BRINGING OUR CONSTITUTION BACK TO LIFE — AN IMPORTANT FIRST STEP: “JAYAPAL, SMITH INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO REFORM IMMIGRATION DETENTION SYSTEM!”

https://www.theindianpanorama.news/unitedstates/jayapal-smith-introduce-legislation-reform-immigration-detention-system/

From Indian Panorama:

“WASHINGTON (TIP): Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09) and Indian American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) introduced, on Oct 3, the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, legislation to reform the systemic problems in immigration detention system. This bill will end the use of private facilities and repeal mandatory detention, while restoring due process, oversight, accountability, and transparency to the immigration detention system.

“The high moral cost of our inhumane immigration detention system is reprehensible. Large, private corporations operating detention centers are profiting off the suffering of men, women and children. We need an overhaul,” said Congresswoman Jayapal. “It’s clear that the Trump administration is dismantling the few protections in place for detained immigrants even as he ramps up enforcement against parents and vulnerable populations. This bill addresses the most egregious problems with our immigration detention system. It’s Congress’ responsibility to step up and pass this bill.”

“We must fix the injustices in our broken immigration detention system,” said Congressman Adam Smith. “As the Trump administration continues to push a misguided and dangerous immigration agenda, we need to ensure fair treatment and due process for immigrants and refugees faced with detention. This legislation will address some of the worst failings of our immigration policy, and restore integrity and humanity to immigration proceedings.”

In addition to repealing mandatory detention, a policy that often results in arbitrary and indefinite detention, the legislation creates a meaningful inspection process at detention facilities to ensure they meet the government’s own standards. The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish legally enforceable civil detention standards in line with those adopted by the American Bar Association. With disturbing track records of abuse and neglect, DHS has a responsibility to ensure that facilities are held accountable for the humane treatment of those awaiting immigration proceedings.

Individuals held in immigration detention system are subject to civil law, but are often held in conditions identical to prisons. In many cases, detained people are simply awaiting their day in court. To correct the persistent failures of due process, the legislation requires the government to show probable cause to detain people, and implements a special rule for primary caregivers and vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and people with serious medical and mental health issues.”

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

Since these guys are Democrats, their bill is obviously DOA. But, it is important to start “laying down markers” — even symbolic ones — for the future.

As a  former administrative judge who was required to administer and enforce mandatory detention (under DOJ rules, we were not permitted to consider the constitutionality of the mandatory detention statutes and the DHS implementing regulations) for the better part of two decades, I can assure you that it was a totally unnecessary, grossly wasteful, and stunningly unhumane blot on our national conscience and our reputation as a nation that adheres to principles of simple human decency.

There is absolutely no reason why U.S. Imigration Judges cannot determine who needs to be detained as a flight risk or a danger to the community and who doesn’t! But, for that to happen, we also need an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court not beholden to the Attorney General (particularly one like Jeff “Gonzo Apocalypto” Sessions with a perverse ignorance of Constitutional protections, an overwhelming bias against immigrants, and a record largely devoid of notable acts of human decency.)

Every study conducted during the last Administration, including DHS’s own Advisory Committee, found serious problems and inadequate conditions in private detention and recommended that it be eliminated. Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch actually announced an end to private detention for criminals. Yet, remarkably and unconscionably, the response of the Trump Administration, led by Gonzo Apocalypto, was to double down and expand the use of expensive, inhumane private detention for convicted criminals and for “civil” immigration detainees whose sole “crime” is to seek justice from the courts in America.

Thanks much to Nolan Rappaport for sending this in!

PWS

10-06-17

 

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

 

BREAKING: I-TEAM 4 UNCOVERS HARD EVIDENCE THAT TRUMP ADMINISTRATION POLICIES ARE MAKING IMMIGRATION COURT BACKLOGS WORSE! — “ADR” Rips Off Taxpayers While Denying Due Process! — See More Of Award-Winning Investigative Reporter Jodie Fleischer’s Interview With Me!

Here’s the video and graphs:

http://www.nbcwashington.com/investigations/Federal-Records-Show-New-Immigration-Policies-Delay-Local-Cases-Increase-Court-Backlog-449104633.html

Here’s the story:

“By Jodie Fleischer and Rick Yarborough

Newly released records obtained by the News4 I-Team show the severe impact new immigration policies have in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area; one former judge says it’s making the huge immigration court case backlog even worse.
Records from January through July of 2017 show immigration judges around the country were forced to postpone 24,806 cases, because those judges were not in their courtrooms to hear cases.
In the Virginia and Maryland court locations, which serve the D.C. area, more than 2,700 local cases have been pushed off, sometimes for years, because the judges were instead reassigned to hear cases at the border.
“What it isn’t serving, I think, is due process and the ends of justice,” said Judge Paul Wickham Schmidt, who retired from the immigration court in Arlington in 2016, “I think it’s a misuse of resources.”

 

Source: Federal Records Show New Immigration Policies Delay Local Cases, Increase Court Backlog – NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com/investigations/Federal-Records-Show-New-Immigration-Policies-Delay-Local-Cases-Increase-Court-Backlog-449104633.html#ixzz4uUmx6bGk
Follow us: @nbcwashington on Twitter | NBCWashington on Facebook

Schmidt said he’s glad he left the bench, because it allows him to speak freely about what he’s seeing in the court system today.
“It’s a disaster. I think it’s moving toward implosion,” he added, directing his barbs at current immigration policies and the shift in which types of cases are now a priority.
“They’re trying to detain everybody who arrives, so they’ve assigned more judges to the southern border,” said Schmidt. “And those judges leave behind full dockets.”
DC-Area Immigration Courts Scheduling Hearings for 2021
The News4 I-Team learned in the first seven months of this year, the Department of Justice reassigned judges from around the country more than 200 times, usually for two weeks or more. Additional reassignments are ongoing and more are scheduled later this year.
In Arlington, Virginia records show at least 15 reassignments, and while the judges were gone, they had to postpone 2,580 local cases. Only Los Angeles, New York and Miami had more.
“But since most judges are backed up for years, they don’t have any vacant (slots). It’s not like they move them to next week. They move them to slots 3 to 4 years down the road,” said Schmidt. “Why would you use people in an office like Arlington that’s overwhelmed?”

 

Source: Federal Records Show New Immigration Policies Delay Local Cases, Increase Court Backlog – NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com/investigations/Federal-Records-Show-New-Immigration-Policies-Delay-Local-Cases-Increase-Court-Backlog-449104633.html#ixzz4uUnE6DPv
Follow us: @nbcwashington on Twitter | NBCWashington on Facebook

The Arlington court is already scheduling cases for December 2021. That’s the second longest delay in the nation.
In May alone, five of the seven Arlington judges had weeks of reassignment to the border. Records show they delayed 946 cases as a result.
“When you can’t give people hearing dates that are reasonable dates, which they can count on, they know it’s actually going to take place, then as a judge I feel you lose credibility,” said Schmidt.
Immigration: Crisis in the Courts
Schmidt said to make matters worse, while judges are reassigned, they cannot work remotely on cases back at their home courts because the files are all on paper, not electronic.
He said at the border, many cases involve people who recently arrived in the United States and haven’t had time to get a lawyer, so a lot of those cases are not even ready to be heard and get delayed as well.
Published 2 hours ago | Updated 50 minutes ago

 

Source: Federal Records Show New Immigration Policies Delay Local Cases, Increase Court Backlog – NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com/investigations/Federal-Records-Show-New-Immigration-Policies-Delay-Local-Cases-Increase-Court-Backlog-449104633.html#ixzz4uUncKBbO
Follow us: @nbcwashington on Twitter | NBCWashington on Facebook

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What kind of “court system” puts “Gonzo Enforcement” first and Due Process last? A “captive” one run by incompetentent politicos!

I hope that when Sessions finally shows up for his long-awaited hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Leahy will grill him on his biased and incompetent administration of the U.S. Immigration  Courts as well as the false narratives and  misrepresentations Sessions spreads about Dreamers and migrants generally.

PWS

10-03-17

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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.”

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

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

AWARD-WINNING NBC INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER JODIE FLEISCHER & THE “I-TEAM” TACKLE THE MAN-MADE DISASTER IN OUR UNITED STATES IMMIGRATION COURTS — Including A Clip Of Her Interview With Me — MUST SEE TV, MONDAY, SEPT. 25, ON THE 6 PM SEGMENT OF NBC4 NEWS!

Those of you who have seen Jodie in action know that she is a brilliant, hard-hitting, no holds barred investigative journalist who always gets to the bottom of her story — no matter how little some public officials want the truth to come out! She and her all-star investigative team, including Senior Investigative Platform Manager Rick Yarborough and Photojournalist Editor Stephen Jones, are relentless.

Using her contacts throughout the nation, Jodie shows you what our Government has been trying to hide for years — the ridiculous backlogs and impending failure of one of our nation’s largest, perhaps the largest, Federal Court system! I was stunned and amazed by the amount of technical knowledge and feeling about the human side of this needless national tragedy that Jodie brought to her interview with me.

The judges and staff of the Immigration Court work hard. That’s always been true. But, that has not helped many of the vulnerable individuals caught up in the morass and not always finding the justice that our laws promise them. Similarly, it does not serve the true needs of DHS enforcement to have results determined by the number of pending cases in a particular court, many of which should have long ago been settled by the responsible exercise of prosecutorial discretion as they would have been in almost any other high volume court system in America.

What has happened to the United States Immigration Courts under the control of the U.S.Department of Justice is a sad tale of bureaucratic incompetence, intransigence, inbreeding, improper influence by enforcement authorities, and inability to provide the independent judiciary that can deliver on the court’s forgotten promise of “guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.” This has combined with a disturbing lack of Congressional oversight and reform. How can we clean up this tragic “train wreck” that threatens to topple the entire Federal Court System and to undermine our nation’s Constitution and our ideals?

Over three quarters of U.S counties now have residents in the Immigration Court system! But, even if you aren’t one of them, or a relative, friend, neighbor, employer, teacher, student, employee, patient, customer, or fellow parishioner of one of them, this mess affects you as an American. If this is the way we treat the most vulnerable among us, what’s going to save you when your precious rights are challenged in a U.S. justice system that has lost sight of justice?

Tune in Monday night to find out more about one of “America’s Most Underreported Crises.” Those interested should be able to “live stream” NBC4 News at 6 with the NBC4 app. I assume it will also be available online in the NBC4 app archives under “Investigative Reporting” once the piece has aired.

PWS

09-23-17

UPDATE:

Part II Of Jodie’s Report, which specifically examines the Baltimore and Arlington Immigration Courts, will air at 11:15 PM tonight.

MORE IMMIGRATION COURT INSANITY! — DHS REPORTEDLY STRIPS OWN ATTORNEYS OF AUTHORITY TO NEGOTIATE BONDS, WAIVE APPEALS!

Sources from several areas of the country have informed me that there is a new, of course unpublished and unannounced, policy at DHS prohibiting ICE Assistant Chief Counsel who represent the agency in U.S. Immigraton Court from either negotiating bonds with private counsel or waiving appeals from U.S. Immigraton Judge decisions ordering release on bond.

This is just further evidence of the consequences of having ignorant proponents of “gonzo enforcement” in charge of both the DHS and the U.S. Immigraton Courts at the Department of Justice.

First, negotiated bonds are one of the key ways of making bond dockets move forward in an efficient manner in the U.S. Immigraton Courts. Bonds are initially sent by ICE Enforcement personnel, often on an arbitrary or rote basis. Without authority to negotiate bonds, particularly in advance, each bond hearing will take longer. Moreover, since bond cases take precedence in Immigraton Courts, longer bond dockets will further limit the already inadequate court time for hearing the merits of removal cases. With a growing backlog of over 600,000 cases, this appears to be an intentional effort to undermine due process in the Immigration Courts. Typically, when I served at the Arlington Immigration Court, at my encouragement, the parties agreed on most bonds in advance and neither party appealed more than 1%-2% of my bond decisions. Indeed, discussing settlement with the Assistant Chief Counsel in advance was more or less of a prerequisite for me to redetermine a bond.

Second, appealing all bond release decisions will also overburden the already swamped Appellate Division of the U.S. Immigration Courts, the Board of Immigraton Appeals (“BIA”). As in the Immigraton Courts, bond appeal cases at the BIA take precedence and will push decisions on merits appeals further back in line.

Third, Immigraton Judges usually only prepare a bond decision (known as a “Bond Memorandum”) in cases where a bond appeal is actually taken. Since that currently happens only infrequently, the process is manageable. However, if appeals are taken in more cases, and Bond Memoranda are “priorities,” Immigration Judges will have to spend more time writing or dictating Bond Memoranda, further limiting their time to hear cases on the merits. Moreover, by making it more burdensome to release individuals on bond, the system actually creates an inappropriate bias against releasing individuals on bond.

Fourth, yielding to inappropriate pressure from the “Legacy INS,” the Clinton DOJ gave Assistant Chief Counsel regulatory authority to unilaterally stay the release of a respondent on bond under an Immigraton Judge’s order provided that: 1) the Director originally had set “no bond;” or 2) the original bond was set at $10,000 or more. That means that the DHS can effectively neuter the power of the Immigraton Judge to release an individual on bond pending the merits hearing. By contrast, the respondent has no right to a stay pending a decision by the Immigraton Judge not to allow release, unless the BIA specifically grants a stay (which almost never happens in my experience).

Fifth, unlike petitions to review final orders of removal, which must be filed with the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals at the conclusion of all proceedings, judicial review of bond decisions is sought in the U.S. District Courts. More decisions denying bonds have the potential to create new workload issues for the U.S. District Court.

Fifth, the individuals in the DHS most with the most knowledge and expertise in how the U.S. Immigration Courts work are the Assistant Chief Counsel. Stripping them of their authority to control dockets and settle cases, authority possessed and exercised by every other prosecutor in America, is both dumb and insulting. In what other system do the “cops” have the authority to overrule the U.S. Attorney, the District Attorney, or the State’s Attorney on matters they are prosecuting in court? It also makes the Assistant Chief Counsel job less professional and less attractive for talented lawyers.

In short, the Trump Administration is making a concerted attack on both common sense and due process in the U.S. Immigration Court system. The results are not only unfair, but are wasting taxpayer funds and hampering the already impeded functioning of the U.S. Immigraton Court system. Unless or until the Article III Federal Courts are willing to step in and put an end to this nonsense, the quagmire in the U.S. Immigration Courts will become deeper and our overall U.S. justice system will continue to falter.

We need an independent Article I Immigraton Court now!

PWS

09-23-17

“INEXCUSABLE OMISSIONS” — 4th Cir. Slams BIA For Unjustified Denial Of Family-Based Gang Threat Asylum Claim From El Salvador — BIA’s Shoddy Factual & Legal Analysis Of “One Central Reason” Exposed — ZAVALETA-POLICIANO v. SESSIONS!

1612

ZAVALETA-POLICIANO v. SESSIONS, 4th Cir., as amended 09-18-17 (Published)

PANEL:  GREGORY, Chief Judge, WILKINSON, Circuit Judge, and DAVIS, Senior Circuit Judge

OPINION BY:  Chief Judge Gregory

KEY QUOTE:

“We hold that the BIA abused its discretion in affirming the IJ’s clearly erroneous factual finding. To start, the IJ unjustifiably relied on the fact that the threatening notes themselves did not explain why Zavaleta Policiano was targeted. As this Court recently explained, the single-minded focus on the “articulated purpose” for the threats while “failing to consider the intertwined reasons for those threats” represents “a misapplication of the statutory nexus standard.” Cruz v. Sessions, 853 F.3d 122, 129 (4th Cir. 2017). It is unrealistic to expect that a gang would neatly explain in a note all the legally significant reasons it is targeting someone. The IJ’s heavy reliance on the fact that El Salvadoran gangs target various groups of people in the country was similarly misguided. That “the criminal activities of MS-13 affect the population as a whole,” we have explained, is simply “beside the point” in evaluating an individual’s particular claim. Crespin-Valladares, 632 F.3d at 127.

More fundamentally, the IJ and BIA failed to appreciate, or even address, critical evidence in the record. It is this Court’s responsibility to “ensure that unrebutted, legally significant evidence is not arbitrarily ignored by the factfinder.” Baharon v. Holder, 588 F.3d 228, 233 (4th Cir. 2009). The IJ did discuss the threatening notes (although while drawing unwarranted conclusions, as discussed above). But the IJ failed to address, or to assign any weight to, the significant body of unrebutted, indeed, undisputed, probative evidence giving meaning and context to the threatening notes: (1) Zavaleta Policiano and her father’s stores, as well as their familial relationship, were well-known in the community; (2) MS-13 threatened Zavaleta Policiano several times by phone; (3) Zavaleta Policiano’s statement that MS-13 “threatened me because my father had left;” and (4) the threats against Zavaleta Policiano began immediately after her father fled to Mexico. These are inexcusable omissions in the agency’s analysis.

The Government asks us to reject much of the overlooked evidence, characterizing it as Zavaleta Policiano’s “subjective beliefs [] as to the gangs’ motives.” Appellees’ Br. 22–23. This argument does not explain away the IJ’s and BIA’s wholesale failure to discuss the evidence, however. See Ai Hua Chen v. Holder, 742 F.3d 171, 179 (4th Cir. 2014) (explaining that the IJ and BIA must “offer a specific, cogent reason for rejecting evidence” (quoting Tassi, 660 F.3d at 720)). What is more, Zavaleta Policiano’s affidavit includes much more than her “subjective beliefs”—it contains key evidence of the context, nature, frequency, and timing of the gang’s threats against her and her family. By stipulating to the credibility and veracity of the affidavit, the Government forwent the opportunity to probe and weaken the evidentiary basis of Zavaleta Policiano’s claims.

When considering the unchallenged record evidence, we are compelled to conclude that Zavaleta Policiano’s familial relationship to her father was “at least one central reason” MS-13 targeted and threatened her. The evidence shows that MS-13 explicitly threatened to kill Zavaleta Policiano’s father and his family if he did not pay the extortion demands, and that “[i]mmediately after” he fled El Salvador, the gang began threatening Zavaleta Policiano. A.R. 210. The timing of the threats against Zavaleta Policiano is key, as it indicates that MS-13 was following up on its prior threat to target Barrientos’s family if he did not accede to the gang’s demands. This explanation appears especially probable given the absence of record evidence that Zavaleta Policiano was ever threatened before her father’s departure. Beyond the timing, Zavaleta Policiano’s affidavit outlines the well-known relationship between the two businesses and the Policiano family, and contextualizes her statement that she was threatened because her father left. And just as MS-13 threatened Zavaleta Barrientos and his children, the gang threatened Zavaleta Policiano and her children, suggesting a pattern of targeting nuclear family members. The totality of this undisputed evidence demonstrates that Zavaleta Policiano was persecuted on account of her family membership.

We add that the BIA’s attempt to distinguish our precedent is unpersuasive. The BIA found, in a single sentence without any analysis, that Zavaleta Policiano’s claim is distinct from the one at issue in Hernandez-Avalos. A.R. 4 (mentioning Hernandez- Avalos, 784 F.3d at 949–50). But that decision actually bolsters Zavaleta Policiano’s position. There, the BIA denied asylum to a mother who was threatened by an El Salvadoran gang after she refused to allow her son to join the gang. The BIA held that the mother was not threatened on the basis of familial ties, but rather “because she would not consent to her son engaging in a criminal activity.” Hernandez-Avalos, 784 F.3d at 949 (citation omitted). In other words, the BIA determined that the gang’s threats against the mother were motivated by its desire to recruit the son. This Court rejected that “excessively narrow reading of the requirement that persecution be undertaken ‘on account of membership in a nuclear family.’” Id. We instead found that the nexus requirement was satisfied, explaining that the mother’s relationship “to her son is why she, and not another person, was threatened with death if she did not allow him to join [the gang].” Id. at 950. The same logic applies here. MS-13 warned Zavaleta Barrientos that it would target his family if he did not pay the extortion demands, and the gang in fact threatened Zavaleta Policiano immediately after her father left. Zavaleta Policiano’s relationship to her father is why she, rather than some other person, was targeted for extortion.

For all the reasons outlined above, we conclude that the BIA erred by affirming the IJ’s clearly erroneous finding. Zavaleta Policiano was not required to prove that the gang’s threats were “exclusively” motivated by her family ties—such “a requirement defies common sense.” See Cruz, 853 F.3d at 130. She only needed to show that the relationship with her father was “at least one central reason” MS-13 threatened her. Because Zavaleta Policiano made this showing, we find the BIA decision to be manifestly contrary to law and an abuse of discretion. See Hernandez-Avalos, 784 F.3d at 953 n.10. By establishing that she was persecuted on account of her family membership, Zavaleta Policiano has satisfied the first two requirements of her asylum claim.”

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Read the complete decision at the above link.

“Inexcusable” describes how the Immigration Courts under the BIA’s defective leadership are skewing facts and law to deny protection to Central American refugees. Not everyone can get a great lawyer like Tamara Jezic, and not every Circuit Court is as conscientious as this Fourth Circuit panel. That means that many of those Central Americans being railroaded through the system by DHS and EOIR are being improperly denied protection.

How can Federal Courts including the Supremes justify continuing to give “deference” to an appellate body that possesses neither expertise in the law nor care in reviewing records? It’s clear that BIA appellate review has become highly politicized and biased against asylum seekers. How much more of this nonsense are the Federal Courts going to put up with?

It also appears that the term “excessively narrow reading” is a perfect description of the BIA’s recent precedent in  Matter of L-E-A, 27 I&N Dec. 40 (BIA 2017), in which the BIA tortured the law to come up with a way of denying most family-based claims. Will the Fourth Circuit “call out” the BIA on this attempt to evade the law by denying family-based asylum claims?

We need an independent Article I Immigration Court!

Thanks and congratulations to respondent’s attorney Tamara Jezic for alerting me to this important decision.

PWS

09-18-17

 

 

BRET STEPHENS IN NYT: Right Finally Getting The Trump They Deserve!

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/15/opinion/trump-conservatives-democrats-daca.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region%C2%AEion=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region&_r=0

Stephens writes:

“Who are the “cuckservatives” now?

I use the epithet — “cuck” is short for cuckold — since it’s the one Trump’s most vociferous supporters hurled at mainstream Republicans they accused of caving in to the moral bullying of liberals, especially on the subjects of race and immigration.

But now it’s the president who is doing exactly that, making the case for DACA beneficiaries in terms his base most condemns: as “good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military” and who don’t deserve to be thrown out of the country simply because their parents brought them to the United States as children. It’s the kind of thing Nancy Pelosi — or, worse, John McCain — might say.

It’s also the kind of thing that could make for a successful presidency, if only Trump could follow his pragmatic instinct, banish his inner Steve Bannon and shelve the worst promises of his candidacy, as he already has with his threats to exit NATO.

Next steps could include pairing an infrastructure bill with tax reform, eliminating budget sequestration and the debt ceiling, restoring funding to the State Department and cutting it to the United Nations, and saving the nuclear power industry through deregulation and federal subsidies — in the name of combating climate change.

But Trump’s move toward the Democrats on DACA — just as his earlier move toward them on the debt ceiling — isn’t about pragmatism. It’s not even about the plasticity of his convictions.

It’s about his addiction to betrayal, his contempt for those who bend their knee to him, his disdain for “losers” (especially when they’re on his side) and his desperate need to be admired by those who despise him most simply because they have the wit to see through him. This is a presidency whose defining feature isn’t ideology, much less policy. It’s neurosis.

In other words, there is no “pivot” at work in the presidency, in the mold of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s leftward turn during his governorship of California. There’s a mood swing.

That might comfort the Trump true believers who fear their president is abandoning them. It shouldn’t: He feels about as much loyalty toward them and their convictions as he’s felt toward his several wives. Remember that, as recently as 2012, he denounced Mitt Romney for an excessively harsh attitude toward immigrants, calling the Massachusetts governor’s policy of self-deportation “crazy” and a turnoff to “everybody who is inspired to come into this country.”

All of this is fun, since it’s always delightful to see blowhards and bigots get their comeuppance at the hands of their idol. The ideologues of the right are left to make do with their jester and his antics. I hope they have a sense of humor about it.

But there’s also a lesson for conservatives who mistook Trump’s bluster for seriousness. Not least among the conservative “Never Trump” objections to the candidate is that he would be a disaster to the Republican Party — not just because his beliefs, such as they were, were anathema to the party’s best traditions, but because at heart he was a destructive opportunist with no core convictions beyond his own immediate advantage.

The president’s newfound good sense on DACA is good news for the country, provided it lasts. Nobody should count on it whipping any sense into those conservatives who fell for him, also known as cucks.”

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Read Stephens’s full column at the link.

Stephens chooses to be a bozo on climate change (controversy ups readership, I suppose), but he sure does understand the evil dynamics of Donald Trump. Believe in nothing, be loyal to nobody, but require absolute belief and loyalty from others. That’s why Trump is such a danger to our country and to our national security. He doesn’t believe in the Constitution, humane values, democracy, or the free world for that matter. He is his own “Cult of Personality” and his erratic self-centered behavior certainly is reminiscent of guys like Mao (although to be fair, The Donald hasn’t ordered the liquidation of his “enemies” — just public humiliation, dissing, twitter shaming, threats of political retaliation, and occasionally calling for baseless criminal prosecutions).

Any time overhyped Neo-Fascists like Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Steve King, and Sean Hannity as well as ideologue White Nationalists like Jeff “Gonzo Apocalypto” Sessions, Stephen Miller, and Steve Bannon are up in arms, you know that the country is moving in the correct (can’t use the term “right” here) direction.

PWS

09-16-17

THE HILL: N. RAPPAPORT SUGGESTS LEGISLATIVE SOLUTIONS FOR LONG-TERM “TPSers!”

http://thehill.com/opinion/immigration/350668-with-dreamers-out-bring-immigrants-under-temporary-protection-status-in

Nolan writes:

“The Temporary Protected Status program (TPS) provides refuge in the United States to more than 300,000 aliens from a total of 13 countries: El Salvador, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

They are supposed to leave when it is safe for them to return to their own countries, but it can take many years for conditions in their countries to improve. The need for TPS can last for decades.

It does not include a path to permanent resident status, but should aliens who have lived in the United States for decades be required to leave when their TPS is terminated?

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) says that at some point they have been here so long that they should be allowed to remain permanently: “There should be some rational way to transition people who have been here for a long time … who because of the length of their stay have basically become valued members of our community.”

. . . .

An alien is free to apply for other types of immigration status while he has TPS.

So, should congress make permanent resident status available to TPS aliens when conditions in their countries keep them here an exceptionally long time?

I agree with Lofgren that at some point, TPS aliens have been living here so long that it no longer makes sense to send them back to their own countries.

The best solution would be to change the TPS provisions to make some form of permanent status available when aliens are forced to remain for exceptionally long times because conditions in their countries do not improve, but that might not be possible.

One of the TPS provisions imposes a limitation on consideration in the Senate of legislation to adjust the status of aliens who have TPS. It provides that it shall not be in order in the Senate to consider any bill or amendment that provides for adjustment to lawful temporary or permanent resident status for TPS aliens, or has the effect of amending the TPS provisions in any other way.

This restriction can be waived or suspended with an affirmative vote from three-fifths of the senators, which is known as a “supermajority vote.”

But there is an alternative that would not require changing the TPS provisions.

The Registry legalization program, which was established in 1929, makes lawful permanent resident status available to qualified aliens who entered the United States before January 1, 1972; have resided in the United States continuously since such entry; and have good moral character.

An update of the registry cutoff point is long overdue. It has not been changed since it was set at 1972, by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA).

The change would apply to all undocumented aliens who can meet the eligibility requirements.”

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

Read Nolan’s complete article, which contains a very succinct and helpful explanation of TPS which I omitted above, over at The Hill.

I think that Nolan has hit it on the head here! There is virtue in using existing administrative processes to deal with new issues. And, as he points out, “Registry” is there for the taking, and it’s been 30 years since it was updated!

Recollection: Understandably, we didn’t see very many “Registry” cases during my tenure at the Arlington Immigration Court (2003-16). But the rare ones we did receive always received “waivers” of the “no business at lunch rule” because they always involved such interesting human stories. I never came across one myself. But, I think that my colleagues who did always felt like they had discovered a “nugget of gold” in the least expected place! It would also help the Immigration Courts because most of the Registry cases (like the TPS cases) could be adjudicated over at USCIS, thereby reducing “docket pressure.” Bring back Registry! Yea Nolan!

PWS

09-14-17

ATTN: “NEW DUE PROCESS ARMY” & ALL INTERESTED ATTORNEYS: Pro Bono Immigration Lawyers Needed In NOVA — Training Will Be Provided By Catholic Charities Legal Services!

Our minister, Pastor Deborah Porras of Beverley Hills Community Methodist Church in Alexandria, VA sent me the following:

———- Forwarded message ———
From: NOVASanctuaryCongregationsNetwork <novasanctuarycongregationsnetwork@googlegroups.com>
Date: Wed, Sep 13, 2017 at 1:16 PM
Subject: Seeking attorneys for pro bono immigration cases
To: NOVASanctuaryCongregationsNetwork <novasanctuarycongregationsnetwork@googlegroups.com>

 

Please pass the following on to attorneys who may want to help with pro bono immigration cases:

 

 

Are you a lawyer? Would you like to use your legal skills to help keep our immigrant neighbors safe? One of the most pressing needs we hear from immigrant organizations in the DC area is “more lawyers” – and with DACA recipients now needing to look at what other options they may have to remain in the country, the need for legal services is especially great right now.

 

The All Souls (Unitarian) Church Sanctuary Movement Support Committee is sponsoring a training for lawyers who are interested in volunteering on a pro bono immigration case. Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services will provide the training, coordinate case assignments, and support volunteers who are handling cases.

Immigration Legal Services Training
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
6:30-8:45 p.m.
All Souls Church Unitarian
1500 Harvard Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
The training will include a general overview of immigration law as well as specific information on U visas for immigrants who have been the victim of a crime. Volunteers will be initially assigned to cases involving U visas.
Volunteers must be lawyers who are currently licensed to practice and may not be federal employees. If you’re interested in volunteering, click here to register for the required training, or contact Maya Hermann at hermann.maya@icloud.com.

You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups “NOVASanctuaryCongregationsNetwork” group.
To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from it, send an email to novasanctuarycongregationsnetwork+unsubscribe@googlegroups.com.
To post to this group, send email to novasanctuarycongregationsnetwork@googlegroups.com.
To view this discussion on the web visit https://groups.google.com/d/msgid/novasanctuarycongregationsnetwork/66f7c2fb-6ef2-427b-b6e8-3f7efb9cc3cf%40googlegroups.com.
For more options, visit https://groups.google.com/d/optout.

Sent from Pastor Deborah with blessings!

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

There is no greater due process need in America today than the need for pro bono lawyers to represent migrants appearing before the USCIS and in the U.S. Immigration Courts. Unlike criminal cases, Government appointed counsel is not available to those facing removal from the US, even if they have been here for decades or have green cards.

Lawyers make a difference!  In Immigration Court represented migrants are 5 to 17 times more likely to “win”  their cases than are those who are forced to appear without counsel. I’m sure the same is true before USCIS in the area of “U” visas for victims of crime. The “U” visa process is complicated and requires meticulous documentation and effective presentation. I personally can’t imagine how anyone could successfully navagate this process without a highly competent lawyer!

Sign up now to make a difference in someone’s life and to make America and the world a better place.

Note: In my “cut and paste” I wasn’t able to reproduce the “live” links in the original e-mail. So those interested should contact Maya Hermann at her e-mail address in bold above!

PWS

09-13-17

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I over my 10 minutes here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PWS

09-03-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

BREAKING: IN MEMORIUM: HON. JUAN P. OSUNA, LEGENDARY IMMIGRATION FIGURE, DIES SUDDENLY — Was Chairman of BIA, Director of EOIR, High-Ranking DOJ Executive, Editor, Professor — Will Be Remembered As Kind, Gentle, Scholarly, Dedicated!

I have just learned that my friend and former colleague Juan P. Osuna tragically died suddenly of a heart attack last night. Until May of this year, Juan was the Director of EOIR. But, he was much more than that to those of us in the immigration world.

I first met Juan when he was an Editor for Interpreter Releases, the leading weekly immigration newsletter, working with one of my mentors, the late legendary Maurice A. Roberts. Juan later succeeded Maury as Editor-In-Chief and rose to a major editorial position within the West Publishing legal empire. He was serving in that position when I recommended him for a position as an Appellate Immigration Judge/Board Member of the Board of Immigration Appeals during my tenure as BIA Chair. Juan was appointed to that position by Attorney General Janet Reno in 2000.

While serving together on the BIA, Juan and I often joined forces in seeking full due process and legal protections for migrants. Sometimes, our voices were heard together in dissent. In one of those cases, Matter of J-E-, 23 I&N Dec. 291 (BIA 2002) we joined in finding that our colleagues in the majority were interpreting the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”) in an overly restrictive way. In another, Matter of Andazola, 23 I&N Dec. 219 (BIA 2003), we joined in finding that our colleagues in the majority had significantly undervalued the Immigration Judge’s careful findings of “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to U.S. citizen children.

Following my reassignment from the BIA to the Arlington Immigration Court, Juan became the Vice Chair and eventually the Chair of the BIA after the departure of Lori Scialabba. But, Juan’s meteoric rise through the DOJ hierarchy was by no means over. In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Juan to the position of Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division with responsibility for the Office of Immigration Litigation. Later, he was promoted to Associate Deputy Attorney General with responsibility for the Department’s entire “immigration portfolio.”

Not surprisingly, following the departure of EOIR Director Kevin Ohlson, Attorney General Eric Holder named Juan Director of EOIR. In that position, Juan shepherded the U.S. Immigration Courts through some of the most difficult times in EOIR history, involving astronomically increasing caseloads and resource shortages. Throughout all of it, Juan remained calm, cool, and collected.

He was a frequent public speaker and testified before Congress on a number of occasions. He was known for his honesty and “straight answers.” Indeed, in one memorable television interview, Juan confessed that the Immigration Court system was “broken.”

One of my most vivid recollections of Juan’s sensitivity and humanity was when he occasionally stopped by the Arlington Immigration Court to “find out what’s happening at the grass roots.” After lunching with or meeting the judges, Juan invariably went to the desk of each and every staff member to ask them how their jobs were going and to thank them for their dedicated service. He understood that “the ship goes nowhere without a good crew.”

Shortly before I retired, Juan called me up and said he wanted to come over for lunch. We shared some of our “old times” at the BIA, including the day I called to tell him that he was Attorney General Janet Reno’s choice for a Board Member. We also batted around some ideas for Immigration Court reform and enhancing due process.

Back in my chambers, I thought somewhat wistfully that it was too bad that we hadn’t had an opportunity to talk more since my departure from the BIA. Little did I suspect that would be the last time I saw Juan. At the time of his death, he was an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law, where I am also on the adjunct faculty. Ironically, Juan took over the “Refugee Law and Policy” course that I taught from 2012-14.

Juan will always be remembered as a gentleman, a scholar, and an executive who appreciated the role that “ordinary folks” — be they migrants, staff, interpreters, or guards, — play in building and sustaining a successful justice system. He will be missed as a friend and a leader in the immigration world.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Juan’s wife, Wendy Young, President of Kids In Need of Defense (“KIND”), and the rest of Juan’s family and many friends. Rest in peace, my friend, colleague, and champion of due process for all!

PWS

08-16-17