glaring lack of Immigration Court or asylum expertise has resulted in a weak body of asylum law and insufficient control over wayward judges who are unwilling to grant relief in appropriate situations. There are many asylum cases out there in the backlog that should and could be rapidly granted. Moreover, many of them probably should have been granted at the DHS Asylum Office. The current Board has failed to take appropriate corrective action in those courts where hostility to or misinterpretation of laws favorable to respondents has resulted in indefensibly low rates of granting relief. This, in turn, encourages the DHS to keep cases on the court docket that properly should be settled out of court, returned to the Asylum Office, or sent to the USCIS.

 

The current Board “is what it is,” It can’t really help itself, as a result of questionable choices outside of its control made by the politicos at the DOJ over several Administrations. I’m not suggesting that current BIA Judges should not be “grandfathered” into an independent Appellate Division of the Immigration Court. But future Appellate Judge appointments should be strictly merit-based and should be focused on recognizing proven expertise and fairness in applying asylum laws and expertise gained in activities beyond just government service, particularly those in clinical academic practices or serving the pro bono community through NGOs.

 

Fifth, and finally, the U.S. Immigration Courts need e-filing now! The time for “study” is long over! Existing systems in other courts can be tailored for U.S. Immigration Court use. It’s no longer “rocket science.” It’s “Basic Professional Court Management 101.” It’s time for action, not more studies, unfulfilled promises, and bureaucratic smokescreens! If nothing else, the failure of the DOJ over a number of Administrations to accomplish this very basic ministerial task demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt its incompetence and inability to administer the U.S. Immigration Courts in anything approaching a minimally professional manner.

 

Yup, I’ve set forth an ambitious agenda. But, unlike the “DOJ/EOIR BS,” it’s based on real life experience and decades of observation at all levels inside and outside this broken system. If Congress and the Administration can’t get their collective acts together and establish an Independent Article Immigration Court now, there will be a “lock-up” point at which almost everything will stop functioning. There is no way that the current EOIR technology and inadequate planning can keep on absorbing even more cases and even more positions.

 

And if, as I predict, rather than doing the right thing, this Administration responds with mindless hurry up denials of due process, the cases will start piling up in the Article III Courts and being returned to the Immigration Courts for “do-overs” in droves. I’ve actually seen it happen before in the Bush Administration. But, this is much worse because there are many more cases and this Administration is even more clueless about how to deal with immigration enforcement and the Immigration Court system. In the end, it’s the folks who depend on the Immigration Court system for justice and the overall concept of our courts being able to deliver even-handed justice in a fair and reasonable manner that will be hurt. And, folks, that’s going to affect all of us at some point in the future.

 

Don’t accept more ridiculous shameful bureaucratic, “do nothing” BS from the DOJ! It’s time to hold DOJ and EOIR fully accountable for their failure to provide basic Due Process in the U.S. Immigration Courts and for Congress to accept their fair share of the blame!

 

Tell your Senators and Representatives that you’ve had enough of this nonsense and gross waste and mismanagement of government resources! Fixing the U.S. Immigration Courts now must be one of our highest national priorities! Those who would continue to sweep this problem under the rug deserve to be voted out of office! No more BS and excuses; Article I now! Due Process Now!

Other than the above, of course, I think the current system is great!

PWS

09-26-17

 

READ THE DOJ/EOIR’S (HIGHLY BUREAUCRATIC) RESPONSE TO THE NEWS 4 I-TEAM — The DOJ/EOIR “Plan” Is “No Plan” Because They Are Clueless As To How To Solve The Self-Created Court Backlog Problem Without Stomping All Over Due Process!

jhttp://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/US-Department-of-Justice-Executive-Office-for-Immigration-Review-Responses-to-I-Team-Immigration-Backlog-Report-446936203.html

“U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review Responses to I-Team Immigration Backlog Report

 

What steps have been taken by DOJ/EOIR to combat the backlog?

EOIR is committed to a multi-level strategy to maximize our adjudicatory capacity, including the hiring of more judges, working with our federal partners to make the immigration process more efficient, and the increased use of video-teleconference capabilities. EOIR is undertaking a broad, agency-wide effort to review and reform its internal practices, procedures, and technology in order to enhance immigration judge productivity and ensure that cases are adjudicated in a fair and timely manner across all of the agency’s courts. EOIR records show that through the end of August 2017, the immigration courts had 628,698 pending cases. Although multiple factors may have contributed to this caseload, immigration judges must ensure that lower productivity and adjudicatory inefficiency do not further exacerbate this situation. To this end, EOIR recently issued Operating Policies and Procedures Memorandum 17-01: Continuances (available at https://www.justice.gov/eoir/oppm-log), which provides guidance on the fair and efficient handling of motions for continuance.

How many immigration judges have retired and how many have been sworn in the last two years?

The number of immigration judges who retired or separated during each of the following fiscal years (FY) is as follows: FY 2016, 13, and FY 2017 (through Sept. 15, 2017) 21. EOIR hired 56 immigration judges during FY 2016, and 64 immigration judges during FY 2017 (through Sept. 15, 2017).

How many open positions are there currently for immigration judges?

There are currently 329 immigration judges nationwide, out of EOIR’s current authorized level of 384.

Judge Marks discussed how she thinks the number of immigration judges should be doubled. Is there a goal by EOIR on how many new judges to hire?

As noted in EOIR’s FY 2018 budget request (available here: https://www.justice.gov/jmd/page/file/968566/download), the largest challenge facing the immigration courts is the growing pending caseload. The agency’s FY 2018 budget strategy is a sustained focus on increasing adjudicative capacity in order to meet EOIR’s mission to adjudicate immigration cases by fairly, expeditiously, and uniformly interpreting and administering the nation’s immigration laws.

To implement EOIR’s strategy, EOIR’s FY 2018 budget request includes a requested increase in immigration judge teams (each team consists of one immigration judge and five support staff) that would increase EOIR’s immigration judge corps to 449 and provide 225 additional full-time employees for mission support.”

Source: U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review Responses to I-Team Immigration Backlog Report – NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/US-Department-of-Justice-Executive-Office-for-Immigration-Review-Responses-to-I-Team-Immigration-Backlog-Report-446936203.html#ixzz4toZyt2D9
Follow us: @nbcwashington on Twitter | NBCWashington on Facebook

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No guys, I’m sorry! Much as I love you, and much as I realize that it was was a bunch of meddling politicos and out of touch bureaucrats, with lots of help from a willfully blind Congress, that created these problems over the past 15 years, it’s going to take more than politicos at the DOJ and bureaucrats in Falls Church to solve it.
Committing “to a multi-level strategy to maximize our adjudicatory capacity,” whatever that primo piece of bureaucratic gobbledygook might mean in plain English, isn’t going to cut it. Nor is just throwing more judges and more money at it going to do the trick.
And the answer certainly isn’t more truncation of due process and typical bureaucratic “haste makes waste bogus efficiencies and streamlining” which actually wastes massive amounts of time and money while not getting the job done. The courts are already in a due process crisis. “Speeding up the assembly line” or setting bogus production goals is not the answer. However, some “smart court administration” and “smart enforcement” are part of the solution. Sadly, it’s just not within the “skill set” of the group at DOJ and EOIR who are flailing away at court administration.
Nor, frankly, does it appear to be within the expertise of current DHS/ICE management without some Congressional oversight and accountability (things that have been remarkably absent in this Congress). Old saying:  Garbage In = Garbage Out, and right now ICE Enforcement, Detention, and Legal Counsel Programs are in “Garbage Truck Mode.” If Congress doesn’t step in, I think the Article III Courts eventually will, if only as an act of self-defense. Nor is evading the Immigration Court system with unconstitutional proposals for expanding “expedited removals” the answer. 
The DHS Enforcement System and the Immigration Courts are already squandering resources and wasting the taxpayers money at alarming rates. “Big-time reforms” must precede the injection of massive resources into a totally broken system. And that goes for putting some Congressional brakes on the “gonzo” enforcement now being carried out by DHS, and their mismanagement of the ICE Legal Program, which is a key part of the problem.
Next up: My Response:  I take on the DOJ/EOIR Bogus  “Strategy” and tell you what really needs to be done to restore due process to a broken court system.
PWS
09-26-17

SEE PT. II OF NBC4’S “CRISIS IN THE IMMIGRATION COURTS” FEATURING INTERVIEWS WITH ME — Understand Why This System Must Be Changed NOW!

Here’s a link to the video of Jodie Fleischer’s “Late Night Report on the Crisis in the Immigration Courts” from last night’s 11PM Version of News 4:

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Massive-Immigration-Case-Backlog-Takes-Years_Washington-DC-447835143.html

Here’s an updated story from the I-Team on the human costs of the backlog and the mindless policies of the Trump ‘administration that are making things even worse. Includes comments from superstar local practitioner Christina Wilkes, Esq.:

“Deportation rates of undocumented immigrants have ticked up in the federal Immigration Court for the first time in eight years as President Donald Trump starts to make good on his promise to expel millions of people. But even as the Trump administration expands its dragnet, the court is so backlogged that some hearings are being scheduled as far in the future as July 2022.

The long delays come as immigration courtrooms struggle with too few judges, only 334 for a backlog of more than 617,000 cases, and scant resources on par with a traffic court, said Judge Dana Leigh Marks of San Francisco, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.

Delays are the longest in San Francisco, where the court is setting dates more than four years out. Courts in Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Seattle and Arlington, Virginia are right behind with dates in 2021.

Immigration law is complex and the overloaded judges are making decisions about men and women who may have been tortured or raped, their children abused or forced to witness horrible acts, or who fear they will be killed if they return home.

“I compare the immigration courts to traffic courts and the cases that we hear – they are death penalty cases.”
Judge Dana Leigh Marks

“I compare the immigration courts to traffic courts and the cases that we hear – they are death penalty cases,” said Marks, a judge for 30 years who was speaking in her capacity as association president. “And I literally get chills every time I say that because it’s an incredibly – it’s an overwhelming job.”

The backlog in Immigration Court, which unlike other courts is not independent but part of the U.S. Justice Department, has been growing for nearly a decade, up from about 224,000 cases in fiscal year 2009. The average number of days to complete a deportation case has risen from 234 in 2009 to a projected 525 this year.

A couple in Immigration Court in New York City for the first time on Sept. 21 came to the United States to escape violence in Ecuador, they said, overstaying a visa as they applied to remain permanently in 2013. They were expecting to finally to explain their circumstances to a judge, but instead they were out the door in less than five minutes with a return date in 2020.

“I don’t even know, how do I feel,” said the woman, who did not want to give her name. “I feel frustrated.”

The logjam began during the Obama administration as President Barack Obama boosted immigration enforcement while a divided Congress cut spending. The Justice Department saw a three-year hiring freeze from 2011 to 2013, which then became even worse when tens of thousands of women and children came across the border escaping violence in Central America.

“I don’t even know, how do I feel,” said the woman, who did not want to give her name. “I feel frustrated.

“The problem was years in the making but this administration is making it much, much worse,” said Jeremy McKinney of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Obama was famously called the “deporter-in-chief” after he not only targeted immigrants with criminal records for deportation but also instituted formal removal proceedings for an increased number of unauthorized border crossers, according to a January study by the Migration Policy Institute. At the same time, fewer people were crossing the border because of a better economy in Mexico and fewer jobs in the U.S. after the recession.

The focus on criminals — whose hearings, when they were detained, were either short or waived — resulted in quick deportations, McKinney said. The Trump administration is targeting a much broader group and includes people who might be eligible to stay and that puts more strain on the courts, McKinney said.

“They will arrest anyone that has a pulse and that they suspect is in the United States without permission regardless of if that person poses a risk to our community,” he said.

To clear the backlog, the Trump administration has proposed hiring 75 new Immigration Court judges plus staff, a number the House has reduced to 65, and it has considered expanding the use of deportations without court approval. In the meantime it has moved some judges closer the border temporarily, but that leaves behind even greater backlogs in their home courts.

But the job of an immigration judge is difficult and those in the courts warn that hires are not keeping up with departures. Long background checks dissuade many except for attorneys already working for the government from applying, they say.

The government is trying to quicken the process by resisting delays it formerly acceded to, McKinney said. For example, he said, government lawyers are now opposing a temporary halt to deportation cases to allow an immigrant who might be eligible to remain in the United States to take the steps that are necessary.

“So you’ve got people that are eligible for green cards but are not able to pursue it because suddenly the government is opposing the motion to close those cases,” he said.

And it is also reopening cases that were closed during the previous administration, a move that could add to the delays, McKinney said.

“They’re taking old cases and dumping those into current dockets that are already overflowing,” he said. “These individuals are ones that were previously determined that they were not priorities for deportation.”

One consequence of the logjam until recently had been that judges were deporting fewer immigrants. Last year, just 43 percent of all cases ended with a deportation removal, down from 72 percent in 2007.

That downward trend is beginning to reverse this year. The deportation rate rose slightly over the first 10 months of the 2017 fiscal year, to 55 percent, from 43 percent for all of the previous fiscal year. Among immigrants in detention, the deportation rate rose to 72.3 percent.

The outcome of a case can depend on the location of a court. Georgia has deported the vast majority of immigrants in court this year, New York ousted less than a third. Houston has expelled 87 percent of the immigrants, while Phoenix is at the low end with 20 percent.

You appear to be in Virginia. Not your state?

In Virginia, 56.0% of immigrants who go to court are deported.

See the rates of deportation in state immigration courts across the country:

Fiscal year 2017 (October through July); Source: TRAC

WHO ARE THESE IMMIGRANTS?

More than half of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States are from Mexico but their number has declined by about 1 million since 2007. They have been replaced by those fleeing violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, plus immigrants from elsewhere. They live mostly in California, Texas, Florida, New York and New Jersey though the state with the highest percentage of undocumented immigrants is Nevada.

Nearly 60 percent arrived in the U.S. before 2000 and a third have been here for more than 20 years. Eight million of the 11 million have jobs. They make up 5 percent of the country’s labor force, mostly in agriculture, construction and the hospitality industry. They are much younger and somewhat more male than the population as a whole.

The long delays in Immigration Court are jeopardizing some immigrants’ chances. They risk losing touch with witnesses they will need or the death of relatives who would enable them to stay. They may have children back in their home country who are in danger. And although they are entitled to lawyers, they must pay for them.

“And so it is very frustrating and stressful frankly for the litigants in our courts to be in that limbo position for such a long period of time,” Marks said.

The couple who fled violence in Ecuador has built a new life in the U.S. She is now a teacher, he works with hazardous materials and they have three American-born children. With no resolution of their case, they remain in that limbo.

“We’re stuck here,” she said.

Christina Wilkes, an immigration lawyer at Grossman Law in Rockville, Maryland, is representing a mother, identified as Z.A., who arrived with her daughter and son from El Salvador in 2014 after a gang tried to recruit the daughter.

In Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia the number of cases has more than tripled in past five years, with some cases taking more than four years to be heard.

The daughter’s application for permanent residency has been pending since the beginning of the year when a judge granted her asylum, Wilkes said. But the mother still does not have a date for a judge to hear her asylum case, though the facts for both are nearly identical.

“For her, where her likelihood of success is relatively high, it’s really frustrating because she wants a resolution,” Wilkes said.

Andres, whose last name NBC is witholding, left Guatemala in August 2014, because he was discriminated against there, he said. He speaks Mam, a Mayan language, and dressed in traditional clothing, both of which made him a target.

“Because I’m indigenous, that’s why they discriminated against me,” he said. “A policeman would beat me, and we don’t have any rights because they rule. The Spanish speakers are the ones who rule all parts of the country.”

He has a work permit, he said, and is employed in construction. But he has twice had his asylum hearing postponed in Immigration Court in San Francisco and says he is scared that as he waits for his new date in January he will detained and deported.

Those waiting to have their asylum cases heard find the reality that there currently aren’t enough judges and staff to handle the demand leaving some applicants forced to wait for years while their witnesses and key evidence disappear.

“Because that is happening where I live in Oakland,” he said.

Shouan Riahi, an attorney with the non-profit Central American Legal Assistance in Brooklyn, New York, said that the delays are causing particular problems for those seeking asylum. If a court date is set years in the future, they might not think it’s important to meet with a lawyer immediately or know they face a one-year deadline for asylum applications.

“So that creates a whole host of issues because a lot of people that are applying for asylum now are people who didn’t have their hearing scheduled within a year,” he said. “And never went to see an attorney because why would you if your case is in 2019 and now their cases are being denied because they haven’t filed for asylum within a year.”

Some judges are counting the delays as an exceptional circumstance and are accepting the applications as filed on time, but others are turning immigrants away. Riahi’s office is appealing those cases and he expects some to end up in federal circuit court.

Other who are getting caught up in the delays are children who have been neglected, abused or abandoned and are eligible for special immigrant juvenile status. In some courts they are being deported before they receive their visas, he said.

Paul Wickham Schmidt, a retired immigration judge who served in Arlington, Virginia, for 13 years, said that the delays do not serve due process or justice.

“It’s not fair either way,” he said. “It’s not fair to keep people with good claims waiting, but it’s not really fair that if people have no claim their cases sort of aimlessly get shuffled off also. That leads to loss of credibility for the system.”

ABOUT THE DATA

These stories are based on enforcement, budget and demographic data from the federal government and nonprofit groups.

Our primary source for information on operations of the Immigration Court was the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. TRAC, a nonprofit at Syracuse University, has collected and organized data from federal law enforcement agencies for decades and makes that data available to the public. Its website is trac.syr.edu. TRAC is funded by grants and subscription fees; NBC subscribed to TRAC during this project.

Information about the size and demographics of the undocumented immigrant population came from two primary sources: the Pew Research Center and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Both groups use a roughly similar technique, the residual method, to estimate the undocumented population, and reach similar estimates of its size. For a brief description of the residual method, go here.

Some of the best information on the immigrant population as a whole as well as historic perspective on immigration enforcement comes from the Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. It is available here. The most recent year for which statistics are available is 2015, though 2016 statistics should be provided shortly.”

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Here’s a link that will get you a version where all the links graphs,  and charts work: http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/national-international/Immigration-Crisis-in-the-Courts-446790833.html

Next up, the EOIR/DOJ response!

PWS

09-26-16

HERE’S PT. I OF NBC4’s “CRISIS IN THE IMMIGRATION COURTS,” FEATURING JUDGE DANA LEIGH MARKS & ME DISCUSSING BACKLOGS!

SEE THE I-TEAM’S JODIE FLEISCHER’S REPORT HERE (PT I):

http://www.nbcwashington.com/investigations/Crisis-in-the-Courts-DMV-Immigration-Courts-Scheduling-Hearings-for-2021-446917903.html

“Crisis in the Courts: DC-Area Immigration Courts Scheduling Hearings for 2021

“Immigration is clearly an issue that divides the nation. Who should be allowed to stay in the US? Who should have to go?

Whether you support immigration or oppose it, the backlog in our nation’s immigration courts will disturb you.

People who shouldn’t be here, get to stay for years and build a life while they wait. And those who do legally deserve to stay may have family in danger back home, while their cases face delay after delay.

The News4 I-Team spent months working with NBC investigative teams across the country to examine our nation’s immigration case backlog.

In Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia the number of cases has more than tripled in past five years, with some cases taking more than four years to be heard.

“The quality of their lives are deeply affected by whether or not they’re allowed to stay,” said National Association of Immigration Judges President Dana Leigh Marks, adding that the decisions are incredibly tough.

They often involve people who faced violent assaults, religious persecution, even government oppression and torture in their home country.

“The cases that we hear, they are death penalty cases,” said Marks. “A lot of people tell us that they fear for their very life if they’re sent back to their home country.”

And by the time many of them make it into a courtroom, their definition of “home” has likely changed.

‘I Consider Myself American’

Jonathan Claros was born in El Salvador, but his home is now Montgomery County, Maryland.

“I consider myself American. I know some people are against that,” he said.

At 29, he’s been here almost half his life. He taught himself English, graduated from high school in Gaithersburg and works in construction.

“This country is made of immigrants,” Claros said. “It doesn’t matter what color they are, or race or ethnicity.”

What does matter is whether you come here legally.

Just last month, ICE deported Jonathan’s brothers, the youngest was a 19-year-old soccer star who was set to start college on a scholarship.

“They came here when they were little. They know better this country than where they were born,” Claros said.

Their parents and sister are all in Maryland and equally worried about the current state of the U.S. immigration system.

“What they’re doing right now for me is, you know, it’s devastating,” Claros told the News4 I-Team. “A lot of families have been separated from their loves.”

Three years ago he married a U.S. citizen and filed paperwork to get legal status.

“It’s been kind of hard; it’s been almost a year waiting for an answer,” he said of the delay.

US Immigration by the NumbersUS Immigration by the Numbers

An overview of immigration in the U.S., by the numbers.

(Published Monday, Sept. 25, 2017)

‘It’s a Disaster. I Think It’s Moving Toward Implosion’

 The nationwide backlog of immigration cases topped 617,000 this summer. The courts in Arlington and Baltimore handle all of the cases for D.C., Maryland and Virginia — more than 58,000 of them as of July. And that doesn’t even include immigrants who are here illegally and completely undocumented.

The News4 I-Team found a new immigrant walking into the Arlington court today could have to wait until December 2021 for a hearing; that’s the second longest delay in the nation.

“It’s a disaster. I think it’s moving toward implosion,” said Judge Paul Wickham Schmidt, who retired last year from Arlington’s immigration court, after 13 years on the bench.

“We probably had 9 to 10,000 each on our dockets,” said Schmidt. “I think sometimes we minimize the difficulty of having your life on hold.”

He said the system is painfully slow for several reasons, and the first is really basic: The entire system operated on paper. With no way to e-file cases or review briefs or documents online.

“They don’t let you see the inside of an immigration court. If they did, they’d clean it up! But there are files piled all over: They’re in the corridors, they’re all over the desks, they’re under desks,” said Schmidt, who can speak freely since he’s retired.

He said judges have to physically be in their offices to review files, which is especially difficult with a new administration policy that reassigns some judges to hear cases at the border.

That leaves courtrooms empty back in their home court and a full docket of cases that get pushed to the back of the line.

During the delay, witnesses who could help the immigrant’s case might disappear, and attorneys and judges could move or retire, causing more delay.

“The cases that are actually ready to go are being put to the end, and the judges are being assigned to cases of recently arrived individuals, many of whom haven’t had time to get lawyers. So I think it’s a misuse of resources,” said Schmidt.

He said there aren’t enough attorneys to keep the system moving, and having representation significantly impacts someone’s chance of staying.

The new administration has also eliminated prosecutors’ discretion to dismiss or delay thousands of low priority cases: People who haven’t committed a crime or have family members who are citizens.

“There’s only so much judge time,” said Schmidt, “and if you use it for people who are low priorities, then there’s some other person who isn’t getting a hearing.”

He added that with political priorities constantly shifting, judges should have control over which cases to call first.

‘People Are Being Hurt by These Delays’

“Unfortunately despite our best efforts, there are people being hurt by these delays, and they can be avoided if we would get sufficient resources,” said Judge Marks.

She said the court needs twice as many judges to tackle that backlog. But right now, the court’s budget and its management are within the Department of Justice, which is another major issue for the judges association.

“The way to assure stakeholders, the people who come before us, that they are being treated fairly is that we should be taken out of the Department of Justice and made a neutral court system,” said Marks.

She said Congress needs to look at the whole system and take action so the political climate surrounding immigration doesn’t impact whether or when people get their day in court.

“It is not a Democratic or Republican issue,” said Marks. “If you want to have increased focus on the border courts, fine. But build courts, hire judges and put them there before you start that program.”

The Justice Department told the News4 I-Team it’s committed to increasing the number of judges; an additional 65 judge positions are already budgeted for next year.

But that still doesn’t solve the problem of dozens of vacant positions, and sitting judges retiring.

There’s also an agency-wide review already underway which aims to identify ways to increase efficiency, through changes to court procedures and technology.

The DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which manages the court system, says its mission is to fairly, expeditiously and uniformly interpret and administer the nation’s immigration laws.

‘You’re Not Going to Get Every Single One Right’

Like Jonathan Claros, nearly half of all of the immigrants caught in the backlog in our area are from El Salvador — more than 28,760 people. But Judge Schmidt said the courts do not treat all nationalities equally.

“The law is sort of tough on Central American cases. Some of them can make it, some of them don’t,” said Schmidt, “An Ethiopian with an asylum claim, they almost always get granted.”

The court data shows the location also factors into whether an immigrant has a better chance of being able to stay.

The national average is just over 56 percent. Here in the D.C. area, it’s 61 percent. Los Angeles is 70 percent.

“Clearly, the attitudes of the judges and how they feel about asylum law has quite a bit to do with it,” said Schmidt, “If I were an immigrant, I’d rather be in California than Atlanta, Georgia. Any day.”

In one Georgia court, only 13 percent of people are allowed to stay in the U.S.

Schmidt said the appellate boards also lack consistency in their decisions.

“As a result, judges don’t get the guidance they need. The board doesn’t crack down on judges who are way out of line with what the law should be,” he said, adding that immigrants deserve to know their fate sooner.

Our system simply doesn’t allow for that.

Schmidt said with the volume of cases, the gravity of his difficult decisions was often emotional.

“You’re not going to get every single one right, and you think about the lives that you might have destroyed that you could have saved, and of course that weighs on you,” he said.

Jonathan Claros said he still believes in the American dream. He’s just worried his family’s heartache will keep growing while he waits for an answer.

“Everybody’s afraid,” he said. “They go out, but they don’t know if they are going to come back home again. It’s hard to live like that.”

Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, shot and edited by Steve Jones.

Source: Crisis in the Courts: DC-Area Immigration Courts Scheduling Hearings for 2021 – NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com/investigations/Crisis-in-the-Courts-DMV-Immigration-Courts-Scheduling-Hearings-for-2021-446917903.html#ixzz4tjp7to2P
Follow us: @nbcwashington on Twitter | NBCWashington on Facebook”

See Part II on News4 at 11:15 tonight!

PWS

09-25-17