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

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

Nolan writes:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

The backlog crisis.

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

This is going to get much worse.”

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

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

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

PWS

12-14-17

 

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

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

From AILA Executive Director Ben Johnson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PWS

12-12-17

CHECK OUT MY 17-POINT “IMMIGRATION CONSUMERS’ PROTECTION PROGRAM” (“ICPP”)!

IMMIGRATION CONSUMERS’ PROTECTION PROGRAM (“ICPP”)

BY Paul Wickham Schmidt, United States Immigration Judge (Retired)

  • Get a lawyer.
  • Make sure lawyer is real & reputable.
    • Confirm bar admission and check complaints online.
    • Firm website should confirm that immigration is a primary area of practice.
    • Google published immigration cases and check results.
  • Get it in writing.
    • In a language you understand.
  • If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
  • Play to tell the truth.
    • With lawyer, court, DHS.
  • Keep your appointments with your lawyer.
    • Time is money – YOUR money!
    • Lawyer needs complete and accurate information to help.
  • Show up for all Immigration Court hearings at least 30 minutes early.
    • Failing to appear (“FTA”) is the worst possible thing you can do in Immigration Court.
    • FTA = Final Order of Removal = Arrest, Detention & Immediate Removal = YOU become “low hanging fruit” for DHS’s “jacked up” removal goals!
  • Dress the part.
    • No cutoffs, t-shirts, flip-flops, halter-tops, crop tops, underwear showing, muscle shirts, flashy distracting jewelry, “rainbow hair,” shirts with (particularly political) slogans, baseball caps in Immigration Court.
    • Dress as you would to go to the funeral of someone you respected.
  • Avoid the “Big Five:”
    • Alcohol
    • Drugs
    • Domestic violence
    • Gangs
    • Driving violations of all types.
      • OWLs can be a problem and eventually turn into felonies in Virginia!
      • That’s what busses, trains, friends, co-workers, bikes, and strong legs are for.
    • Keep all documents – originals and at least one copy.
      • Never give away originals (unless the judge requires it) or your only copy of a document.
    • Pay taxes.
    • Stay in school or keep employed.
    • Ask questions.
      • Insist on an explanation that you understand in a language you understand.
    • Don’t sign anything you don’t understand.
      • Make sure everything has been translated for you.
    • Comply with all court orders.
    • Use available resources:
      • Internet
      • 1-800 number
      • Immigration Court Practice Manual (“ICPM”) (online).
    • Don’t forget family and friends.
      • They can be some of your best resources.

(12-10-17)

This outline contains some of the points that I emphasized during my two Spanish-language radio appearances in Richmond, Virginia on Friday, December 8, 2017!

 

PWS

12-10-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOURTH CIRCUIT JOINS 9TH, 2d, & 6TH IN REVERSING BIA’S OVERLY RESTRICTIVE READING OF ASYLUM ELIGIBILITY – ADDITIONAL EVIDENCE OF A PRE-EXISTING CLAIM CAN BE A “CHANGED CIRCUMSTANCE” JUSTIFYING “LATE” ASYLUM FILING! — ZAMBRANO V. SESSIONS (PUBLISHED)!

4th Cir on changed circumstances-1yr

Zambrano v. Sessions, 4th Cir., 12-05-17 (published)

PANEL: KEENAN and WYNN, Circuit Judges, and John A. GIBNEY, Jr., United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, sitting by designation.

OPINION BY: Judge Gibney

KEY QUOTE:

“This Court agrees with the logic of the Ninth, Second, and Sixth circuits. New facts that provide additional support for a pre-existing asylum claim can constitute a changed circumstance. These facts may include circumstances that show an intensification of a preexisting threat of persecution or new instances of persecution of the same kind suffered in the past. The Court remands to the BIA and leaves the determination of whether the facts on record constitute changed circumstances which materially affect the petitioner’s eligibility for asylum to the BIA’s sound discretion.

III.
The BIA erred when it categorically held that additional proof of an existing claim

does not establish changed circumstances. Accordingly, we grant the petition for review, vacate the BIA’s order, and remand the case to the BIA for further consideration in light of this opinion.”

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

This is a very important decision for asylum applicants in the Fourth Circuit, as this situation arises frequently in Immigration Court.

With three well-reasoned Circuit decisions already in the books, why is the BIA holding out for a discredited rationale? How many individuals who weren’t fortunate enough to have Ben Winograd or an equally talented lawyer argue for them in the Court of Appeals have already been wrongfully removed under the BIA’s discredited rationale? Where’s the BIA precedent adopting this rationale and making it binding on IJ’s nationwide before more individuals are wrongfully removed? How is this “through teamwork and innovation being the world’s best administrative tribunal guaranteeing fairness and due process for all?”

The answer to the latter question is sadly obvious. While the BIA’s problems predated his tenure, the attitude of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as demonstrated in his recent pronouncement on so-called “Immigration Court efficiency” elevates “false efficiency,” speed, and cranking out removals above fundamental fairness and Due Process. Why have an elaborate administrative court system that doesn’t put Due Process first and foremost as “real” (non-captive) courts generally do? Why not just send all removal cases to U.S. District Judges and Magistrate Judges who make Due Process and fairness “job one” and aren’t preoccupied with “jacking up” removal statistics to please political bosses?

And, I’d like to see how far the DHS/Sessions’s (they are pretty much the same these days) boneheaded, arrogant, unrealistic, and wasteful “no PD” policy would get in a “real” court system where widespread, reasonable, and prudent use of PD by prosecutors is understood and accepted as an essential part of fairness, efficiency, and responsible use of publicly-funded judicial resources. Indeed, in some of my past “off the record” conversations with Article III Judges, they were absolutely flabbergasted to discover the unwillingness of DHS to meaningfully exercise “PD” in the pre-Obama era and to learn that at DHS the “cops,” rather than the prosecutors were responsible for setting PD policies!

PWS

12-08-17

 

ATTN “COURTSIDERS” – HEAR ME “LIVE” ON RADIO IN RICHMOND, VA, THE INTERNET, AND FACEBOOK TOMORROW, FRIDAY, DEC. 8, 2017!

I’ll be on two local radio shows hosted by Richmond Attorney Pablo Fantl tomorrow.

Both are am radio stations, and are available online.  They also will broadcast on Facebook Live, and will be available in the archives afterwards.  I will post links on immigrationcourtside.com once the recordings are available.

From 11:30-12:30     Radio Poder 1380 am   http://www.wbtk.com/

From 1:00-2:00         Maxima 1320 am          https://maxima1320.com/

These are programs directed at informing the Hispanic community in Richmond. Although I’m not bilingual, Pablo has promised excellent interpretation services. And, gosh knows, I’m pretty used to being translated into many languages from my days on the immigration bench.

Hope you’ll “tune in!”

PWS

12-07-17

 

 

INSIDE EOIR: THE REEMERGENCE OF “THE GREAT SANTORINI” – Could Judge Chris Santoro’s Reputed Takeover Of The Law Library and Training Functions At Headquarters Be Some Good News For A Beleaguered Court System & Its “Customers?”

It’s been a tough year for EOIR, the agency of the U.S. Department of Justice that oversees the U.S. Immigration Court system. (Although, admittedly, probably not as tough for EOIR as for the many individuals forced to count on EOIR for potentially life-saving due process who were short-changed and the often disrespected attorneys representing, or trying to represent, them.)

 

The backlog has continued to mushroom to more than 640,000 cases with no end in sight; new Immigration Judge hiring and courtroom expansion continued to lag; e-filing remains a pipe dream; recently retired former Director and BIA Chair Juan Osuna died suddenly and unexpectedly; and a new Attorney General took office who apparently views the Immigration Courts not as a “real” judiciary charged with acting independently to protect the due process and other legal rights of migrants, but rather as a mere “whistle stop on the DHS deportation express.”

 

But, at least some good news could be in the offing. Reportedly, Judge Christopher A. “The Great Santorini” Santoro, who currently serves as the Acting Chief of Staff for the Acting Director of EOIR, Judge James McHenry, will assume overall responsibility for the BIA’s Law Library (which includes the highly-regarded “Virtual Law Library”) and the Judicial Training Program. Both important functions will be “relocated” to the Office of Policy in the Director’s Office.

 

Judge Santoro served as the Assistant Chief Immigration Judge for the Arlington Immigration Court during some of my tenure there and later went on to be an Acting Deputy Chief Immigration Judge before mysteriously disappearing for a time into the bowels of the EOIR bureaucracy (becoming essentially a “bureaucratic non-person” – off the organizational “depth charts”). He subsequently was “rehabilitated” and reappeared last spring when Acting Director McHenry appointed him Acting Chief of Staff.

 

Judge Santoro has a stellar reputation for hard work, efficiency, sound administration, and creative problem solving. In Arlington, he was viewed as a “trial judges’ judge” who devoted himself to supporting the judges and resolving problems while not interfering with the things that were working.

 

He also provided unprecedented feedback and guidance about what was “really happening at The Tower” – normally a “dark hole” for field judges. During my illness, he, along with my colleagues Judge Roxanne Hladylowicz and Judge Robert Owens, pitched in and handled some of my Master Calendars so they didn’t have to be rescheduled. I always found him to be totally supportive and responsive, as well as a great colleague. He cared deeply about and paid attention to the hard-working and underappreciated court staff. He is known as a manager who in the words of one former employee will likely “put competent people in charge and let them do their jobs.”

 

The Law Library has been under the outstanding leadership of Head Law Librarian Karen L. Drumond dating back to my tenure as BIA Chair (1995-2001). The upgrading of the Law Library, hiring of additional staff, and the creation of the Virtual Law Library were carried out with the encouragement and enthusiastic support of then-Director (and later BIA Member) Anthony C. “Tony” Moscoto. Tony correctly envisioned changing the previously, rather ignored, BIA Law Library into a major research aid for the Immigration Judiciary as well as a help to the public and a repository for certain historical materials about the BIA and EOIR’s history.

 

The Virtual Law Library, in particular, has been widely acclaimed as an important research tool in the world of immigration law. I still use the public version on a regular basis and recommend it to my students and others as a great resource!

 

Assistant Chief Judge Jack Weil has very capably managed the EOIR Judicial Training Program for years. However, despite Judge Weil’s best efforts, training too often fell victim to budget shortages or other bureaucratic impediments. Unfortunately, it has been, quite incorrectly, considered a “low priority” within the bureaucracy.

 

Immigration Judge Training hit bottom this past year when the incoming Administration without explanation cancelled critical in–person nationwide training for Immigrating Judges — the only real CLE and training that most Judges receive during the year. This was notwithstanding the arrival of many newly hired Immigration Judges who have never had a chance to attend a nationwide training conference or, indeed, even to meet the vast majority of their judicial colleagues!

 

I know that Judge Santoro takes legal research, professional excellence, fairness, and training very seriously. Indeed, while at the Office of Chief Immigration Judge he “directed” several “new judge training videos” with an all-star cast including some of our multi-talented former Arlington Judicial Law Clerks.

 

Generally, I interpret bringing the Law Library and Judicial Training functions under the Director’s Office and selecting a “total judicial management pro” like Judge Santoro to lead them as a positive sign for EOIR and the immigration world. Hopefully, the Law Library and Judicial Training will prosper and expand under Judge Santoro’s leadership to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

 

“Job One” at EOIR is NOT about removing migrants at record paces, denying more asylum applications, or deterring future migrants. No, it’s all about fairness, scholarship, timeliness, respect, teamwork, and delivering Due Process and even-handed justice to some of the most vulnerable individuals in America.

Currently, EOIR is failing to discharge its critical duties to guarantee fairness and due process in the manner one would expect from one of the largest, perhaps the largest, and most important Federal Court systems. Hopefully, Judge Santoro will be part of the solution to the problems facing EOIR and those whose lives and futures depend on it.

PWS

11-29-17

DETENTION/BOND: THE “NEW DUE PROCESS ARMY” WINS A BIG ONE IN THE EDVA – Judge Brinkema Orders Individualized Bond Hearings For Four Individuals With “Reinstated” Removal Orders Now In “Withholding Only Proceedings!” — Romero v. Evans, ___ F. Supp. 3d ___, 2017 WL 5560659 (EDVA 11-17-17) (published)

Romero v. Evans, ___ F. Supp. 3d ___, 2017 WL 5560659 (EDVA 11-17-17) (published)

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema

ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENTS: Ivan Yacub, Yacub Law Office, Woodbridge, VA, Nicholas Cooper Marritz, Legal Aid Justice Center, Falls Church, VA, Simon Yehuda Sandoval–Moshenberg, Simon Sandoval Moshenburg, Falls Church, VA, Rachel Colleen McFarland, Legal Aid Justice Center, Charlottesville, VA, Mark Alastair Stevens, Murray Osorio PLLC, Fairfax, VA, for Cristian Flores Romero, et al., Petitioners

KEY QUOTES (From Westlaw Version):

“Moreover, Congress clearly intended to have § 1231 govern only the final logistical period, in which the government has actual authority to remove the alien and need only schedule and execute the deportation. Congress has specifically limited the normal “removal period” to 90 days, a limitation that makes sense if the removal period is only meant to govern the final logistical steps of physically removing an alien. Based on the length of petitioners’ detentions to date, it is obvious that withholding-only proceedings take substantially longer than 90 days. As such, it would be contrary to congressional intent to shoehorn a class of aliens whose proceedings will typically far exceed 90 days into the “removal period” for which Congress has specifically intended a 90–day limit.”

. . . .

All told, this petition presents a difficult question of statutory interpretation. Although respondents’ arguments have some merit, petitioners’ position, which attempts to harmonize § 1226 and § 1231 by locating the dividing line between the two sections as the moment when the government has final legal authority to remove the alien, better accords with the text, structure, and intent of the relevant provisions. Accordingly, the Court concludes that petitioners are detained under § 1226(a), not § 1231, and therefore are entitled to individualized bond hearings. For the reasons stated above, respondents’ Motion to Dismiss in Part will be granted, petitioners’ Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted, and respondents’ Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied by an appropriate Order to be issued with this Memorandum Opinion.”

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

Those with full Westlaw and/or PACER access can get Judge Brinkema’s full opinion at those sites.

There were quite a few of these “Withholding Only” cases on the Detained Docket when I was at the Arlington Immigration Court. I imagine there are even more now. So, this decision could have a major impact.

Judge Brinkema noted quite correctly that withholding-only proceedings take substantially longer than 90 days.” In other words, “real due process” can’t be rolled off the “judicial assembly line” like it is in some Border Detention Courts where most of the respondents are unrepresented and many are essentially “duressed” by prolonged detention in poor conditions, intentional lack of access to legal assistance, and orchestrated inaccessibility of material evidence into giving up viable claims for protection under our laws.

Nice work by the NDPA “Legal Team!” I know each of the attorneys personally from their work in my courtroom, my classroom, or my “CLE outreach” since retirement. This just continues to demonstrate how “good lawyering” from “outstanding attorneys” can turn potential losers into “winners.”

That’s why the “Sessions Proposals” to “speed up” the U.S. Immigration Judges and put more roadblocks in the way of pro bono legal representation and full due process hearings are so invidious. We need an independent Article I Immigration Court fully committed to Constitutional Due Process! And, we need it now!

PWS

11-22-17

JOIN THE “NEW DUE PROCESS ARMY” IN CALIFORNIA — Pangea Legal Services Seeks A Removal Defense Attorney – WORK WITH A GREAT GROUP OF FOLKS!

http://www.pangealegal.org/jobs

REMOVAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY (SANTA CLARA COUNTY)

POSITION ANNOUNCEMENT: REMOVAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY

Pangea Legal Services (Pangea) is a non-profit organization based in San Francisco and Santa Clara County. Our vision is to live in a world where individuals can realize their fundamental right to move and resettle around the world with dignity and respect.  We work toward this vision through legal representation of immigrants in deportation proceedings, community empowerment, and policy advocacy.

We are recruiting an attorney to join our legal team in Santa Clara County to increase our capacity to represent detained and non-detained immigrants in removal proceedings. The attorney will primarily engage in direct representation, using a litigation model that creates space for clients to become agents of change in their communities and places them at the center of their own defense and advocacy.  The position is based in our South Bay office and will require occasional travel to the San Francisco office to attend court hearings, interviews, and team meetings (approx. 1x/week).  If you are someone with a positive attitude, a passion for producing high-quality work, and a love for the community we serve, then please apply!

PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITIES

  • Provide direct legal representation to immigrants in removal proceedings
  • Coordinate advocacy, public campaigns, and community-led initiatives with family members of clients and grassroots partners
  • Work closely with partners to provide know your rights and self-defense education for the community
  • Help establish internal policies as our non-profit grows

DESIRED QUALIFICATIONS

  • Immigration or removal defense experience (including law school experience)
  • Proficiency in Spanish (required)
  • Ability to take on leadership in various projects, in addition to direct legal services responsibilities
  • Desire to invest in and grow with our organization
  • J.D. degree with membership in good standing with a State Bar

SALARY AND BENEFITS

  • Pangea is a collaborative, nonhierarchical organization, where salaries are equal among all staff after the first six months of employment at $52,000/year
  • Benefits include state bar dues, professional membership fees, medical and dental, preventative health benefits for general wellness, a socially responsible retirement package, and an annual right to move stipend

APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS

The start date of this position is flexible (by December 2017) and applications will be accepted on a rolling basis.  If you believe you might be a good fit, please submit a cover letter, resume, writing sample, copy of your law school transcript, and three references to welcome@pangealegal.org.  In your cover letter, please include how the immigration struggle directly impacts you or your family, if applicable.  Please indicate “South Bay Attorney Application” in the subject line of your email.

Pangea is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. We believe diversity makes us stronger and we welcome applicants diverse in race, religion, gender, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other areas.

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

I have helped Pangea with some legal issues and strategies. Wonderful team of folks, including some “Charter Members” of the New Due Process Army: Etan Newman, Director of Appellate Advocacy; Celine Dinhjanelle, Director of South Bay Programs (and wife of  all-star former Arlington Immigration Court Attorney Advisor Anthony Dinh); Bianca Z. Santos, a Georgetown Law/ CALS Asylum Clinic alum who appeared before me in the Arlington Immigration Court; and their colleagues.

PWS

11-16-17

REAL DUE PROCESS MAKES A STUNNING DIFFERENCE! – NY PROJECT FINDS THAT REPRESENTED IMMIGRANTS ARE 12X MORE LIKELY TO WIN CASES!

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/11/9/16623906/immigration-court-lawyer

Dara Lind reports for VOX

“Omar Siagha has been in the US for 52 years. He’s a legal permanent resident with three children. He’d never been to prison, he says, before he was taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention — faced with the loss of his green card for a misdemeanor.

His brother tried to seek out lawyers who could help Siagha, but all they offered, in his words, were “high numbers and no hope” — no guarantee, in other words, that they’d be able to get him out of detention for all the money they were charging.

Then he met lawyers from Brooklyn Defender Services — part of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, an effort to guarantee legal representation for detained immigrants. They demanded only one thing of him, he recalls: “Omar, you’ve got to tell us the truth.”

But Siagha’s access to a lawyer in immigration court is the exception.

There’s no right to counsel in immigration court, which is part of the executive branch rather than the judiciary. Often, an immigrant’s only shot at legal assistance before they’re marched in front of a judge is the pro bono or legal aid clinic that happens to have attorneys at that courthouse. Those clinics have such limited resources that they try to select only the cases they think have the best shot of winning — which can be extremely difficult to ascertain in a 15-minute interview.

But advocates and local governments are trying to make cases like Siagha’s the rule, not the exception. Soon, every eligible immigrant who gets detained in one of a dozen cities — including New York, Chicago, Oakland, California, and Atlanta — will have access to a lawyer to help fight their immigration court case.

The change started at Varick Street. The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project started in New York City in 2013, guaranteeing access to counsel for detained immigrants.

According to a study released Thursday by the Vera Institute for Justice (which is now helping fund the representation efforts in the other cities, under the auspices of the Safe Cities Network), the results were stunning. With guaranteed legal representation, up to 12 times as many immigrants have been able to win their cases: either able to get legal relief from deportation or at least able to persuade ICE to drop the attempt to deport them this time.

So far, cities have been trying to protect their immigrant populations through inaction — refusing to help with certain federal requests. Giving immigrants lawyers, on the other hand, seemingly makes the system work better. And if it works, it could leave the Trump administration — which is already upset with the amount of time it takes to resolve an immigration court case — very frustrated indeed. (The Department of Justice, which runs immigration courts, didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

Immigration court is supposed to give immigrants a chance for relief. In reality … it depends.

As federal immigration enforcement has ramped up over the past 15 years, nearly every component of it has gotten a sleek bureaucratic upgrade, a boatload of money, and heightened interest and oversight from Congress. But immigration court has been overlooked as everything else has been built up around it.

The reason is simple. Chronologically, most immigrants have to go through immigration court after being apprehended and before being deported. But bureaucratically, immigration courts are run by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, housed in the Justice Department instead of by the Department of Homeland Security. And when it comes to money and bureaucratic attention, that makes all the difference in the world.

From the outside, the striking thing about immigration court is how slow it is — lawyers already report that hearings for those apprehended today are scheduled in 2021. That’s also the Trump administration’s problem with it; the federal government is sweeping up more immigrants than it did in 2016 but deporting fewer of them.

But it doesn’t seem that way from the inside, to an immigrant who doesn’t have any idea what’s going on — especially one who’s being kept in detention.

This is the scene that Peter Markowitz accustomed himself to, as a young immigration lawyer at the Varick Street courtroom in New York: “People brought in, in shackles, with their feet and hands shackled to their waist, often not understanding the language of the proceedings, having no idea of the legal norms that were controlling their fate — being deported hand over fist.”

I know he’s not exaggerating; in my first morning watching immigration court proceedings in Minneapolis in 2008, I saw at least 10 detainees get issued deportation orders before lunch. Almost none had lawyers. Sometimes the judge would pause and explain to the detainee, in plain English, what was really going on — but she didn’t have to, and sometimes she wouldn’t bother.”

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

Read Dara’s full article at the link.

No lawyer = no due process. Rather than trying to hustle folks out of the country without a full and effective chance for them to be heard — in other words, true Due Process — Jeff Sessions should be changing the Immigration Court system to put less reliance on detention and detention center “kangaroo courts” and more emphasis on insuring that each individual scheduled for a hearing has fair and  reasonable access to competent counsel.

I totally agree that due process can’t be put on a “timetable,” as Sessions and his crew at the DOJ seem to want. As observed by none other than Chief Justice John Roberts — certainly no “bleeding heart liberal” —“It takes time to decide a case on appeal. Sometimes a little; sometimes a lot.” Nken v. Holder, 556 U.s. 418 (2009). That’s even more true on the trial level.

I have a somewhat different take on whether representation and providing full due process will ultimately slow down the system. In the short run, represented cases might take longer than unrepresented ones (although I personally found that not invariably true). However, as noted by Chief Judge Katzmann, lack of representation both promotes wrong, and therefore unfair, results, but also inhibits the proper development of the law. (Perhaps not incidentally, I note that Chief Judge Katzmann actually took time to attend and participate in Annual Immigration Judge Training Conferences back in the day when the “powers that be” at DOJ and EOIR deemed such training to be a necessary ingredient of a fair judicial system — something that was eliminated by Sessions’s DOJ this year. Apparently, new, untrained Immigration Judges can be expected to “crank out” more final orders of removal than trained judges.)

When I was in Arlington, the vast majority of the non-detained respondents were represented, and the majority of those got some sort of relief — in other words, won their cases to some extent. As time went on, this development required the DHS to adjust its position and to stop “fully litigating” issues that experience and the law told them they were going to lose.

That, in turn, led to more efficient and focused hearings as well as decisions to drop certain types of cases as an exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Had that process been allowed to continue, rather than being artificially arrested by the Trump regime, it could well have eventually led to more efficient use of docket time and alternate means of disposing of cases that were “likely losers” or of no particular enforcement value to the DHS or the country at large.

By contrast, “haste makes waste” attempts to force cases through the system without representation or otherwise in violation of Due Process often led to appellate reversals, “do-overs,” and re-openings, all of which were less efficient for the system than “doing it right in the first place” would have been!

In my view (echoed at least to some extent by my colleague retired Judge Jeffrey Chase), more conscientious publication of BIA precedents granting asylum could and should have taken large blocks of asylum cases off the “full merits” dockets of Immigration Judges — either by allowing them to be “short docketed” with the use of stipulations or allowing them to be favorably disposed of by the DHS Asylum Offices.

No system that I’m aware of can fully litigate every single possible law violation. Indeed, our entire criminal justice system works overwhelmingly from “plea bargaining” that often bears little if any resemblance to “what actually happened.” Plea bargaining is a practical response that reflects the reality of our justice system and  the inherent limitations on judicial time. And effective plea bargaining requires lawyers on both sides as well as appropriate law development as guidance that can only happen when parties are represented. The absurd claim of Sessions and the DHS that the law allows them no discretion as to whether or not to bring certain categories of removal cases is just that — absurd and in direct contradiction of the rest of the U.S. justice system.

The current policies of the DHS and the DOJ, which work against Due Process, rather than seeking to take advantage of and actively promote it, are ultimately doomed to failure. The only question is how much of a mess, how many wasted resources, and how much pain and unfairness they will create in the process of failing.

Andrea Saenz, mentioned in the article is a former Judicial Law clerk at the New York Immigration Court. I have always admired her clear, concise, “accessible” legal writing — much like that of Judge Jeffrey Chase — and have told her so.

I am also proud that a number of attorneys involved in the “New York Project” and the Brooklyn Defenders are alums of the Arlington Immigration Court or my Georgetown Law RLP class — in other words, charter members of the “New Due Process Army!”  They are literally changing our system, one case and one individual life at a time. And, they and their successors will still be at it long after guys like Jeff Sessions and his restrictionist cronies and their legally and morally bankrupt philosophies have faded from the scene.

Thanks to my friend the amazing Professor Alberto Benítez from the GW Law Immigration Clinic for sending me this item!

PWS

11-10-17

“DYNAMIC DUO” LEADS “GW IMMIGRATION CLINIC BRIGADE” OF THE NEW DUE PROCESS ARMY (“NDPA”) INTO ACTION – ADVANCING AND DEFENDING DUE PROCESS RIGHTS FOR OUR MOST VULNERABLE RESIDENTS WHILE TEACHING THE NEXT GENERATION OF LAWYERS! — PLUS SPECIAL BONUS: Text of My Presentation To Clinic Entitled “RECLAIMING THE VISION – A PLAN FOR ACTION”

 

Alberto M. Benítez

Before joining the Law School faculty as director of the Immigration Clinic in 1996, Professor Benítez was on the faculty of the legal clinics at Chicago Kent College of Law and Northwestern University School of Law. Prior to becoming a clinician, he was a staff attorney at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, as well as an intern at the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Professor Benítez teaches Immigration Law. In addition, in the summers he has taught at the law schools of the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and the Universidad Panamericana, in Mexico City. In the spring 2003 semester Professor Benítez was a visitor at the Boyd School of Law of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, assisting in the development of that law school’s immigration clinic.

Professor Benítez has devoted his entire legal career to working in the public interest, generally with aliens, and so he is familiar with immigration law in its proper context. Evictions, domestic violence, public benefits, etc., these are areas of law that influence the decisions made by the aliens. Professor Benítez was fortunate early in his career to be associated with several supportive, dedicated lawyers who enabled him to learn and progress from them. Therefore, he tries to pass on what he learned and how he learned it to his students, in particular the “learn by doing” system that his early colleagues used with him. That said, students will get out of their experience in this clinic and from their association with Professor Benítez what they put into it.

An Introduction to the United States Legal System by Professor Alberto Benitez

Paulina Vera

Paulina Vera, Esq. supervises Immigration Clinic law students and provides legal representation to asylum seekers and respondents facing deportation in Immigration Court. She previously served as the only Immigration Staff Attorney at the Maryland-based non-profit, CASA. Paulina is a 2015 graduate of The George Washington University Law School. During law school, she was a student-attorney at the Immigration Clinic and worked with Professor Benitez. She also interned at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), American Immigration Council, and the Arlington Immigration Court. Paulina is admitted to practice law in Maryland and before federal immigration tribunals.

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

FORGET SESSIONS’S BOGUS SMEAR CAMPAIGN AGAINST “DIRTY IMMIGRATION LAWYERS” — THESE ARE THE “REAL FACES” OF AMERICAN IMMIGRATION LAW TODAY, FIGHTING TO PROTECT THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF ALL AMERICANS! — AND THEY AREN’T INTIMIDATED BY A DISINGENUOUS AND FEAR-MONGERING ATTORNEY GENERAL! 

I was pleased to be invited to speak to the GW Immigration Clinic on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017.

 

I am, of course, particularly proud of my good friend the amazing Paulina Vera, who is a distinguished alum of both the GW Immigration Clinic and the Arlington Immigration Court Legal Intern Program!

 Here’s what I said:

 

 

RECLAIMING THE VISION – A PLAN FOR ACTION

 

BY PAUL WICKHAM SCHMIDT

UNITED STATES IMMIGRATON JUDGE (Retired)

 

The George Washington Law School Immigration Clinic

Washington, DC.

 

Nov. 2, 1017

 

 

Good afternoon, and thanks so much to you and my good friend and Alexandria neighbor Professor Alberto Benitez for inviting me. I want to express my deep appreciation for all of the great help that your Clinic gave to vulnerable migrants and to the Judges of the U.S. Immigration Court in Arlington, VA in carrying out our due process mission over the years that I was on the bench, from 2003 to 2016. I’m also delighted that the amazing Paulina Vera, a “distinguished alum” of the Arlington Immigration Court Internship Program is your Assistant Instructor.

 

Professor Benitez tells me that all of you have read my recent article from Bender’s Immigration Bulletin entitled “Immigration Courts: Reclaiming the Vision.” I of course was referring to the noble vision of “being the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.”

 

As you also know, my article set forth a “five step” program for achieving this: 1) a return to Due Process as the one and only mission – ditching the current political manipulation of the courts; 2) an independent Article I Court structure, to replace the current outmoded “agency structure” in the DOJ: 3) professional court management along the lines of the Administrative Office for U.S. Courts and merit-based selection of judges; 4) an independent appellate body that functions in the manner of an Article III court, not as an “Agency Service Center;” and 5) an e-filing system to replace the current “files in the aisles.”

 

The question is how do we get there from here. Sadly, the individual who should be pushing these reforms, our Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has shown absolutely no interest in meaningful court reforms or protecting due process, beyond rather mindlessly proposing to throw many more new untrained judges into an already dysfunctional and disturbingly inconsistent judiciary and to force a system already careening out of control to “pedal even faster.” That’s a program for failure. Moreover, in my view, Sessions has demonstrated through his public statements and actions to date a clear pro-enforcement and anti-immigrant bias that makes him the wrong individual to be in change of a due process court system.

 

The other group who should be solving this problem is Congress. Immigration Court reform should be a bipartisan “no-brainer.” Both sides of the “immigration debate” should want a fair and efficient Immigration Court system that fully complies with due process, gets the results correct, and doesn’t accumulate huge backlogs. Unfortunately, however, Congress currently seems preoccupied with other issues that well might be less important to our country but more “politically expedient.” Although there is a fine draft “Article I Bill” floating around “The Hill,” prepared by the Federal Bar Association with input from the National Association of Immigration Judges, to date I am aware of no actual Congressional sponsor who has “thrown it in the hopper.”

 

So, do we abandon all hope? No, of course not!   Because there are hundreds of newer lawyers out there who are former Arlington JLCs, interns like Paulina, my former students, and those who have practiced before the Arlington Immigration Court, and folks like you who have had the great leadership of Professor Benitez and others like him in Immigration, Refugee, and Asylum clinics throughout the country!

        

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

        

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

       

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

 

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

 

So, what you are doing here at the GW Immigration Clinic directly supports the Immigration Court reform movement by insuring that the system will not be able to continue to run over the rights of the unrepresented or underrepresented and that individuals who are unfairly denied relief at the Immigration Court and BIA levels are positioned to seek review in the independent Article III Courts.

 

I also have been working with groups looking for ways to expand the accredited representativeprogram, which allows properly trained and certified individuals who are not lawyers to handle cases before the DHS and the Immigration Courts while working for certain nonprofit community organizations, on either a staff or volunteer basis. Notwithstanding some recently publicized problems with policing the system, which I wrote about on my blog immigrationrcourtside.com, this is a critically important program for expanding representation in Immigration Courts. Additionally, the accredited representativeprogram is also an outstanding opportunity for retired individuals, like professors, who are not lawyers to qualify to provide pro bono representation in Immigration Court to needy migrants thorough properly recognized religious and community organizations.

        

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

 

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

        

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Federal Bar Association (“FBA) has been a strong moving force for court reform resulting in an Article I U.S. Immigration Court. So, becoming a “student member” of the FBA and getting involved with our local chapter is another way to support reform.

 

Finally, as an informed voter and participant in our political process, you can advance the cause of Immigration Court reform and due process. For the last 16 years politicians of both parties have largely stood by and watched the unfolding due process disaster in the U.S. Immigration Courts without doing anything about it, and in some cases actually making it worse.

 

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

 

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

In conclusion, I have shared with you the Courts noble due process vision and my view that it is not currently being fulfilled. I have also shared with you my ideas for effective court reform that would achieve the due process vision and how you can become involved in improving the process.

 

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

 

Thanks again for inviting me and for listening. I’d be happy to take questions or listen to suggestions.

 

(11-05-17)

 

Here’s a link to the above text:

RECLAIMING THE VISION – A PLAN FOR ACTION

PWS

11-05-17

 

 

“TERRIFIC TRIO” INSPIRES STUDENTS, FIGHTS FOR IMMIGRANT JUSTICE AT UVA LAW IMMIGRATION CLINIC — PLUS EXTRA BONUS: Go Back To School This Fall — Take My “One-Lecture” Class “Basic Asylum Law for Litigators” Right Here!

HERE THEY ARE!

INTRODUCING THE “TERRIFIC TRIO” – DEENA N. SHARUK, TANISHKA V. CRUZ, & RACHEL C. McFARLAND:

FACULTY

Email

dsharuk@law.virginia.edu

Deena N. Sharuk

  • Lecturer
  • Biography
  • Courses

Deena N. Sharuk teaches Immigration Law at the Law School.

Sharuk is currently practicing as an immigration attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she manages the Virginia Special Immigrant Juvenile Project. She received her B.A. in international relations with a specialization in human rights from Wellesley College. Sharuk received her law degree from Northeastern University School of Law.

After graduation, she worked as a fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and later practiced immigration law in Massachusetts and Virginia. Sharuk was recently appointed as a task force core team member to foster a welcoming environment for immigrants and minorities in Charlottesville and Albemarle county. She often presents to the community about changes in immigration law.

EDUCATION

  • JD.


Northeastern University School of Law 


2012





  • BA.


Wellesley College 


2007






 FACULTY

Email

tanishka@justice4all.org

Cell Phone

(434) 529-1811

Tanishka V. Cruz

  • Lecturer
  • Biography
  • Courses

Tanishka V. Cruz is an attorney in solo practice at Cruz Law, a Charlottesville-based immigration and family law firm. She is also an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center, where for the past two years she has focused on the management of the Virginia Special Immigrant Juvenile Project, an award-winning collaboration between LAJC and pro bono attorneys across the state. The project has saved more than 150 refugee children from likely deportation.

Cruz earned her B.A. from Temple University and her J.D. from the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law.

She currently supervises students in the Immigration Law Clinic, which LAJC runs in conjunction with the Law School

EDUCATION

  • JD.


Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law


 2012





  • BA.


Temple University 


2004






FACULTY

Email

rmcfarland@justice4all.org

Rachel C. McFarland

  • Lecturer
  • Biography
  • Courses

Rachel C. McFarland is an attorney at Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville. She focuses on cases in public and subsidized housing, unpaid wages for migrant workers and immigration.

McFarland earned her B.A. from the University of Richmond in 2009, where she majored in Latin American and Iberian studies, and rhetoric and communication studies. She received her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 2015.

While at Georgetown, McFarland participated in the asylum clinic and received a certificate in refugees and humanitarian emergencies.

EDUCATION

  • JD.


Georgetown University Law Center 


2015





  • BA.


University of Richmond


 2009






 

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

Wow, what a totally impressive and multi-talented team! All three of these amazing lawyers also work at the Legal Aid and Justice Center in Charlottesville, VA. They tirelessly pursue justice for our most vulnerable! They teach their clinical students “real life” client interview, case preparation, organization, time management, negotiation, and litigation skills while giving them a solid background in probably the most important and dynamic area in current American Law: U.S. Immigration Law.

 

They do it all with energy, enthusiasm, good humor, and inspiring teamwork that will help their students be successful in all areas of life and law while contributing to the American Justice system.

 

I am of course particularly proud of Rachel McFarland who was one of my wonderful Refugee Law and Policy students at Georgetown Law and has gone on to “do great things” and help others as a “charter member” of the “New Due Process Army.” Way to use that “RLP” training and experience, Rachel! I know that my good friend and colleague Professor Andy Schoenholtz who runs the Georgetown Law Certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies program is also delighted at how Rachel has chosen to use her specialized training!

Thanks again, Rachel, for “making your professors proud” of your dedication and achievements. I hope that your students will do the same for you (and your terrific colleagues)!

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

For those of you who want to replicate the class experience in Charlottesville last Wednesday, here is the complete text of my class presentation: “BASIC ASYLUM LAW FOR LITIGATORS!”

BASIC ASYLUM LAW FOR LITIGATORS-2SPACE

BASIC ASYLUM LAW FOR LITIGATORS

By Paul Wickham Schmidt

United States Immigration Judge (Retired)

UVA LAW IMMIGRATON CLINIC

Charlottesville, VA

October 25, 2017

 

 

BASIC ASYLUM LAW FOR LITIGATORS

 

OUTLINE

 

I. INTRODUCTION

II. WHO IS A REFUGEE?

Refugee Definition

Standard of Proof

What Is Persecution?

Nexus

III. PARTICULAR SOCIAL GROUP

The Three Requirements

Success Stories

The Usual Losers

What Can Go Wrong?

A Few Practical Tips on PSG

IV. PRACTICAL TIPS FOR PRESENTNG AN ASYLUM CASE IN IMMIGRATION COURT

V. CONCLUSION

 

 

 

 

 

I. INTRODUCTION

 

Good afternoon, and thanks for attending. As a former U.S. Immigration Judge at both the trial and appellate levels, and someone who has spent over four decades working in the field of immigration at all levels, I want to personally thank you for what you are doing.

 

Welcome to the “New Due Process Army” and our critical mission of forcing the U.S. Immigration Court system to live up to its unfulfilled promise of “guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.” Nothing is more important to achieving that mission than providing effective representation to individuals at the “retail level” of the system – the U.S. Immigration Courts.

 

There is a due process crisis going on in our U.S. Immigration Court system that threatens the integrity and the functioning of our entire U.S. justice system. And, the biggest need in the Immigration Courts is for effective legal representation of individuals seeking, expecting, and deserving justice in Immigration Court. Never has the need for pro bono attorneys been greater than it is now!

 

I’m truly delighted to be reunited with my friend and former student from Refugee Law & Policy at Georgetown Law, the wonderful Rachel McFarland. I am absolutely thrilled that Rachel has chosen to use her amazing talents to help those most in need and to be a teacher and an inspirational role model for others in the New Due Process Army. In addition to being brilliant and dedicated, Rachel exudes that most important quality for success in law and life: she is just one heck of a nice person! The same, of course, is true for your amazing Clinical Professor Deena Sharuk and her colleague Tanishka Cruz Thank you Deena, Tanishka, and Rachel, for all you are doing! All of you in this room truly represent “Due Process In Action.”

 

As all of you realize, our justice system is only as strong as its weakest link. If we fail in our responsibility to deliver fairness and due process to the most vulnerable individuals at the “retail level” of our system, then eventually our entire system will fail.

 

Our Government is going to remove those who lose their cases to countries where some of them undoubtedly will suffer extortion, rape, torture, forced induction into gangs, and even death. Before we return individuals to such possible fates, it is critical that they have a chance to be fully and fairly heard on their claims for protection and that they fully understand and have explained to them the reasons why our country is unwilling or unable to protect them. Neither of those things is going to happen without effective representation.

 

We should always keep in mind that contrary to the false impression given by some pundits and immigration “hard liners,” including, sadly and most recently our Attorney General, losing an asylum case means neither that the person is committing fraud nor that he or she does not have a legitimate fear of return. In most cases, it merely means that the dangers the person will face upon return do not fall within our somewhat convoluted asylum system. And, as a country, we have chosen not to exercise our discretion to grant temporary shelter to such individuals through Temporary Protected Status, Deferred Enforced Departure, or prosecutorial discretion (“PD”). In other words, we are returning them knowing that the effect might well be life threatening or even fatal in many cases.

 

I also predict that you will make a positive difference in the development of the law. The well-prepared and articulate arguments that you make in behalf of migrants are going to get attention and consideration from judges at all levels far beyond those presented by unrepresented individuals who can’t even speak English. It’s simply a fact of life. And, if you can win these cases, everything else you do in the law will be a “piece of cake.” I guarantee it.

 

Obviously, in representing your clients it is important to be polite, professional, and to let the excellence of your preparation, research, and arguments speak for you. In an overwhelmed system, judges are particularly grateful for all the help they can get. However, they are also under excruciating pressure to complete cases, particularly detained cases. So it is important to clearly identify your issues, focus your examination, and make sure that your “phone books” of evidence are properly organized and that there is a “road map” to direct the Immigration Judge and the Assistant Chief Counsel to the key points. You want to help the judge, and your opponent, get to a “comfort zone” where he or she can feel comfortable granting, or not opposing or appealing, relief.

 

I do want to offer one additional important piece of advice up front. That is to make sure to ask your client if her or his parents or grandparents, whether living or dead, are or were U.S. citizens. Citizenship is jurisdictional in Immigration Court, and occasionally we do come across individuals with valid but previously undeveloped claims for U.S. citizenship. You definitely want to find out about that sooner, rather than later, in the process.

My presentation today will be divided into three sections. First, we will go over the basic refugee definition and some of its ramifications. Second, I will provide some basic information about particular social group or “PSG” claims. Third, I will give you fourteen practical pointers for effectively presenting asylum cases in Immigration Court.

 

Please feel free to ask questions as we go along, or save them until the end.

 

II.        WHO IS A REFUGEE?

 

In this section, I will first discuss the INA’s definition of “refugee.” Second, I will talk about the standard of proof. Third, we will discuss the meaning of the undefined term “persecution.” I will conclude this section with a discussion of the key concept of “nexus.”

A.        Refugee Definition

 

An “asylee” under U.S. law is basically an individual who satisfies the “refugee” definition, but who is in the U.S. or at our border in a different status, or with no status at all. Most of your clients will fall in the latter category.

The definition of “refugee” is set forth in section 101(a)(42) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42). There are four basic elements:

  1. Generally, outside the country of nationality (not usually an issue in border cases);
  2. Unwilling or unable to return (failure of state protection);
  3. Because of persecution (undefined) or a well founded fear of persecution;
  4. On account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion (“nexus”).

 

There are some important exclusions to the refugee definition, the most frequent ones being the one-year filing deadline for asylum, those who have committed serious nonpolitical crimes outside the U.S. or particularly serious crimes in the U.S., persecutors of others, those who have rendered material support to a terrorist organizations, and those who are firmly resettled in another country. I won’t be going into these in detail today, but you should know that they are there, and I’d be happy to take questions on them. The ground most likely to come up in your cases is the one relating to individuals who have committed crimes.

Some individuals who are ineligible for asylum might still be eligible to receive withholding of removal under section 243(b) of the INA, 8 U.S.C., § 1253(b) or withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”). And, everyone can potentially seek so-called “deferral of removal” under the CAT.

Also, please note that because of the requirement of a “nexus” to a “protected ground” not all types of harm trigger protection. In particular, crimes, wars, random violence, natural disasters, and personal vengeance or retribution do not automatically qualify individuals for refugee status, although “persecution“ within the meaning of the INA and the Convention certainly can sometimes occur in these contexts. However, some of these circumstances that fail to result in refugee protection because of the “nexus” requirement might be covered by the CAT, which has no nexus requirement.

The source of the “refugee” definition is he Refugee Act of 1980 which codified and implemented the U.N Convention and Protocol on the Status of Refugees to which the U.S. adhered in 1968. There are, however, some differences between the U.S. definition and the Convention definition, which I won’t go into today. But, again, you should be aware they exist, since some international or U.N. interpretations of the definition might be inapplicable under U.S. law.

B.        Standard of Proof

 

The standard of proof in asylum cases was established by the Supreme Court in 1987 in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987). In asylum cases, a “well-founded” fear is something far less than a probability. It is an “objectively reasonable fear” or the type of fear that a “reasonable person” would have under the circumstances. Most courts and authorities have adopted the “10% chance” example set forth in Justice Stevens’s plurality opinion in Cardoza.

The BIA’s implementation of Cardoza, the 1987 precedent Matter of Mogharrabi, 19 I&N Dec. 439 (BIA 1987), makes the point that the persecution can be “significantly less than probable.” Your challenge as lawyers will be to get judges at all levels of our system to actually apply the generous Cardoza-Mogharrabi standard rather than just mouthing it. Sadly, the latter still happens too often, in my opinion.

A different and higher “more likely than not” standard applies to withholding of removal under the INA and to withholding and deferral of removal under the CAT. One great tool for satisfying the standard of proof for asylum or withholding under the Act is the rebuttable regulatory presumption of future persecution arising out of past persecution set forth in 8 C.F.R. 1208.13. This is a really important regulation that you should basically learn “by heart.” I will reference it again in the “practical tips” section of this presentation.

Withholding and CAT are more limited forms of relief than asylum. While they usually provide work authorization, they do not lead to green card status, allow the applicants to bring relatives, or travel abroad. They are also easier to revoke if conditions change. Nevertheless, there is one major advantage to withholding and CAT: they save your client’s life. Sometimes, that’s the best you can do. And, fundamentally, saving lives is really what this business is all about.

C.        What Is Persecution?

 

Remarkably, neither the Convention nor the INA defines the term “persecution.” Consequently, U.S. Immigration Judges, the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”), and the U.S. Courts of Appeals are constantly referring to certain types of harm as “mere discrimination or harassment” not “rising to the level” of “persecution.” Often these highly subjective conclusions seem to be more in the mind of the judicial beholder than in the record or the law.

In the absence of a firm definition, I have found the most useful practical guidance to be in an opinion by the famous, or infamous, Judge Richard Posner, who recently retired from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2011 case Stanojkova v. Holder, 645 F.3d 943, 947-48 (7th Cir. 2011). Judge Posner gave three examples.

“The three forms are discrimination, harassment, and persecution. The first [discrimination] refers to unequal treatment, and is illustrated historically by India’s caste system and the Jim Crow laws in the southern U.S. states. Discrimination normally does not involve the application of physical force, except as punishment for violation of the discriminatory laws.”

Second: “Harassment involves targeting members of a specified group for adverse treatment, but without the application of significant physical force. Had [police] furious at [the respondent’s] being soft on Albanians followed his taxi (he was a taxicab driver in Macedonia) and ticketed him whenever he exceeded the speed limit by one mile per hour, that would be an example of harassment. A common form of sexual harassment is pestering a subordinate for a date or making lewd comments on her appearance, or perhaps hugging her, which is physical but generally not violent.”

Third: “Persecution involves, we suggest, the use of significant physical force against a person’s body, or the infliction of comparable physical harm without direct application of force (locking a person in a cell and starving him would be an example), or nonphysical harm of equal gravity—that last qualification is important because refusing to allow a person to practice his religion is a common form of persecution even though the only harm it causes is psychological. Another example of persecution that does not involve actual physical contact is a credible threat to inflict grave physical harm, as in pointing a gun at a person’s head and pulling the trigger but unbeknownst to the victim the gun is not loaded.”

These definitions are, of course, not binding outside the Seventh Circuit. But, I find them to be practical, usable definitions that I certainly found helpful in making asylum decisions in the Fourth and other circuits.

D.        Nexus

 

The concept of “nexus” or “on account of” has become critical in asylum adjudication. Indeed, that is where many of your upcoming battles will be focused. In many cases these days the DHS will concede the “particular social group” (“PSG”) and just argue that the harm has no “nexus” to that PSG or any other protected ground.

The REAL ID Act amended the INA to require that for an asylum applicant to prove ”nexus” or “on account” of any protected ground, he or she must show that the protected ground is “at least one central reason” for the feared persecution. INA § 208(b)(1)(B)(i), 8 U.S.C. § 1208(b)(1)(B)(i) While this did not eliminate the frequently encountered “mixed motive” situation, it was intended to “tighten up” prior case law that had referred to the persecution as stemming “in whole or in part” from a protected ground.

The BIA ruled in Matter of C-T-L-, 25 I & N Dec. 341 (BIA 2010) that the “one central reason” test also applies to nexus in the withholding of removal context. However, the Ninth Circuit rejected the BIA’s interpretation in Barajas-Romero v. Lynch, 846 F.3d 351 (BIA 2014), maintaining that the more generous “in whole or in part” test should continue to apply to withholding cases under the INA. To my knowledge, the Fourth Circuit has not directly addressed the issue. So, I believe that C-T-L- would apply in the Immigration Courts in the Fourth Circuit at present.

Unfortunately, the BIA has given a very narrow reading to the “one central reason” test. In a recent precedent, Matter of L-E-A-, 27 I &N Dec. 40 (BIA 2017), the respondent was a member of a family social group. He clearly was targeted by a cartel in Mexico because he was a member of a family that owned a grocery store. In other words, “but for” the respondent’s family membership, he would not have been targeted by the gang.

Nevertheless, instead of granting the case, the BIA looked beyond the initial causation. The BIA found that “the respondent was targeted only as a means to achieve the cartel’s objective to increase its profits by selling drugs in the store owned by his father. Therefore the cartel’s motive to increase its profits by selling contraband in the store was one central reason for its actions against the respondent. Any motive to harm the respondent because he was a member of his family was, at most, incidental.” 27 I&N Dec. at 46 (citations omitted). Accordingly, the BIA denied the case.

Unfortunately, the BIA cited and relied upon an analysis of nexus in a similar case by the Fifth Circuit in Ramirez-Mejia v. Lynch, 794 F.3d 485n (5th Cir. 2015). The BIA, and to some extent the Fifth Circuit, have essentially used the “nexus” requirement to “squeeze the life” out of the family PSG. We can see that the normal rules of legal causation have been suspended. The respondent would not have been targeted by the cartel had he not belonged to this particular family. Yet, the BIA searched for and found an “overriding motive” that did not relate to a protected ground and determined that to be the “central reason” and the family PSG to be “tangential.”

What kind of case could succeed under L-E-A-? Well, perhaps not wanting to give anyone any practical ideas on how to qualify, the BIA searched history and came up with the execution of the Romanov family by the Bolsheviks as an example of a where family was a “central reason” for the persecution. So, maybe if the respondent’s father were a major donor to a political party that opposed cartels, a member of a religion that opposed drugs, or a member of a hated minority group, the respondent’s family membership could have been “at least one central reason.”

But the Romanov family case would have been grantable on actual or imputed political opinion grounds. The other examples I gave would have been more easily grantable on actual or implied political opinion, religion, or nationality grounds. So the BIA appears designed to make the family PSG ground largely superfluous.

This leaves you as litigators in a tricky situation. The IJ will be bound by L-E-A,

and the BIA is unlikely to retreat from L-E-A-. On the other hand, the Fourth Circuit might not go along with the L-E-A- view, although Judge Wilkins appeared anxious to endorse L-E-A- in his separate concurring opinion in Valasquez v. Sessions, 866 F.3d 188 (4th Cir. 2017).

 

To my knowledge, L-E-A- has not actually been considered and endorsed by any circuit to date. To me, it appears to be inconsistent with some of the existing family-based nexus case law in the Fourth and Ninth Circuits. See, e.g., Zavaleta-Policiano v. Sessions, 873 F.3d 241 (4th Cir. 2017) (slamming BIA for misapplying concept of “mixed motive”). So, I wouldn’t be shocked if a “circuit split” eventually develops and the issue finally wends its way to the Supreme Court. Who knows, maybe one of you will be arguing it.

 

In any event, in my view, it is too early for you to “waive” strong nexus arguments even if they will be rejected under L-E-A-. On the other hand, that’s not likely to solve your client’s currentproblems.

So, what can you do? First, look for legitimate ways to distinguish L-E-A-. Assume that the DHS will “pull out the stops” in arguing that everything but family was the central reason –greed, lust, crime, random violence, personal vengeance, envy, resentment, etc. Look for evidence in the record that the dispute really was, to a major extent, about family, rather than one of the non-qualifying grounds.

Second, look for some qualifying non-family PSG or a “more conventional” religious, nationality, racial, or political motive.

Third, consider the possibility of CAT protection. The advocacy community probably underutilizes CAT. CAT doesn’t have a specific nexus requirement and often can be proved by extensive documentary or expert evidence, both UVA Clinic specialties. Sure, the standard of proof is high and CAT is a lesser form of relief than asylum. But, it saves your client’s life! And, if the nexus law changes in your favor, you can always file a motion to reopen to re-apply for asylum under the changed law.

This is an area of the law where creativity, preparation, and persistence often pay off in the long run. So, don’t give up. Keep on fighting for a reasonable and proper application of the “refugee” definition and for the rights of your clients.

III.      PARTICULAR SOCIAL GROUP

 

In this section I will talk about the three basic requirements for a PSG, the success stories, the usual failures, things that can go wrong, and offer you a few practice pointers directly related to PSG claims.

A.        The Three Requirements

 

The BIA has established three requirements for a PSG.

  1. Immutability or fundamental to identity;
  2. Particularity; and
  3. Social distinction.

 

These three requirements are usually used to deny rather than grant protection. Indeed, most of the BIA’s recent precedents on PSG are rendered in a decidedly negative context.

There was a time about two decades ago when many of us, including a number of BIA Members, thought that immutability or fundamental to identity was the sole factor. But, following our departure, the BIA attached the additional requirements of “particularity” and “social visibility” now renamed “social distinction” to narrow the definition and facilitate denials, particularly of gang-based PSG claims.

The particularity and social distinction requirements basically work like a “scissors” to cut off claims. As you make your definition more specific to meet the “particularity” requirement it often will become so narrow and restrictive that it fails to satisfy “social distinction.” On the other hand, as your proposed PSG becomes more socially distinct, it’s likely that it will become more expansive and generic so that the BIA will find a lack of “particularity.”

While the UNHCR and many advocacy groups have argued for a return of immutability as the basic requirement with “social distinction” as an alternative, not an additional requirement, the BIA recently reaffirmed its “three criteria” approach. These cases, Matter of M-E-V-G-, 26 I &N Dec. 227 (BIA 2014) and its companion case Matter of W-E-G-, 26 I &N Dec. 208 (BIA 2014), are “must reads” for anyone doing PSG work.

About the only bright spot for advocates was that the BIA in M-E-V-G– rejected the commonly held view that no gang-based case could ever succeed. The BIA said that its decisions “should not be read as a blanket rejection of all factual scenarios involving gangs. Social group determinations are made on a case-by-case basis. For example, a factual scenario in which gangs are targeting homosexuals may support a particular social group claim. While persecution on account of a protected ground cannot be inferred merely from acts of random violence and the existence of civil strife, it is clear that persecution on account of a protected ground may occur during periods of civil strife if the victim is targeted on account of a protected ground.” 26 I&N Dec. at 251 (citations omitted).

In other words, the Board is asking for evidence intensive case-by-case adjudications of various proposed PSGs. Leaving aside the fairness of doing this in a context where we know that most applicants will be detained and unrepresented, I cannot think of an organization better suited to give the BIA what it asked for than the UVA Clinic – you guys!

B. Success Stories

There are four basic groups that have been relatively successful in establishing PSG claims.

  1. LGBT individuals under Matter of Toboso-Alfonso, 20 I&N Dec. 819 (BIA 1990);
  2. Women who fear or suffered female genital mutilation (“FGM”) under my decision in Matter of Kasinga, 21 I&N Dec. 357 (BIA 1996);
  3. Victims of domestic violence under Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388 (BIA 2014); and
  4. Family under the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Crespin-Valladares v. Holder, 632 F.3d 117 (4th 2011), a case in which I was the Immigration Judge and Jones Day was pro bono counsel.

You should note that the first three of these success stories had something in common: strong support across a wide spectrum of the political universe. In fact, in LGBT, FGM, and domestic violence cases the DHS eventually changed its position so as to not oppose the recognition of the PSG. This, in turn, either facilitated or perhaps effectively forced the BIA to recognize the PSG in a precedent.

Family, on the other hand, has generally not developed the same type of political consensus as a PSG for asylum purposes. I have already discussed in detail how notwithstanding the clear logic of family as a PSG, the BIA uses a highly restrictive reading of the “nexus” requirement that prevents many family groups from qualifying for protection.

There are two additional important points established by Kasinga. First, the respondent does not have to establish that the persecutor acted or will act with “malevolent intent.” Persecution may be established even where the persecutor was inflicting the harm with the intent to “help” or “treat” the respondent. This comes up frequently in connection with LGBT claims.

Second, Kasinga holds that to justify a discretionary denial of asylum for a respondent who otherwise meets all of the statutory requirements, the adverse factors must be “egregious” so as to outweigh the likely danger of persecution.

You are likely to find a number of cases involving LGBT individuals, domestic violence, and family. In the Arlington Immigration Court during my tenure these cases succeeded at an extremely high rate, so much so that many of them went on my “short docket.” However, that was then and this is now.  As they say, “There’s a new sheriff in town and, unfortunately in my view, he looks a lot like the infamous “Sheriff Joe.”

Finally, there are some “up and comer” PSG’s that have had success in some of the circuits and might eventually gain widespread acceptance. Among these are witnesses, landowners, and women subjected to forced marriages. The latter often can more successfully be presented under the domestic violence category. The Fourth Circuit actually has recognized “former gang members” as a potential PSG, although many such individuals will have difficulties under the criminal exclusions from the refugee definition. Martinez v. Holder, 740 F.3d 902 (4th Cir. 2014).

C. The Usual Losers

PSGs that don’t fit any of the categories I just mentioned are usually “losers.” Chief among the “usual losers” are victims of crime other than domestic violence, informants, extortion victims, and those resisting gang recruitment. You’ll probably see a fair number of such cases. Your challenge will be how to present them in a way that overcomes the negative connotations normally associated with such claims.

D. What Can Go Wrong?

Lots of things can go wrong with a PSG case. First, there is the issue of “circularity.” Generally, a PSG cannot be defined in terms of itself. For example “victims of crime” would generally be a “circular” social group.

An easy test is to use your proposed PSG in a simple sentence: “This respondent was harmed to overcome the characteristic of being _________. If you can’t say with a straight face in open court, don’t use it. For example, “this respondent was raped to overcome her characteristic of being a victim of rape” isn’t going to make it as a PSG.

We’ve already talked about how PSG claims can be attacked by denying the nexus. There are also the old favorites of lack of credibility or corroboration. Then, there is failure to meet the one-year filing deadline, no failure of state protection, reasonably available internal relocation, and fundamentally changed country conditions.

That’s why if you’re considering a PSG claim, it’s always wise to have “Plan B.” The problem today, however, is that the Administration has restricted or limited many of the “Plans B.” For example, until recently, the number one “Plan B” was to request prosecutorial discretion (“PD”) from the Assistant Chief Counsel if the respondent had sympathetic humanitarian factors, a clean criminal record, and strong ties to the U.S. However, for all practical purposes, this Administration has eliminated PD.

Nevertheless, its always worthwhile to think about whether things like Wilberforce Act treatment for certain unaccompanied juveniles, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, “T” visas for trafficking victims, “U” visas for victims of crime, or benefits under the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) might be realistic possibilities for your client.

E. A Few Practical Tips on PSG

I’m going to close this section by offering you a few practical tips on presenting PSG cases that will also tie into my next major section.

First, think “25 words or fewer.” Just like the old boxtop contests from my youth. There are few, if any, known examples of success using lengthy, convoluted social group definitions.

 

Second, remember folks, it isn’t “making sausages.” The definition that goes in must be the same one that comes out the other end. Social groups that “morph” during the hearing just have no chance.

 

Third, be prepared to explain how your proposed particular social group meets the current BIA criteria of immutability, particularity, and social distinction, formerly known as “social visibility.”

 

Fourth, make sure that your respondent is actually a member of the particular social group you propose. You would be surprised at the number of counsel who propose a particular social group definition and then fail to offer proof that their client actually fits within that group.

 

Fifth, as I just mentioned, check your particular social group for “circularity.”

Sixth, and finally, be prepared for an onslaught of other arguments against your case, the chief of which probably will be “no nexus.” Normally, the DHS will “pull out all the stops” to prevent the recognition of a new PSG.

IV. PRACTICAL TIPS FOR PRESENTING AN ASYLUM CASE IN IMMIGRATION COURT

You should all have received a copy of my comprehensive three-page treatise on asylum law entitled “Practical Tips For Presenting an Asylum Case In Immigration Court,” Feb. 2017 Revised Edition. I’m going to quickly take you through the fourteen practical tips outlined there.

My first tip is, “Read a Good Book.” My strong recommendation is the one that has always been at the top of the Immigration Court Best Seller List: Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations, 2017 edition.

 

Specifically, I invite your attention to Chapter 1208, which contains the seeds of all winning theories of asylum law, past, present, and future. It will also give you gems like how to shift the burden of proof to the DHS and how to win your case even if your client does not presently have a well-founded fear of persecution.

 

Second, “Get Real.” The REAL ID Act, P.L. 109-13, 119 Stat. 231 (2005), deals with credibility and burden of proof issues in asylum and other cases and applies to applications “made” on or after May 11, 2005, which will be all of your cases. Read it and decide how it can help you and how you can respond to DHS arguments.

 

Third, “Know One When You See One.” The one-year filing requirement of section 208(a)(2)(B) of the INA bars asylum in some cases. Your burden of proof on the one-year filing issue is very high: “clear and convincing evidence.” Judicial review might be limited. But, there are exceptions. Read the statute and the regulations at 8 C.F.R. § 1208.4 to find out how the filing requirement works and what arguments might be made to preserve a late asylum application. Remember that the one-year requirement does not apply to withholding of removal under the INA or to CAT applications.

 

At the beginning of each asylum case, I asked the parties to identify the issues. Respondents’ attorneys invariably told me about past persecution, future persecution, nexus, gender-based persecution, exceptions to the one year filing deadline, weird social groups, and so forth. The issue they sometimes fail to identify is the one that’s always first on my list. What is it?

 

 

That’s right, credibility, is the key issue in almost all asylum litigation. So, my fourth rule is “Play To Tell the Truth.” You must understand what goes into making credibility determinations and why the role of the Immigration Judge is so critical. Often, adverse credibility determinations are difficult to overturn on appeal. It’s all about deference.

 

But, credible testimony might not be enough to win your case. That’s why my fifth rule is “Don’t Believe Everything You Read.” Both appellate and trial court decisions often recite rote quotations about asylum being granted solely on the basis of credible testimony.

However, to give your client the best chance of winning his or her asylum case in immigration Court, under the law applicable in most circuits, you’re likely to need a combination of credible testimony and reasonably available corroborating evidence. Read Matter of S-M-J-, 21 I&N Dec. 722 (BIA 1997), largely codified by REAL ID, and find out what it really takes to win an asylum case in most Immigration Court.

 

In this respect, you should remember my corollary sixth rule “Paper Your Case.” According to Fourth Circuit precedent, even a proper adverse credibility ruling against your client might not be enough for an Immigration Judge to deny the asylum claim. The Judge must still examine the record as a whole, including all of the documentation supporting the claim, to determine whether independent documentary evidence establishes eligibility for asylum. Read Camara v. Ashcroft, 378 F.3d 361 (4th Cir. 2004) and discover how the power of independent documentary evidence can overcome even a sustainable adverse credibility finding. Also, remember that the REAL ID Act directs Immigration Judges to consider “the totality of the circumstances, and all relevant factors.”

 

“Read Your Paper” is my seventh important rule. You and your client are responsible for all the documentation you present in your case. Nothing will give you nightmares faster than having a client present false or fraudulent documentation to the Immigration Court. In my experience, I’ve had very few attorneys able to dig out of that hole. So, don’t let this happen to you.

 

My eighth rule is “Pile it On.” Sometimes, as demonstrated in one of my very favorite cases Matter of O-Z- & I-Z-, 22 I&N Dec. 23 (BIA 1998), reaffirmed in Matter of L-K-, 23 I&N Dec. 677, 683 (BIA 2004), you will be able to take a series of events happening to your respondent, his or her family, or close associates, none of which individually perhaps rises to the level of persecution, and combine them to win for your client.

 

My ninth rule is “Don’t Get Caught by the Devil.” The devil is in the details. If you don’t find that devil, the DHS Assistant Chief Counsel almost certainly will, and you will burn. Also, make sure to put your client at ease by carefully explaining the process and by going over the direct and cross-examinations in advance. Remember the cultural and language barriers that can sometimes interfere with effective presentation of your case.

 

I found the DHS Assistant Chief Counsel in Arlington were all very nice folks. They were also smart, knowledgeable, well prepared, and ready to vigorously litigate their client’s positions. They handled more trials in a year than most litigators do in a lifetime. So, beware and be prepared. You would also be wise to contact the Assistant Chief Counsel in advance of any merits hearing to discuss ways of narrowing the issues and possible “Plans B.”

 

My tenth rule is “Know Your Geography.” Not all Immigration Courts and Circuit Courts of Appeals are located on the West Coast. The BIA certainly is not. You must know and deal with the law in the jurisdiction where your case actually is located, not in the one you might wish it were located.

 

For example, the Arlington Immigration Court is in Crystal City. That is in Virginia, which is not presently part of the Ninth Circuit.

 

This is something that I once had trouble with, coming to the Arlington Court from a job where the majority of asylum cases arose in the Ninth Circuit. But, I got over it, and so can you.

 

My eleventh rule is to “Get Physical.”   In defining persecution, some Circuits have emphasized “the infliction or threat of death, torture, or injury to one’s person or freedom.” See, e.g., Niang v. Gonzales, 492 F.3d 505 (4th Cir. 2007). While the Circuits and the BIA have also recognized non-physical threats and harm, your strongest case probably will be to emphasize the physical aspects of the harm where they exist. Mirisawo v. Holder, 599 F.3d 391 (4th Cir. 2010); Matter of T-Z-, 24 I & N Dec. 163 (BIA 2007).

 

I particularly recommend the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Crespin-Valladares v. Holder, 632 F.3d 117 (4th Cir. 2011), which found that the BIA erred in rejecting my conclusion that “unrebutted evidence of death threats against [the respondent] and his family members, combined with the MS-13’s penchant for extracting vengeance against cooperating witnesses, gave rise to a reasonable fear of future persecution.” In other words, I was right, and the BIA was wrong. But, who’s keeping track?

 

My twelfth rule is “Practice, Practice, Practice.” The Immigration Court Practice Manual, available online at the EOIR web site http://www.usdoj.gov/eoir/vll/OCIJPracManual/ocij_page1.htmwas effective July 1, 2008, and replaced all prior local rules. All filings with the Immigration Court must comply with the deadlines and formats established in this Practice Manual. The Practice Manual has a very helpful index, and it covers just about everything you will ever want to know about practice before the Immigration Courts. It contains useful appendices that give you contact information and tell you how to format and cite documents for filing in Immigration Court. Best of all, it’s applicable nationwide, so you can use what you learn in all Immigration Courts.

 

My thirteenth, rule is “It’s Always Wise to Have ‘Plan B.’” As I have pointed out, asylum litigation has many variables and opportunities for a claim to “go south.” Therefore, it is prudent to have a “Plan B” (alternative) in mind.

 

Among the “Plans B” that regularly came up in Arlington were: prosecutorial discretion (“PD”), Special Rule Cancellation of Removal (“NACARA”), Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”), non-Lawful Permanent Resident Cancellation of Removal (“EOIR 42-B”), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”), Special Immigrant Juvenile (“SIJ”) status, I-130 petition with a “stateside waiver” (“I-601A”), “Wilberforce Act” special processing for unaccompanied children (“UACs”), T nonimmigrant status (for certain human trafficking victims), and U nonimmigrant status (for certain victims of crime). In my experience, many, perhaps the majority, of the “happy outcome” asylum cases coming before me were resolved on a basis “OTA,” that is “other than asylum.”

 

But, unfortunately in my view, the “Plan B” world is rapidly changing. So, please listen very carefully to the caveat that comes next.

 

Fourteenth, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. As some have said “there’s a new Sheriff in town,” and he’s announced a “maximum immigration enforcement” program targeting anyonewho has had any run-in with the law, whether convicted or not. He also intends to detain all undocumented border crossers or applicants for admission at the border. So, you can expect morearrests, more detention (particularly in far-away, inconvenient locations like, for instance, Farmville, VA), more bond hearings, more credible and reasonable fear reviews, more pressure to move cases even faster, and an even higher stress level in Immigration Court.

 

The “Plans B” involving discretion on the part of the Assistant Chief Counsel, like PD, DACA, and stateside processing, and even waiving appeal from grants of relief, are likely to disappear in the near future, if they have not already. In many cases, litigating up through the BIA and into the Article III Federal Courts (where the judges are, of course, bound to follow the law but not necessarily to accept the President’s or the Attorney General’s interpretation of it) might become your best, and perhaps only, “Plan B.”

V. CONCLUSION

 

In conclusion, I have told you about the basic elements of the refugee definition and how it is used in adjudicating asylum cases. I have also discussed the requirements and the pros and cons of the PSG protected ground. And, I have shared with you some of my practical tips for presenting an asylum case in U.S. Immigration Court.

 

Obviously, I can’t make you an immigration litigation expert in in afternoon. But, I trust that I have given you the basic tools to effectively represent your clients in Immigration Court. I have also given you some sources that you can consult for relevant information in developing your litigation strategy and your case.

 

I encourage you to read my blog, immigrationcourtside.com, which covers many recent developments in the U.S. Immigration Courts. As you come up with victories, defeats, good ideas, appalling situations, or anything else you think should be made more widely available, please feel free to submit them to me for publication. I also welcome first-hand accounts of how the system is, or isn’t, working at the “retail level.”

 

Thanks again for joining the New Due Process Army and undertaking this critical mission on behalf of the U.S. Constitution and all it stands for! Thanks for what you are doing for America, our system of justice, and the most vulnerable individuals who depend on that system for due process and justice.

 

Thanks for listening, good luck, do great things, and Due Process Forever! I’d be pleased to answer any additional questions.

 

 

(10-30-17)

© Paul Wickham Schmidt 2017. All Rights Reserved. 

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

PWS

10-30-17

 

 

 

 

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

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

Mica Rosenberg, Read Levinson, & Ryan McNeill report:

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

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

Filed

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

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

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

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

That’s when their fates diverged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“GROSS DISPARITIES”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CRISIS AT THE BORDER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“NO POLICE HERE”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ASYLUM FREE ZONES”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAY IN COURT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“SOMEONE WANTS TO KILL THEM”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia and Kristina Cooke

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

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

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

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

Reade Levinson

Heavy Odds

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

Data: Reade Levinson and Ryan McNeill

Graphics: Ashlyn Still

Photo editing: Steve McKinley and Barbara Adhiya

Video: Zachary Goelman

Design: Jeff Magness

Edited by Sue Horton, Janet Roberts and John Blanton”

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

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

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

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

Great reporting by Mica and her team!

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

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

PWS

10-17-17

 

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

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

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