DUE PROCESS CRISIS IN THE U.S. IMMIGRATION COURTS: New Report Finds That Detained Migrants In The Arlington & Baltimore Courts Face Severe Access To Counsel Problems Which Can Be “Outcome Determinative!”

https://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/DC_Access_to_Counsel_rev4_033117 (1).pdf

This report (see link) was prepared and issued by the Center For Popular Democracy. Here are some key findings:

  • Every year, nearly 4,000 people in Washington, D.C. metropolitan area courts, Arlington, Virginia, and Baltimore, Maryland, face deportation in civil immigration court without the assistance of a lawyer. Based on original data analysis of Department of Justice records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, seven out of ten detained individuals in immigration court removal proceedings in Arlington, VA and eight out of ten in Baltimore, MD did not have any legal representation.
    • ■  People without lawyers faced enormous odds in fighting their deportation cases. Among detained immigrants without lawyers, people in Arlington were only successful in their cases 11 percent of the time and unrepresented people in Baltimore only successful 7 percent of the time.
    • ■  Having a lawyer in Arlington more than doubled a person’s chances of being able to remain in the U.S. and quadrupled a person’s chance of obtaining relief in Baltimore.
  • ■  Between 2010 and 2015, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained nearly 15,000 people in local and county jails2 throughout the states of Maryland and Virginia. In both regions, people who did not have lawyers were more than twice as likely to remain detained during the entirety of their immigration case, even if they may have been eligible for release on bond.
  • **************************************

Read the entire report which has some case histories in addition to charts and graphs.

The findings are disturbing because the Arlington and Baltimore Immigration Courts generally are considered among the best in the nation in striving to provide due process. The judges in each court are committed to representation and often go out of their way to encourage and facilitate the appearance of counsel. The ICE Chief Counsel’s Offices also appreciate and support pro bono representation.

Additionally, as noted in the report, the DC-Baltimore metropolitan area has a number of great organizations dedicated to providing pro bono lawyers, as well as local practitioners, “big law” firms, and numerous outstanding law school clinics, all of which support the pro bono program.

Yet even under these generally favorable conditions, the overwhelming majority of individuals on the detained dockets in both courts appear pro se, without a lawyer. And, the results with a lawyer are very significantly better than for those forced to represent themselves.

I fear that the new program of expanded immigration detention being planned by DHS, with courts operating in obscure, out of the way locations along the Southern Border, will further impede already limited access to counsel and therefore further degrade due process in our U.S. Immigration Courts.

Frankly, I have not seen any mention of the importance of due process or facilitating access to counsel in any of the many Trump Administration pronouncements on immigration. It’s all about enforcement, detention, removals, and prosecutions. Fairness and due process, which should always be paramount concerns, appear to be ignored.

In the end, it likely will be up to the already overworked and stressed pro bono bar, human rights groups, and community-based NGOs to enforce immigrants’ rights to counsel and to full due process. And, ultimately, that’s probably going to require litigation and intervention by the Article III Courts.

Thanks to Adina Appelbaum, who worked on this report, for bringing it to my attention.




POLITICO: Immigration Advocates Find Area Of Agreement With AG Sessions: Plan To Boost Troubled Immigration Courts — But, Concerns Remain That Judicial Hiring Could Again Be Politicized — Those Who Care About Due Process Should Carefully Watch The Results Of The “Streamlined” Judicial Vetting System!


Danny Vinik reports:

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed attorneys from the Department of Justice on Tuesday to increase the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws, including laws against unlawful entry, human smuggling and identity fraud. It was yet another escalation of the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants, and immigrant-rights groups blasted the policy changes as ineffective and potentially illegal.

For all their opposition to the Trump administration’s immigration agenda, though, advocates actually back one of the new policies: the increased support for the immigration courts.

Sessions announced that DOJ will seek to add 75 immigration judges to the courts over the next year and will implement reforms to speed up the hiring process. These changes address a real problem with the immigration system—a nearly 600,000-case backlog at the immigration courts—and the move was a rare occasion in which advocates applauded the administration, though they were concerned how Sessions would implement the changes.

“We are very happy at the notion of increasing the amount of immigration judges and being able to address the backlog,” said Jennifer Quigley, an immigration expert at Human Rights First. “But as a senator and now as AG, we’ve always had concerns that Sessions’ motivation is to increase the number of deportations.”

. . . .

Experts largely blame Congress for the backlog, since lawmakers significantly increased resources for immigration enforcement without a commensurate increase in funding for the immigration courts. But in recent years, Congress has increased the number of authorized immigration judges, most recently in 2016 when it provide funding for an additional 55 judges, raising the authorized number from 319 to 374. However, even with enough money, EOIR has struggled to quickly hire judges, as the hiring process can take more than a year and retirements have created additional openings. Currently, there are 312 immigration judges nationwide, a significant increase over a year ago but still far below authorized levels. Trump’s budget blueprint proposed funding 449 judges in fiscal 2018, a significant increase that could find bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

More important than the request for additional judges, however, may be the hiring reforms. EOIR and DOJ both declined to comment on how the Justice Department was reforming the hiring process for immigration judges. Speaking to border patrol personnel at the U.S.-Mexico border Tuesday, Sessions provided few details. “Today, I have implemented a new, streamlined hiring plan,” he said. “It requires just as much vetting as before, but reduces the timeline, reflecting the dire need to reduce the backlogs in our immigration courts.”

Advocates worry that the hiring process could become politicized, with judges brought on who want to implement specific policies instead of fairly enforcing the law. “The idea of onboarding judges quicker and having more judges is a great thing,” said Joshua Breisblatt, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council. “But we need to see what it looks like, that it won’t be political.” The language in the budget blueprint was particularly concerning, advocates said, because it seemed to indicate that the courts are a tool for increasing deportations rather than a neutral arbiter of immigration claims.

“We were not happy with the way it was framed,” said Quigley.

It’s not an unrealistic concern. Immigration judges are technically employees of the Department of Justice, a structure that inherently creates a conflict of interest, since their job is to rule on immigration cases that are pushed by DOJ prosecutors, whereas most of the judiciary is independent. Advocates and the immigration judges union have long pushed to remove the immigration courts from the DOJ. And during the Bush administration, a DOJ investigation found that several immigration judges received their jobs due to their political connections, a scandal that serves as a warning today.

Despite those concerns, experts hope that Sessions and EOIR will undertake the hiring process in a timely and impartial manner, filling the bench with qualified judges who have enough time to understand the cases before them. As Sandweg said, “It’s something that’s long overdue.” In such a world, the additional judges could reduce the backlog, increasing the number of deportations, while spending more time on complicated asylum cases, giving asylum seekers more time to fairly present their cases and receive careful consideration.

In such a world, it’s possible that both the Trump administration and advocates could come out happy—a scenario almost impossible to imagine today.”


Sessions is certainly right to address the ridiculous 18-24 month hiring cycle for U.S. Immigration Judges, and should get credit for making reform one of his top priorities. He also should be credited with focusing attention on the 542,000 case backlog, something that the Obama Administration seemed to have preferred to ignore as it mushroomed in front of their eyes. (As I said in this blog yesterday, I’m not convinced that even the 125 additional Immigration Judges proposed by Sessions over the next two years will effectively address a pending docket of that magnitude: http://wp.me/p8eeJm-FQ. But, it’s a start.)

However, the devil is in the details. And, the details of Session’s “streamlined judicial hiring” have not been made public, although the Attorney General said they were “implemented” on April 11.

Remarkably, I have learned that as of today, April 12, both EOIR Management and the union representing U.S. Immigration Judges (of which I am a retired member) were “totally in the dark” about the contents of the plan. That means it was “hatched’ at the DOJ without any meaningful input from those in the U.S. Immigration Court system or the court’s “stakeholders” — those representing the interests of the hundred of thousands of individuals with cases currently before the court or who might come before the court in the future. That’s troubling. It also appears that members of Congress had not been briefed on the hiring changes.

What’s even more troubling is that it’s not just about the inexcusably slow and bureaucratic hiring practices of the DOJ and EOIR. It’s also about results. During the Obama Administration, although officials claimed that the system was “merit-based” the results suggest that it was anything but.

According to informed sources who have done the math, an amazing 88% of those selected were from government backgrounds and 64% were from ICE, which prosecutes cases before the Immigration Court. I have had reports of numerous superbly qualified individuals from the private sector whose applications were rejected or put on indefinite hold without any explanation.

So, it looks like the many-layered, glacially slow, inefficient, overly bureaucratized process used by the DOJ and EOIR was actually an elaborate “smokescreen” for a system that was heavily weighted toward selecting “government insiders” and against selecting those who had gained experience by representing immigrants or advocating for their rights. The “Appellate Division” of the U.S. Immigration Court, the BIA — which is supposed to be the “top administrative court” in immigration — hasn’t had a judge appointed from outside the Government since 2000, more than 16 years and two full administrations ago!

Based on performance to date, I’m not particularly optimistic that AG Jeff Sessions is going to make the changes necessary to establish a true merit-based system for Immigration Judge hiring that, in turn, will create an immigration judiciary representing more diverse backgrounds and experiences. But, hope springs eternal, and I’d be happy if he proves my skepticism to be wrong.

Only time will tell. But, the quality and composition of the “Sessions era” immigration judiciary is something that everyone who cares about due process and justice in America should watch closely.




Georgetown Law Journal Of National Security Law & Policy Announces Annual Symposium: The Border and Beyond: The National Security Implications Of Migration Refugees And Asylum Under U.S. And International Law, Feb. 28, 2017 — Elisa Massimino Of Human Rights First To Be Keynote Speaker — See Agenda And Register (Free) Here!

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Please Save the Date for the Journal of National Security Law & Policy annual symposium!
This year’s symposium is The Border and Beyond: The National Security Implications of Migration, Refugees, and Asylum under U.S. and International Law.
Please join us on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 at Georgetown Law.
In addition to the following three panels, the symposium will also feature a lunchtime keynote speech by Elisa Massimino, President and CEO of Human Rights First, one of the nation’s preeminent human rights advocacy organizations.
Panel 1: Immigration, Homeland Security, and the Constitution (9:05 – 10:30 AM)
Panelists will engage in debate on various constitutional issues, such as the separation of powers and the protection of civil liberties, in the context of recent events in the U.S. in which both migration and national security have been implicated.
Jen Daskal, Professor of Criminal, National Security, and Constitutional Law at American University Washington College of Law; former Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the Department of Justice
Lucas Guttentag, Professor of the Practice of Law at Stanford Law School; Founder and former National Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project
Marty Lederman, Professor of Constitutional Law at Georgetown University Law Center; former Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice’s Office Legal Counsel
Moderator: William Banks, Professor of Law and Founder of Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, Syracuse University College of Law

Panel 2: The U.S. Refugee and Asylum Legal Regime (10:35 AM – 12:00 PM)
Panelists will explore the current status of U.S. asylum and refugee laws and how the screening processes factor into national concerns. The panel will also discuss the Trump administration’s recent executive orders relating to border security and refugee policy in the U.S.
Mark Hetfield, President and CEO of HIAS, the oldest international migration and refugee resettlement agency in the U.S.
Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration; Former Vice President of Government Relations and Advocacy for the International Rescue Committee
Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at University of Maryland-College Park
Moderator: Jason Dzubow, Partner at Dzubow & Pilcher, PLLC; Adjunct Professor of Asylum Law at George Washington University Law School
Luncheon and Keynote Address by Elisa Massamino (12:30 pm – 1:05 pm)
Panel 3: Migration and Security Threats Abroad (1:15 PM – 2:40 PM)
Panelists will discuss the security implications of the refugee crisis in Europe and the potential legal obligations that the U.S. might have under international law to assist its allies in handling the situation.
Bec Hamilton, Professor of National Security, International, and Criminal Law at American University Washington College of Law
Karin Johnston, Professor of International Politics at the American University School of International Service
A. Trevor Thrall, Senior Fellow for the Cato Institute’s Defense and Foreign Policy Department; Associate Professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government
Mark Iozzi, Democratic Counsel at the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Moderator: David Stewart, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center

A reception will follow the event.

Please RSVP for the symposium here.


Thank you!
– The 2017 JNSLP Symposium Team


Looks like a great program! And, with free lunch (just for you, Judge Larry Burman) and a free reception thrown in, what’s not to like about that!

Some of you might have seen Elisa Massimino on TV as she and Ashton Kutcher testified on human trafficking before a Senate Committee on Wednesday. These are all-star panels with my good friends Professor David Stewart and Adjunct Professor, blogger, and immigration practitioner Jason “The Asylumist” Dzubow serving as panel moderators.

See you there!



Human Rights First Chief Critiques Obama Administration On Human Rights!


Kenneth Roth, Executive Director do Human Rights First writes in this Washington Post op-ed:

“As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office, many understandably fear a new hostility to human rights. One area of particular concern will be his approach to fighting terrorism: Nearly a year ago, he declared that “torture works”; he has expressed admiration for various dictators; and at one point during the campaign, he said, “When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.”

Sadly, Trump’s ability to disregard human rights norms will be made easier by President Obama’s inability to fully roll back and confront President George W. Bush’s abuses.”


Roth doesn’t even touch on the important issue of immigration. Overuse of immigration detention, poor detention conditions, hijacking of the U.S. Immigration Court’s due process mission to achieve enforcement objectives, and purposely wooden and underclusive interpretations of the Convention Against Torture and “particular social group” protections for refugees were largely left unaddressed or arguably even aggravated under the Obama Administration.