GONZO’S WORLD: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A DIVERSE “NATION OF IMMIGRANTS” ANOINTS A COMMITTED XENOPHOBE AS ITS CHIEF LAW OFFICER? – Gonzo Is Deconstructing Our System Of Justice, One Day At A Time!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/while-eyes-are-on-russia-sessions-dramatically-reshapes-the-justice-department/2017/11/24/dd52d66a-b8dd-11e7-9e58-e6288544af98_story.html?utm_term=.6b27aa9221e3

“For more than five hours, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sat in a hearing room on Capitol Hill this month, fending off inquiries on Washington’s two favorite topics: President Trump and Russia.

But legislators spent little time asking Sessions about the dramatic and controversial changes in policy he has made since taking over the top law enforcement job in the United States nine months ago.

From his crackdown on illegal immigration to his reversal of Obama administration policies on criminal justice and policing, Sessions is methodically reshaping the Justice Department to reflect his nationalist ideology and hard-line views — moves drawing comparatively less public scrutiny than the ongoing investigations into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin.

Sessions has implemented a new charging and sentencing policy that calls for prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible, even if that might mean minority defendants face stiff, mandatory minimum penalties. He has defended the president’s travel ban and tried to strip funding from cities with policies he considers too friendly toward undocumented immigrants.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Nov. 14. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Sessions has even adjusted the department’s legal stances in cases involving voting rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in a way that advocates warn might disenfranchise poor minorities and give certain religious people a license to discriminate.

Supporters and critics say the attorney general has been among the most effective of the Cabinet secretaries — implementing Trump’s conservative policy agenda even as the president publicly and privately toys with firing him over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia case.

. . . .

In meetings with top Justice Department officials about terrorist suspects, Sessions often has a particular question: Where is the person from? When officials tell him a suspect was born and lives in the United States, he typically has a follow-up: To what country does his family trace its lineage?

While there are reasons to want to know that information, some officials familiar with the inquiries said the questions struck them as revealing that Sessions harbors an innate suspicion about people from certain ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in a statement, “The Attorney General asks lots of relevant questions in these classified briefings.”

Sessions, unlike past attorneys general, has been especially aggressive on immigration. He served as the public face of the administration’s rolling back of a program that granted a reprieve from deportation to people who had come here without documentation as children, and he directed federal prosecutors to make illegal-immigration cases a higher priority. The attorney general has long held the view that the United States should even reduce the number of those immigrating here legally.

In an interview with Breitbart News in 2015, then-Sen. Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke favorably of a 1924 law that excluded all immigrants from Asia and set strict caps on others.

“When the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and Congress changed the policy and it slowed down immigration significantly,” Sessions said. “We then assimilated through 1965 and created really the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America.”

Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division in the Obama administration who now works as chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Sessions seems to harbor an “unwillingness to recognize the history of this country is rooted in immigration.”

“On issue after issue, it’s very easy to see what his worldview is of what this country is and who belongs in this country,” she said, adding that his view is “distinctly anti-immigrant.”

Those on the other side of the aisle, however, say they welcome the changes Sessions has made at the Justice Department.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for moderating levels of immigration, said she would give the attorney general an “A-plus” for his work in the area, especially for his crackdown on “sanctuary cities,” his push to hire more immigration judges and his focus on the MS-13 gang.

“He was able to hit the ground running because he has so much expertise already in immigration enforcement and related public safety issues and the constitutional issues, so he’s accomplished a lot in a very short time,” Vaughan said.”

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

Read the compete article, which deals with much more than immigration, at the link.

Immigrants, refugees, immigration advocates, and career civil servants involved in immigration at the DOJ seems to be “star-crossed.” After decades of relative indifference to the importance of immigration, an Attorney General finally shows up  who makes it his highest priority.

Only problem is that he’s a committed xenophobe and White Nationalist whose largely false and exaggerated narrative on immigration comes right from the alt-right restrictionist playbook and harks back to the Jim Crow era of the American South — only this time with Hispanics and Muslims as the primary targets.

In any “normal” American business, obsession with tracing back lineage of someone’s family would be prima facie evidence of prohibited “national origins discrimination.” But, for Gonzo, it’s just another day at the office.

Notwithstanding his less than stellar performances before Congress and that he’s fallen off Trump’s “A-Team” (notwithstanding probably doing more to deconstruct the Constitution and “Good Government” than any other cabinet officer), he’s unlikely to be going anywhere soon. So the damage will continue to add up for the foreseeable future. It’s not like Senator Liz Warren and others didn’t try to warn America about this dude!

Meanwhile, perhaps not to be outdone, over at the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is proceeding to deconstruct the Career Foreign Service and reduce the Stated Department and our Diplomatic Corps to “administrative roadkill.” You can read about that debacle in this NY Times article:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/24/us/politics/state-department-tillerson.html

PWS

11-26-17

 

FEAR AND LOATHING IN ATLANTA: The Worst Place In America To Be Undocumented?

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/25/us/atlanta-immigration-arrests.html

Vivian Yee writes in the NY Times:

“CHAMBLEE, Ga. — Not many notice when the SUVs arrive.

Around 5 a.m., when the immigration agents pull into the parking lot of the Chamblee Heights apartments, 16 miles from downtown Atlanta, only one person is on the lookout.

Cristina Monteros catches sight of the cars with the telltale tinted windows from her small apartment near the front, where she runs a day care, and calls her downstairs neighbor: ICE is here.

The neighbor dials another, who passes it on. It takes less than 15 minutes for everyone in the complex to hear about “la migra,” whereupon they shut their doors and hold their breath. Some show up late to work, and others skip it altogether. The school bus might leave some children behind.

“It’s just us helping each other out,” said Ms. Monteros, 35. “There’s fear every day.”

Few places in the United States have simultaneously beckoned undocumented immigrants and penalized them for coming like metropolitan Atlanta, a boomtown of construction and service jobs where conservative politics and new national policies have turned every waking day into a gamble.

President Trump has declared anyone living in the country illegally a target for arrest and deportation, driving up the number of immigration arrests by more than 40 percent this year. While the Obama administration deported record numbers of undocumented immigrants, it directed federal agents to focus on arresting serious criminals and recent arrivals. The current administration has erased those guidelines, allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to arrest and deport anyone here illegally.

Freed of constraints, the regional ICE office in Atlanta made nearly 80 percent more arrests in the first half of this year than it did in the same period last year, the largest increase of any field office in the country.

It has had help. Local sheriffs and the police have been working with federal agents to identify and detain immigrants, a model of cooperation that the Trump administration is rapidly trying to expand throughout the country.

Every few hours, an unauthorized immigrant is booked into a county jail on charges as serious as assault and as minor as failing to signal a right turn. Then the jail alerts ICE — contrary to what happens in the so-called sanctuary cities repeatedly denounced by Mr. Trump, where local authorities refuse to turn immigrants over to the federal agency except in cases involving the gravest crimes.

Atlanta’s immigrants can do little but hide. At strip-mall taquerias and fruit stands, business has lagged. Word of the arrests flows through neighborhood phone trees, and Facebook has become an early-warning system for people desperate for clues about where ICE is operating. All around the metropolitan area, cabs and Uber cars are picking up immigrants who know driving their own cars may get them no further than detention.

. . . .

An analysis of one month of Gwinnett County jail records from this summer shows that 184 of the 2,726 people booked and charged at the jail were held for immigration authorities. Almost two-thirds of those detained for ICE had been charged with a traffic infraction such as failing to stay in their lane, speeding or driving without a license. Others were booked on charges including assault, child molestation and drug possession.

Advocates for immigrants have accused officers in 287(g) counties of targeting Hispanic drivers, a claim local police have denied.

“Local law enforcement is just chasing Latinos all over the place for tiny traffic infractions,” said Adelina Nicholls, the executive director of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights.

But to Butch Conway, the longtime sheriff of Gwinnett County, there is no reason his deputies should not turn in immigrants caught driving without a license. They are, after all, doubly breaking the law.

“I find it offensive that they just thumb their nose at our laws and operate vehicles they are not licensed to operate,” Mr. Conway said in a 2010 interview, “on top of the fact that they are here illegally.” (Through a spokeswoman, he declined to comment for this article.)

In nearby Cobb County, Maria Hernandez, a school janitor from Mexico, was arrested while driving home from work one night in May. An officer conducting a random license tag check, a common practice in some police departments, had determined through a state database that the tag had been suspended because the car lacked insurance. After pulling over Ms. Hernandez, the officer then discovered she had no driver’s license.

Her boss tried to bail her out of the Cobb County jail, but was told that the money would go to waste: She was headed to immigration detention, where she would spend three days trying to explain that she was a single mother with a sick child. Estefania, her 13-year-old daughter, was being treated for depression after a suicide attempt.

Ms. Hernandez was released, given an ankle monitor and told to report back with a plane ticket. (A lawyer has helped delay the deportation.)

Her car, in fact, was insured; the officer had called in the wrong license tag, according to a Cobb County Police Department spokesman, Sgt. Dana Pierce.

Sergeant Pierce said it made no difference, given Ms. Hernandez’s lack of a driver’s license. Generally, “there is no singling out of any race, creed, color, religion or anything else,” the sergeant said.

But by the time the mistake was discovered, it was too late. Ms. Hernandez was already being booked into the county jail.”

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

Read Yee’s complete article at the link.

As has been noted before on this blog, the U.S. Immigration Courts in Georgia also have the reputation of being most anti-migrant in the country.

PWS

11-26-17

THE HILL: N. RAPPAPORT SAYS THAT EXPEDITED REMOVAL IS THE ANSWER TO IMMIGRATION COURT BACKLOGS – I DISAGREE!

http://thehill.com/opinion/immigration/360139-our-immigration-courts-are-drowning-expedited-removal-can-bring-relief

Nolan writes:

“Trump has acknowledged that the immigration court’s enormous backlog cripples his ability to remove illegal immigrants in a timely manner, but his plan to deal with the backlog isn’t going to work.

This chart from the Executive Office for Immigration Review’s (EOIR) FY2016 Statistics Yearbook shows that the immigration judges (IJs) have not been making any progress on reducing the backlog.

At a recent Center for Immigration Studies panel discussion on the backlog, 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.”

By the end of September 2016, the backlog was up to 516,031 cases. A year later, it had grown to 629,051.

. . . .

If Trump relies on hiring more IJs to deal with the backlog crisis, his enforcement program will be a dismal failure.

His only viable alternative is to reduce the size of the immigration court’s docket, which he can do by promulgating regulations making IJ hearings unavailable to aliens whose cases can be handled in expedited removal proceedings.

He seems to have had this in mind when he directed DHS to use expedited removal proceedings to the full extent authorized by law, which would include most of the undocumented aliens in the United States who were not lawfully admitted, unless they can establish that they have been here for two years.

In expedited removal proceedings, which are conducted by immigration officers, aliens can be deported without IJ hearings unless they have a credible fear of persecution. If they establish a credible fear of persecution, they are entitled to an asylum hearing before an IJ.

But would the courts stop him?”

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

Go on over to The Hill at the link to read Nolan’s complete article.

Expedited removal is the wrong solution to the Immigration Court backlog!

  • As I have noted in recent blogs, recent studies show that Immigration Court hearings area already falling substantially short of providing real due process because of lack of available counsel and overuse of immigration detention. Expedited removal would aggravate that problem tenfold.
  • Expedited removal couldn’t begin to solve the current backlog problems because the vast majority of the estimated 11 million individuals already here have been here for more than two years and can prove it, most from Government records. Indeed, I’d wager that the vast majority of individuals in Removal Proceedings in U.S. Immigration Court have had their cases pending for two or more years.
  • The problems in Immigration Court were caused by “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” by the last three Administrations emanating from undue political influence from the Department of Justice, DHS, and the White House. Only an independent Immigration Court that places control of the dockets in individual Immigration Judges, where it belongs, can address those problems.
  • The answer to hiring problems resulting from poor management and political hiring from the DOJ is certainly not to “get rid of” any existing U.S. Immigration Judges. Whether the hiring was done properly or not, there is no reason to believe that any of the currently sitting local U.S. Immigration Judges did anything wrong or participated in the hiring process other than by applying for the jobs. The system needs all the experienced judges it currently has.
  • The problem of inconsistency will only be solved by having an independent BIA that acts in the manner of an independent appellate court, cracking down on those judges who are not correctly applying legal standards. That’s how all other court systems address consistency issues — through precedent and independent appellate review. Numerous examples have been documented of Immigration Judges in courts like Atlanta, Stewart, and Charlotte, to name three of the most notorious ones, improperly denying asylum claims and mistreating asylum applicants. The BIA has failed to function in a proper, independent manner ever since the “Ashcroft Purge.” The only way to get it doing its job is by creating true judicial independence.
  • “Haste makes waste” is never the right solution! It’s been done in the past and each time has resulted in increased backlogs and, more importantly, serious lapses in due process.
  • The docket does need to be trimmed. The Obama Administration was at least starting the process by a more widespread use of prosecutorial discretion or “PD” as in all other major law enforcement prosecutorial offices. Most of the individuals currently in the country without status are assets to the country, who have built up substantial equities, and do not belong in removal proceedings. No system can function with the type of unregulated, irrational, “gonzo” enforcement this Administration is pursuing.
  • The reasonable solution is to do what is necessary to build a well-functioning system that provides due process efficiently, as it is supposed to do. The elements are reasonable access to lawyers for everyone in proceedings, reducing expensive, wasteful, and fundamentally unfair use of detention, better merit hiring and training procedures for Immigration Judges, modern technology, better use of prosecutorial discretion by the DHS, legislation to grant legal status to law-abiding productive individuals currently present in the US without status, and a truly independent judicial system that can develop in the way judicial systems are supposed to — without political meddling and without more “haste makes waste” schemes like “expedited removal!”

PWS

11-14-17

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

Safari – Oct 16, 2017 at 10:17 AM

Inaccurate claims from Mr. Sessions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PWS

10-16-17

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

So, what really needs to be done!

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

PWS

09-26-17

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You appear to be in Virginia. Not your state?

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

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

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

WHO ARE THESE IMMIGRANTS?

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re stuck here,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE DATA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up, the EOIR/DOJ response!

PWS

09-26-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I Consider Myself American’

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

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

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

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

What does matter is whether you come here legally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Immigration by the NumbersUS Immigration by the Numbers

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

(Published Monday, Sept. 25, 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘People Are Being Hurt by These Delays’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our system simply doesn’t allow for that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

See Part II on News4 at 11:15 tonight!

PWS

09-25-17

POLITICO HIGHLIGHTS LACK OF DUE PROCESS, CULTURAL AWARENESS, PROPER JUDICIAL TRAINING IN U.S. IMMIGRATION COURT’S HANDLING OF VIETNAMESE DEPORTATION CASE!

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/14/trump-immigration-crackdown-vietnam-241564

“Trump’s immigration crackdown hits Vietnam
Inside the case of one man who feared torture because of his Montagnard roots, but was deported last month.
By DAVID ROGERS 08/14/2017 05:39 AM EDT
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President Donald Trump’s “get tough” approach to immigration is now impacting — of all people — the Montagnard hill tribesmen who fought alongside the Green Berets in the Vietnam War.

The son of one such Montagnard veteran was deported back to Vietnam in July, a stunning move for many in the refugee community because of their history in the war and the continued evidence of political and economic mistreatment of Montagnards in Vietnam.

. . . .

The case captures all the twists and turns in the U.S. immigration system, compounded by pressure from the White House for quick results. No one emerges looking all good or all bad, but the outcome shows a remarkable blindness to history.

Nothing reveals this better, perhaps, than the exchanges between judge and defendant during a brief immigration court proceeding in June 2016, when Chuh was first ordered deported.

At that time, Chuh was being held at an ICE detention facility in Irwin County, Georgia. He had completed a state prison term for a first-time felony conviction in North Carolina related to trafficking in the synthetic drug MDMA, commonly called “ecstasy.” He remained without legal counsel and had to speak back-and forth by video conference with U.S. Immigration Court Judge William A. Cassidy of Atlanta, about 180 miles away.

POLITICO obtained a digital audiotape of the proceeding from the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act. The entire hearing ran just 5 minutes, 2 seconds, and the two men, Cassidy and Chuh, might have been ships passing in the night.

Chuh told Cassidy that he feared torture if he were sent back to Vietnam. But following the misguided advice of fellow detainees, he hurt his own cause by rejecting the judge’s offers to give him more time to find an attorney and seek protection.

On the other side, Cassidy, a former prosecutor, did not probe why Chuh feared torture. In fact, the judge showed no sign of knowing he was dealing with a Montagnard defendant and not the typical Vietnamese national.

Time and again, Cassidy incorrectly addressed Chuh as “A. Chuh” — not realizing that the A is Chuh’s single-letter last name and a telltale sign of his Montagnard heritage. The process was so rushed that Cassidy inadvertently told Chuh “Buenos dias” before correcting himself at the end.

Most striking, the word Montagnard is never heard in the entire tape. Its origins are French, a remnant of Vietnam’s colonial past and meaning, roughly, “people of the mountain.”

Over the years, the Montagnard label has been applied broadly to several indigenous ethnic groups concentrated in the Central Highlands and with their own distinct languages and customs. They share a hunger for greater autonomy in Vietnam and have been willing to side with outsiders, like the French and later Americans, to try to get it. At the same time, Vietnam’s dominant ethnic Kinh population has long treated the hill tribes as second-class citizens. Regardless of who has ruled Vietnam, the record is often one of suspicion and mistreatment toward the Montagnards.

The Montagnards’ strategic location in the Highlands, however, has long made them an asset in times of war. And beginning early in the 1960s, the Central Intelligence Agency and Green Berets recruited tribesmen to collect intelligence and disrupt enemy supply lines.

Chuh’s 71-year-old father, Tony Ngiu, assisted in this U.S. effort, but paid dearly later when he was sentenced to nine years in reeducation camps and hard labor by the victorious North. He was able to come to the U.S. in 1998 with much of his family, including Chuh, then a boy of about 13.

Like many Montagnards, he settled in North Carolina, which is also home to military installations used by the Green Berets, more formally known as U.S. Army Special Forces. But because Chuh was 18 by the time his father became a full citizen, he did not derive automatic citizenship himself.

“I am very, very sad,” Ngiu said. “I want them to send my son home so he can take care of his children.”

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

Read Rogers’s much longer full article at the link.

It’s not surprising that this case arose in the oft-criticized Atlanta Immigration Court where due process is routinely subordinated to achieving high levels of rapid removals. Unfortunately, as Jason Dzubow pointed out in a blog on The Asylumist that I previously featured, “We are all in Atlanta now!”

http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/07/20/in-immigration-circles-the-atlanta-court-is-known-as-where-due-process-goes-to-die-will-it-be-the-new-norm-the-asylumist-jason-dzubow-says-were-all-in-atlanta-now/

Additionally, the SPLC has documented that notwithstanding earlier complaints, EOIR has done little or nothing to stop the unprofessional conduct and anti-migrant bias demonstrated by some of the U.S. Immigration Judges at the Stewart, GA Immigration Court.

http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/08/10/normalizing-the-absurd-while-eoir-touts-its-performance-as-part-of-trumps-removal-machine-disingenuously-equating-removals-with-rule-of-law-the-ongoing-assault-on-due-process-in-us-immig/

Indeed, it appears that the Trump-Sessions group actually likes the focus on assembly-line removals without much regard for fairness or due process that they have seen coming out of the Atlanta Court. After all, it produces high numbers of final orders of removal which, according to the latest EOIR press release, has replaced guaranteeing fairness and due process as the objective of the U.S. Immigration Courts. As Jason Dzubow noted in the above-linked blog, the Administration has rewarded those who have learned how due process is denied in Atlanta with key positions at DHS and EOIR.

And, training and continuing legal education for Immigration Judges was one of the earliest casualties of the “Sessions era” at the DOJ. If the message from on high is “move ’em all out asap” — preferably by in absentia hearings without any due process or in hearings conducted in detention with the migrants unrepresented — why would any judge need training in the law, due process, or preparing carefully constructed judicial opinions?

Harken back to the days of the Bush II Administration. After Ashcroft’s “purge of the BIA” and following 9-11, some Immigration Judges and Board Members assumed that it was “open season” on migrants. How many removal orders were being churned out and how fast they were being completed became more important that what was being done (or more properly, what corners were being cut) to produce the final orders.

As the work of the BIA and the Immigration Courts deteriorated and became sloppier and sloppier, and as the incidents of Immigration Judges’ being rude, belligerent, and generally unprofessional to the individuals and private attorneys coming before them mounted, the Article III Federal Courts pushed back. Published opinions began “blistering” the performance of individual Immigration Judges and BIA Members by name, some prominent Federal Judges on both the conservative and liberal sides of the equation began speaking out in the media, and the media and the internet featured almost daily stories of the breakdown of professionalism in the U.S. Immigration Courts. The Courts of Appeals also remanded BIA final orders, many of which summarily affirmed problematic Immigration Court rulings, by the droves, effectively bringing the Bush Administration’s “deportation express” to a grinding halt as the BIA was forced to further remand the cases to the Immigration Courts for “do-overs.”

Finally, it became too much for then Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Although Gonzalez will hardly go down in history as a notable champion of due process, he finally issued what was basically a “cease and desist order” to the BIA and the Immigration Judges. Unfortunately, rather than admitting the primary role of the DOJ and the Administration in the disaster, and changing some of the DOJ policies and procedures that contributed to the problem, Gonzalez effectively chose to blame the whole debacle on the Immigration Judges, including those who didn’t participate in the “round ’em up and move ’em out” spectacle spawned by Administration policies. Gonzalez ordered some reforms in professionalism, discipline, and training which had some shot term effects in improving due process, and particularly the results for asylum seekers, in Immigration Court.

But, by the present time, EOIR has basically returned to the “numbers over quality and due process” emphasis. The recent EOIR press release touting increased removals (not surprisingly grants of relief to migrants decreased at the same time) in response to the President’s immigration enforcement initiatives clearly shows this changed emphasis.

Also, as Rogers notes in his article, the BIA and some Immigration Judges often apply an “ahistorical” approach under which the lessons of history are routinely ignored. Minor, often cosmetic, changes such as meaningless or ineffective reforms in statutes and constitutions, appointment of ombudsmen, peace treaties, cease fires, and pledges to clean up corruption and human rights abuses (often issued largely to placate Western Governments and NGOs to keep the foreign aid money flowing) are viewed by the BIA and Immigration Judges as making immediate “material improvements” in country conditions in asylum cases, although the lessons of history and common sense say otherwise.

Sadly, the past appears to be prologue in the U.S. Immigration Courts. It’s past time for Congress to create and independent, Article I U.S. Immigration Court.

PWS

08-14-17

 

 

 

“NORMALIZING” THE ABSURD: While EOIR Touts Its Performance As Part Of Trump’s Removal Machine, Disingenuously Equating Removals With “Rule of Law,” The Ongoing Assault On Due Process In U.S. Immigration Courts Continues Unabated — Read The Latest SPLC Complaint About The Judges In The Stewart Detention Facility!

What if the U.S. Supreme Court proudly announced that as part of President Trump’s initiative to deregulate it had struck down 30% more regulations since Trump took office? What if the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit announced that as part of the Administrations’s War on Drugs they had reassigned more U.S. District Judges to pretrial detention facilities and had produced 30% more convictions and 40% longer sentences for drug offenders than under the previous Administration. Might raise some eyebrows! Might show a lack of independence and due process in the Courts and lead one to believe that at least some U.S. Judges were betraying their duties to act impartially and their oaths to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

But yesterday, in truly remarkable press release, America’s largest court system, the United States Immigration Court proudly announced that they had joined the President’s xenophobic crusade against foreign nationals by assigning more Immigration Judges to railroad out of the country individuals detained, mostly without counsel, in remote locations along the Southern Border. EOIR touted that over 90% of the individuals in detention facilities lost their cases and were ordered removed from the U.S. (although as anyone familiar with the system knows, many of these individuals are refugees who have succeeded at rates of 43% to 56% on their claims over the past five fiscal years). To add insult to injury, EOIR had the audacity to caption its press release “Return to Rule of Law in Trump Administration!”

Don’t believe me? Check out the full press release here:

“Department of Justice

Office of Public Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Return to Rule of Law in Trump Administration Marked by Increase in Key Immigration Statistics

The Executive Office of Immigration Review today released data on orders of removal, voluntary departures, and final decisions for the first six months of the Trump Administration.

 

The data released for Feb. 1, 2017 – July 31, 2017 is as follows:

 

  • Total Orders of Removal [1]: 49,983
    • Up 27.8 percent over the same time period in 2016 (39,113)

 

  • Total Orders of Removal and Voluntary Departures [2]: 57,069
    • Up 30.9 percent over the same time period in 2016 (43,595)

 

  • Total Final Decisions [3]: 73,127
    • Up 14.5 percent over the same time period in 2016 (63,850)

 

Pursuant to President Trump’s Jan. 25 Executive Order, “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” the Department of Justice mobilized over one hundred existing Immigration Judges to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detention facilities across the country. Over 90 percent of these cases have resulted in orders requiring aliens to depart or be removed from the United States. The Justice Department has also hired 54 additional Immigration Judges since President Trump took office, and continues to hire new Immigration Judges each month.

 

In addition to carrying out the President’s Executive Order, the Justice Department is also reviewing internal practices, procedures, and technology in order to identify ways in which it can further enhance Immigration Judges’ productivity without compromising due process.

 

[1] An “order of removal” by an Immigration Judge results in the removal of an illegal alien from the United States by the Department of Homeland Security.

[2] Under an order of “voluntary departure”, an illegal alien agrees to voluntarily depart the United States by a certain date. If the illegal alien does not depart, the order automatically converts to an order of removal.

[3] A “final decision” is one that ends the proceeding at the Immigration Judge level such that the case is no longer pending.

 

 

 

Topic(s):

Immigration

Component(s):

Executive Office for Immigration Review

Press Release Number:

17-889″

 

Yet, the absurdity of something that once purported to be a “court system” dedicated to guaranteeing “fairness and due process for all,” becoming part of the Administration’s border enforcement machine, stomping on the due process rights of those it was supposed to protect, went largely unnoticed in the media.

But, wait a minute, it gets worse! Recently, the widely respected journalist Julia Preston, now writing for the Marshall Project, told us how U.S. Immigration Judges in Charlotte, NC mock due process and fairness for asylum seekers.

http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/07/31/u-s-immigration-courts-apear-stacked-against-central-american-asylum-applicants-charlotte-nc-approval-rates-far-below-those-elsewhere-in-4th-circuit-is-precedent-being-misapplied/

Now, the Southern Poverty Law Center (“SPLC”) details how, notwithstanding previous complaints, eyewitnesses have documented the attack on fundamental fairness and due process by U.S. Immigration Judges at the DHS Stewart Detention Facility (why would “real judges” be operating out of a DHS Detention Facility?). Here’s a summary of the report from SPLC:

SPLC DEMANDS DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE TAKE ACTION AGAINST IMMIGRATION JUDGES VIOLATING DETAINEES’ CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS

Some judges at the Stewart Immigration Court in Georgia routinely break the rules of professional conduct and continue to violate the constitutional rights of detainees – failures that require action, including the possible removal of one judge from the bench, according to a complaint the SPLC lodged with the U.S. Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) today.

The complaint, which comes almost a year after the SPLC and Human Rights First notified the agency about the judges, describes how they fail to explain basic legal information to immigrants, or even demonstrate the necessary dignity and courtesy the rules of conduct require.

The complaint notes that after one man told a judge that he had grown up in the United States, the judge said that if he were truly an American, he “should be speaking English, not Spanish.” The findings come after the SPLC spent a month observing the hearings of 436 people.

The federal agency has claimed that it initiated discussions with the judges after the initial complaint was filed in late August 2016, but the SPLC’s courtroom observers and its experience representing detainees continue to uncover issues at the court, which is inside the privately operated Stewart Detention Center in rural Lumpkin, Georgia.

“The people appearing before this court are already being held at the Stewart Detention Center, often far from their family and friends,” said Dan Werner, director of the SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, which represents immigrants detained at Stewart. “They are scared and unsure of their rights when they go before judges whose behavior gives no assurance that they’ll receive a fair hearing. In fact, their behavior makes a mockery of the legal system.”

The SPLC’s courtroom observers found a number of issues, including judges failing to provide interpretation services for the entire court proceeding. They also failed to provide rationales for their decisions, provide written notification about future proceedings to the detainees, or grant routine procedural motions.

The complaint describes how Judge Saundra Arrington stands out for her lack of professionalism and hostility toward immigrant detainees – behavior warranting reprimand, suspension or even removal from the bench, according to the complaint.

Arrington, who goes by the last name Dempsey but is referred to as Arrington in EOIR records, began hearings with one immigrant by prejudicially noting he had a “huge criminal history,” comprised of nine convictions for driving without a license over 15 years. It was Arrington who told a detainee that he should speak English if he grew up in the United States and believed he was American.

She also refused to allow two attorneys appear on behalf of an immigrant, stating that there may be “one lawyer per case” despite attorneys explaining they had filed the necessary paperwork. Two attorneys, however, were allowed to appear on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Chief Counsel.

Judge Dan Trimble, according to the complaint, denied bond for a detainee without looking at the bond motion. He also rarely refers detainees to the detention center’s “Legal Orientation Program,” which provides information about court proceedings and offers assistance.

“The Department of Justice must take action to stop this behavior that is undermining the legal system,” said Laura Rivera, SPLC staff attorney. “Every day that this behavior is allowed to continue is a day dozens of people have their rights denied.”

The SPLC launched the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) at the detention center earlier this year to provide free legal representation to immigrants who have been detained and are facing deportation proceedings.

A recent national study found that between 2007 and 2012, only 6 percent of detainees at the Stewart Detention Center were represented by counsel – far below the national representation rate of 37 percent, according to the SPLC complaint. Immigrants with counsel are approximately 20 times more likely to succeed in their cases.

Beginning this month, SIFI will expand to other detention centers throughout the Southeast. When fully implemented, it will be the largest detention center-based deportation defense project in the country.

And, here’s a link to the complete shocking report.

eoircomplaintletter

Folks, all of the abuses detailed in this post are being carried out by U.S. government officials at EOIR charged with protecting the due process rights of vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers. In other words, under pressure from the Trump Administration and the Sessions DOJ, some EOIR employees have disregarded their duty to the U.S. Constitution to provide due process for vulnerable migrants in Removal Proceedings. How long will the pathetic mockery of justice masquerading as “judicial proceedings” that is occurring in some (certainly not all) parts of the U.S. Immigration Court system be allowed to continue?

PWS

08-10-17

 

 

 

MY MOST RECENT SPEECHES: “MY LIFE & TIMES” — CATHOLIC LEGAL IMMIGRATION NETWORK (“CLINIC”), July 18, 2017; “JOIN THE ‘NEW DUE PROCESS ARMY’ — FIGHT FOR DUE PROCESS IN THE UNITED STATES IMMIGRATION COURTS” — HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST, JULY 19, 2017

On Tuesday July 18, 2107, I gave a luncheon address to interns and staff at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (“CLINIC”) in Silver Spring, MD. My speech entitled “My Life & Times” is at this link:

MY LIFE

On Wednesday, July 19, 2017, I delivered the a luncheon address that was part of the Frankel Lecture Series at Human Rights First in Washington, D.C. & New York, NY (by televideo). My speech entitled “Join The ‘New Due Process Army’ — Fight For Due Process In The United States Immigration Courts” is at this link:

AMERICA’S REAL IMMIGRATION CRISIS

Both speeches are also reproduced in the left menu of immigrationcourtiside.com.

 

IN IMMIGRATION CIRCLES, THE ATLANTA COURT IS KNOWN AS “WHERE DUE PROCESS GOES TO DIE” –WILL IT BE THE “NEW NORM?” — The Asylumist, Jason Dzubow, Says “We’re All In Atlanta Now!”

We’re All in Atlanta Now
by JASON DZUBOW on JULY 19, 2017
Atlanta, Georgia is generally considered to have the most difficult Immigration Court in the country. Now, the Trump Administration has tapped attorneys from the Atlanta Office of the Chief Counsel (the “prosecutors” in Immigration Court) to take charge of the Immigration Courts and the “prosecutors” offices for the entire United States. A third Atlanta attorney has been appointed to a key policy-making position at the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”).

 

If you’re feeling down about Georgia exports, here’s something to love.
Before we get to those attorneys, let’s first talk about Atlanta. The average grant rate for asylum cases across the U.S. is just under 50%. The asylum grant rate at the Atlanta Immigration Court is less than 9%. Also, immigrant advocates have frequently complained about due process issues and the treatment of litigants in the Atlanta court.

It’s true that the Office of the Chief Counsel (“OCC”) and the Immigration Court are independent of each other, but I think we can safely glean a few things about the Atlanta OCC from what we know of the Court.

For one, since Immigration Judges will usually grant cases where the parties agree on relief, it seems likely that OCC attorneys in Atlanta rarely determine that a case should be approved for asylum. Of course, we do not know about the quality of the asylum cases in Atlanta—maybe they are unusually weak (a real possibility since sophisticated litigants will avoid Atlanta due to its low grant rate). But it would be strange indeed if almost no cases there meet the relatively low threshold required for asylum. The fact that the OCC is not stipulating to asylum on occasion indicates that they are taking a very hard line against such cases (this contrasts with many other jurisdictions, where the local OCCs regularly conclude that applicants qualify for asylum). The job of OCC attorneys is not merely to deport as many people as possible; they are supposed to do justice. This means agreeing to relief where it is appropriate. The low grant rate in Atlanta may indicate that OCC lawyers there are prioritizing “winning” over doing justice, and ideology above the law—all worrying signs as these attorneys move into national leadership positions.

Second, whether the asylum cases in Atlanta are strong or weak, I suspect that the high denial rate there colors the view of the OCC attorneys. If those attorneys believe that over 90% of asylum seekers are unworthy of relief—either because they do not meet the requirements for asylum or because they are lying about their claims—it seems likely that these attorneys will develop a jaundiced view of such cases, and maybe of immigrants in general.

Finally, there exists at least one instance of the Atlanta OCC taking an overly-aggressive position in a case involving alleged racial profiling by ICE (if OCC attorneys are the prosecutors, ICE officers are the police). In that case, an Immigration Judge in Atlanta ordered the OCC to produce an ICE agent accused of racial profiling. The OCC refused to produce the agent, and ultimately, the Judge ruled that the agents had engaged in “egregious” racial profiling and the OCC attorneys had committed “willful misconduct” by refusing to bring the agents to court. While the three OCC attorneys at issue here had left the Atlanta office by the time of this case, the OCC’s position again points to an agency willing to put “winning” ahead of justice.

With this background in mind, let’s turn to the alumnus of the Atlanta OCC who will be taking charge of our immigration system.

Tracy Short – ICE Principal Legal Advisor: Tracy Short is the new Principal Legal Advisor for ICE. In that capacity, he “oversees the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, the largest legal program within the Department of Homeland Security, comprised of more than 1,100 attorneys and 300 support professionals throughout the United States.” These are the attorneys who serve as “prosecutors” in Immigration Court, among their other tasks. According to his ICE biography, “From 2009 to 2015, Mr. Short served as the Deputy Chief Counsel in the ICE Atlanta Office of Chief Counsel.” Mr. Short also served on the committee staff for Congressman Bob Goodlatte, the staunch anti-immigration representative from Virginia.

While Mr. Short has impressive litigation experience, he has almost no management experience (as Deputy Chief Counsel, he might have supervised a few dozen people, at most). But now, under the Trump Administration, he is overseeing more than 1,400 lawyers and staff. Like his fellow veterans of the Atlanta OCC, I suspect he was chosen more for his ideological views than for his management background.

James McHenry – Acting Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (“EOIR”): In a move characterized as “unusual” by retired Immigration Judge and former Chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals Paul Wickham Schmidt, the Attorney General has appointed James McHenry as the new Acting Director of EOIR, the office that oversees the nation’s immigration court system. Judge Schmidt notes that, “While Judge McHenry has stellar academic and professional credentials, and is an ‘EOIR vet,’ having served as a Judicial Law Clerk/Attorney Adviser in the Buffalo and Baltimore Immigration Courts, it is unusual in my experience for the acting head of EOIR to come from outside the ranks of current or former members of the Senior Executive Service, since it is a major executive job within the DOJ.” In other words, while Judge McHenry has had significant legal experience, he has very little leadership experience, especially at EOIR.

Indeed, Judge Schmidt’s characterization of Judge McHenry as an “EOIR vet” seems overly generous. He served as a Judicial Law Clerk, which is basically a one or two year gig for new law school graduates working as an assistant to Immigration Judges (I myself was a JLC back in the prediluvian era) and he has a few months experience as an Administrative Law Judge for the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer, an office at EOIR that reviews certain employment cases involving immigrants.

Like Mr. Short, Judge McHenry worked for the Atlanta OCC. He served as an Assistant Chief Counsel for ICE in that office from 2005 to 2010.

Whether Judge McHenry’s “acting” role as Director of EOIR will become permanent, we do not know. But I agree with Judge Schmidt that it is highly unusual for a person with such limited management experience to be picked to head our country’s immigration court system, with hundreds of judges and support personnel to oversee.

Gene Hamilton – Counsel to DHS Secretary: Gene Hamilton was appointed as counsel to DHS Secretary John Kelly. Along with Stephen Miller, he was apparently a key architect of the Trump Administration’s travel ban against people from several majority-Muslim countries. He also served as a trial attorney at the Atlanta OCC in about 2014 and 2015, though I could not verify his length of service there. In addition, Mr. Hamilton served on the staff of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions before he was appointed Attorney General. Mr. Sessions, of course, is well known for his regressive views on immigration, civil rights, and just about everything else.

So there you have it. Three veterans of the Atlanta OCC who together will be exercising significant control over our country’s immigration system. Given their backgrounds and experience (or lack thereof), it’s difficult to be optimistic about how that system will fare under their watch.

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

Somewhat predictable for an Administration that has little or no regard for Constitutional Due Process. That’s why folks need to join the “New Due Process Army” and carry on the fight until better times arrive (and they eventually will)!

As always, thanks to Jason for his incisive analysis!

PWS

07-20-17

 

 

AMERICA’S REAL IMMIGRATION CRISIS: THE ATTACK ON DUE PROCESS IN THE UNITED STATES IMMIGRATION COURTS — Read My Keynote Speech FromThe Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center’s “Light Of Liberty Awards” Ceremony Last Night!

AMERICA’S REAL IMMIGRATION CRISIS: THE ATTACK ON DUE PROCESS IN THE UNITED STATES IMMIGRATON COURTS

 

Keynote Address by

 

Paul Wickham Schmidt

 

United States Immigration Judge (Retired)

 

LIGHT OF LIBERTY AWARDS

 

Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center

 

Heritage Hills Golf Resort

 

York, PA

 

JUNE 7, 2016

 

  1. I. INTRODUCTION

 

 

Good evening. Thank you so much for inviting me to speak at this wonderful event. I’m honored to be here. The PIRC is a terrific organization that provides critical legal services to the most vulnerable during one of the most difficult periods in our recent history.

 

The York area has a well-established tradition of humanitarian generosity and support for the most needy that was highlighted during the Golden Venture episode and described in the book Snakehead. I learned today that PIRC was formed to respond to the needs of the Golden Venture detainees. The U.S. Immigration Court in York has one of the highest representation rates for detained individuals in the nation, over 50%.

 

By contrast, the Arlington Immigration Court, where I used to sit, and the Baltimore Immigration Court had detained representation rates of around 20% and 10% respectively. And, it’s even worse in other parts of the country.

 

Back in February, I had the pleasure of working with your amazing Executive Director, Mary Studzinski, at a group session directed at improving training for non-attorney representatives authorized to practice before the U.S. Immigration Courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals. We bonded instantly. That’s “human bonding” rather than “immigration bonding,” of course. Mary’s kinetic energy, practical knowledge, tremendous dedication, and incisive contributions to the group were simply stunning. I must admit, I thought she was the Managing Attorney of the organization until she explained her role to me. You are so fortunate to have of someone who cares so deeply about your mission leading you. Mary is just what America needs right now.

 

Speaking of what America needs, I of course want to be the first to congratulate the five extraordinary individuals and two groups we are honoring tonight with well-deserved “Light of Liberty” Awards. Your energy, knowledge, and willingness to give of yourselves to others is making a much needed positive difference in this community and in our world. Each of you is indeed changing the course of history for the better. And, I’m pleased to announce that I have bestowed on each of tonight’s award recipients the rank of “General” in the “New Due Process Army. “

 

And, of course, thanks again to our great sponsors, mentioned by Mary, for supporting PIRCV and tonight’s awards.

 

II. THE DUE PROCESS CRISIS IN IMMIGRATON COURT

 

As most of you in this room probably recognize, there is no “immigration crisis” in America today. What we have is a series of potentially solvable problems involving immigration that have been allowed to grow and fester by politicians and political officials over many years.

 

But, there is a real crisis involving immigration: the attack on due process in our U.S. Immigration Courts that have brought them to the brink of collapse. I’m going to tell you seven things impeding the delivery of due process in Immigration Court that should be of grave concern to you and to all other Americans who care about our justice system and our value of fundamental fairness.

 

First, political officials in the last three Administrations have hijacked the noble mission of the U.S. Immigration Courts. That vision, which I helped develop in the late 1990s, is to “be the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.”

 

Instead, the Department of Justice’s ever-changing priorities, aimless docket reshuffling, and morbid fascination with increased immigration detention as a means of deterrence have turned the Immigration Court system back into a tool of DHS enforcement. Obviously, it is past time for an independent U.S. Immigration Court to be established outside the Executive Branch.

 

Second, there simply are not enough pro bono and low bono attorneys and authorized representatives available to assist all the individuals who need representation in Immigration Court. As I mentioned, this problem is particularly acute in detention courts. We know that representation makes a huge difference. Represented individuals succeed at rates four to five times greater than unrepresented individuals.

 

There have been a number of studies documenting the substandard conditions in immigration detention, particularly those run by private contractors, which in some cases prove deadly or debilitating. Some of these studies have recommended that immigration detention be sharply reduced and that so-called “family detention” be discontinued immediately.

 

A rational response might have been to develop creative alternatives to detention, and to work closely with and support efforts to insure access to legal representation for all individuals in Removal Proceedings. Instead, the response of the current Administration has been to “double down” on detention, by promising to detain all undocumented arrivals and to create a new “American Gulag” of detention centers, most privately run, along our southern border, where access to attorneys and self-help resources is limited to non-existent.

 

Third, the Immigration Courts have an overwhelming caseload. Largely as a result of “aimless docket reshuffling” by Administrations of both parties, the courts’ backlog has now reached an astounding 600,000 cases, with no end in sight. Since 2009, the number of cases pending before the Immigration Courts has tripled, while court resources have languished.

 

The Administration’s detention priorities and essentially random DHS enforcement program are like running express trains at full throttle into an existing train wreck without any discernable plan for clearing the track!” You can read about it in my article in the latest edition of The Federal Lawyer.

 

Fourth, the immigration system relies far too much on detention. The theory is that detention, particularly under poor conditions with no access to lawyers, family, or friends, will “grind down individuals” so that they abandon their claims and take final orders or depart voluntarily. As they return to their countries and relate their unhappy experiences with the U.S. justice system, that supposedly will “deter” other individuals from coming.

 

Although there has been a downturn in border apprehensions since the Administration took office, there is little empirical evidence that such deterrence strategies will be effective in stopping undocumented migration in the long run. In any event, use of detention, as a primary deterrent for non-criminals who are asserting their statutory right to a hearing and their constitutional right to due process is highly inappropriate. Immigration detention is also expensive, and questions have been raised about the procedures used for awarding some of the contracts.

 

Fifth, we need an appellate court, the Board of Immigration Appeals, that functions like a real court not a high-volume service center. Over the past decade and one-half, the Board has taken an overly restrictive view of asylum law that fails to fulfill the generous requirements of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Cardoza-Fonseca and the Board’s own precedent in Matter of Mogharrabi. The Board has also failed to take a strong stand for respondents’ due process rights in Immigration Court.

 

Largely as a result of the Board’s failure to assert positive leadership, there is a tremendous discrepancy in asylum grant rates – so-called refugee roulette.” Overall grant rates have inexplicably been falling. Some courts such as Atlanta, Charlotte, and some other major non-detained courts have ludicrously low asylum grant rates, thereby suggesting a system skewed, perhaps intentionally, against asylum seekers. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Board has become totally “government-dominated” with no member appointed from the private sector this century.

 

Sixth, the DOJ selection process for Immigration Judges and BIA Members has become both incredibly ponderous and totally one-sided. According to a recent GAO study, it takes on the average nearly two years to fill an Immigration Judge position. No wonder there are scores of vacancies and an unmanageable backlog!

 

And, it’s not that the results of this glacial process produce a representative immigration judiciary. During the Obama Administration, approximately 88% of the Immigration Judge appointments came directly from government backgrounds. In other words, private sector expertise has been almost totally excluded from the 21st Century immigration judiciary.

 

Seventh, and finally, the Immigration Courts need e-filing NOW! Without it, the courts are condemned to “files in the aisles,” misplaced filings, lost exhibits, and exorbitant courier charges. Also, because of the absence of e-filing, the public receives a level of service disturbingly below that of any other major court system. That gives the Immigration Courts an “amateur night” aura totally inconsistent with the dignity of the process, the critical importance of the mission, and the expertise, hard work, and dedication of the judges and court staff who make up our court.

 

III. ACTION PLAN

 

Keep these thoughts in mind. Sadly, based on actions to date, I have little hope that Attorney General Sessions will support due process reforms or an independent U.S. Immigration Court, although it would be in his best interests as well as those of our country if he did. However, eventually our opportunity will come. When it does, those of us who believe in the primary importance of constitutional due process must be ready with concrete reforms.

 

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, my former students, and those who have practiced before the Arlington Immigration Court.

           

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 Administration’s 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 “move” cases 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.

 

Obviously, the PIRC is a fantastic way to contribute to assertively protecting the due process rights of migrants. Internships and JLC positions at the Immigration Courts are also ways for law students and recent law grads to contribute to due process while learning.

 

As mentioned earlier, Mary and I have been working with groups looking for ways to expand the “accredited representative” program, 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. The “accredited representative” program is also an outstanding opportunity for retired individuals, like professors, teachers, and others who are not lawyers but who can qualify to provide pro bono representation in Immigration Court to needy migrants thorough properly recognized religious and community organizations.

 

Even if you are a lawyer not practicing immigration law, there are many outstanding opportunities to contribute by taking pro bono cases. Indeed, in my experience in Arlington, “big law” firms were some of the major contributors to highly effective pro bono representation. It was also great “hands on” experience 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 consumers” of legal services.

           

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

 

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.

 

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 reform” is simply wrong. The Immigration Courts can and must be fixed sooner rather than later, regardless of what happens with overall immigration reform. It’s 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 max” policies 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.

IV. CONCLUSION

 

In conclusion, I have shared with you the U.S. Immigration Court’s noble due process vision and the ways it currently is being undermined and disregarded. I have also shared with you some of my ideas for effective court reforms 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. Congratulations again to our award winners and newly commissioned Generals of the New Due Process Army.

 

(06-08-17)

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Congratulations to these Light of Liberty Awards winners and newly commissioned Generals in the New Due Process Army:

ATTORNEY OF THE YEAR:

Rosina Stambaugh, Esquire

LAW FIRM OF THE YEAR

Asylum & Human Rights Clinic, University of Connecticut School of Law

CONTINUING COMMITMENT TO JUSTICE INDIVIDUAL:

Professor Jill Family,

Widener University Delaware Law School

INTERPRETER OF THE YEAR

Rosalyn Groff

COMMUNITY VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR:

Dr. Anne Middaugh

CONTINUING COMMITMENT TO JUSTICE ORGANIZATION:

Philadelphia Bar Foundation

VOICE OF COURAGE:

Josia Nunes

 

Out in the audience was superstar lawyer/social worker Hannah Cartwright, a “Charter Member” of the New Due Process Army, now on the legal staff at the PIRC. Hanna, a distinguished Catholic University Law grad, served as a Legal Intern at the Arlington Immigration Court and a Judicial Law Clerk at the Philadelphia Immigration Court.

Pictures and other news from this wonderful event to follow.

PWS

06-08-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. IMMIGRATION COURTS: Judge James McHenry Named Acting EOIR Director!

In a move that many Immigration Court observers might find unusual, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has appointed Judge James McHenry as the Acting Director of EOIR. Judge McHenry was appointed an Administrative Law Judge in the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (“OCAHO”) in December 2106. OCAHO has jurisdiction over employer sanctions civil cases and certain employment discrimination cases involving foreign workers.

While Judge McHenry has stellar academic and professional credentials, and is an “EOIR vet,” having served as a Judicial Law Clerk/Attorney Adviser in the Buffalo and Baltimore Immigration Courts, it is unusual in my experience for the acting head of EOIR to come from outside the ranks of current or former members of the Senior Executive Service, since it is a major executive job within the DOJ.

Here is a recent bio of Judge McHenry taken from the press release of his December appointment as an ALJ:

“James McHenry, Administrative Law Judge

James McHenry was appointed as an administrative law judge (ALJ) for the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO), Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), Department of Justice (DOJ), in November 2016. Judge McHenry earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1997 from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, a Master of Arts degree in 2003 from the Vanderbilt University Graduate School, and a Juris Doctor in 2003 from the Vanderbilt University Law School. From February to November 2016, he served as an ALJ for the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration, in Baltimore, and previously from 2014 to February 2016, in Greenville, S.C. From 2010 through 2014 he served as a senior attorney for the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in Atlanta. From 2010 through 2011, he served as a special assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Georgia, DOJ, in Atlanta. From 2005 through 2010, he served as an assistant chief counsel for OPLA, ICE, DHS, in Atlanta. From 2004 through 2005, he served as an attorney advisor for the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge (OCIJ), EOIR, DOJ, in Baltimore. From 2003 through 2004, he served as a judicial law clerk for OCIJ, EOIR, DOJ, in Buffalo, entering on duty through the Attorney General’s Honors Program. Judge McHenry is a member of the Tennessee State Bar.”

As noted by Politico in a report last week, it is strange that neither the DOJ nor EOIR has issued any press release or other official statement announcing the departure of Director Juan Osuna and Deputy Director Ana Kocur and the appointment of Judge McHenry to be Acting Director. Here’s a link to the Politico item: http://wp.me/p8eeJm-SZ

While sources confirm that an internal announcement was sent to EOIR employees last Friday, and Judge McHenry sent his own message to all of EOIR, as of Tuesday AM, there were no publicly posted announcements of these important personnel changes. However, Judge McHenry’s bio now does appear under the “Meet the Acting Director” tab on the EOIR website.

Congratulations and good luck to Judge McHenry in his important new role. He takes the reins at a difficult time in EOIR history with an already-record Immigration Court backlog approaching 600,000 cases, and constant reports of deteriorating morale among U.S. Immigraton Judges, court staff, and the public that deals with the Immigration Courts. I am not aware at this point whether Judge McHenry will be a candidate for the EOIR Director’s job on a permanent basis.

PWS

05-30-17

 

 

DOJ’s Location Of U.S. Immigration Courts At Obscure Detention Locations Helps DHS To Deny Due Process, Punish Lawyers!

https://www.propublica.org/article/immigrants-in-detention-centers-are-often-hundreds-of-miles-from-legal-help

Patrick G. Lee writes in ProPublica:

“One morning in February, lawyer Marty Rosenbluth set off from his Hillsborough, North Carolina, home to represent two anxious clients in court. He drove about eight hours southwest, spent the night in a hotel and then got up around 6 a.m. to make the final 40-minute push to his destination: a federal immigration court and detention center in the tiny rural Georgia town of Lumpkin.

During two brief hearings over two days, Rosenbluth said, he convinced an immigration judge to grant both of his new clients more time to assess their legal options to stay in the United States. Then he got in his car and drove the 513 miles back home.

“Without an attorney, it’s almost impossible to win your case in the immigration courts. You don’t even really know what to say or what the standards are,” said Rosenbluth, who works for a private law firm and took on the cases for a fee. “You may have a really, really good case. But you simply can’t package it in a way that the court can understand.”

His clients that day were lucky. Only 6 percent of the men held at the Lumpkin complex — a 2,001-bed detention center and immigration court — have legal representation, according to a 2015 study in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. Nationwide, it’s not much better, the study of data from October 2006 to September 2012 found: Just 14 percent of detainees have lawyers.

That percentage is likely to get even smaller under the Trump administration, which has identified 21,000 potential new detention beds to add to the approximately 40,000 currently in use. In January, President Trump signed an executive order telling the secretary of homeland security, who oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, to “immediately” start signing contracts for detention centers and building new ones.

If history is any guide, many of those facilities will end up in places like Lumpkin, population 2,741. The city’s small downtown has a courthouse, the police department, a couple of restaurants and a Dollar General. There’s no hotel and many of the nearest immigration lawyers are based 140 miles away in Atlanta.

“It’s been a strategic move by ICE to construct detention centers in rural areas,” said Amy Fischer, policy director for RAICES, a San Antonio-based nonprofit that supports on-site legal aid programs at two Texas facilities for detained families. “Even if the money is there, it’s very difficult to set up a pro bono network when you’re geographically three hours away from a big city.”
ICE currently oversees a network of about 200 facilities, jails, processing centers and former prisons where immigrants can be held, according to a government list from February.

Unlike criminal defendants, most immigrants in deportation proceedings are not entitled to government-appointed lawyers because their cases are deemed civil matters. Far from free legal help and with scant financial resources, the majority of detainees take their chances solo, facing off against federal lawyers before judges saddled with full dockets of cases. Frequently they must use interpreters.

An ICE spokesman denied that detention facilities are purposely opened in remote locations to limit attorney access. “Any kind of detention center, due to zoning and other factors, they are typically placed in the outskirts of a downtown area,” said spokesman Bryan Cox. “ICE is very supportive and very accommodating in terms of individuals who wish to have representation and ensuring that they have the adequate ability to do so.” At Lumpkin’s Stewart Detention Center, for instance, lawyers can schedule hourlong video teleconferences with detainees, Cox said.

But a ProPublica review found that access to free or low-cost legal counsel was limited at many centers. Government-funded orientation programs, which exist at a few dozen detention locations, typically include self-help workshops, group presentations on the immigration court process, brief one-on-one consultations and pro bono referrals, but they stop short of providing direct legal representation. And a list of pro bono legal service providers distributed by the courts includes many who don’t take the cases of detainees at all. Those that do can often only take a limited number — perhaps five to 10 cases at a time.

The legal help makes a difference. Across the country, 21 percent of detained immigrants who had lawyers won their deportation cases, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review study found, compared to just 2 percent of detainees without a lawyer. The study also found that 48 percent of detainees who had lawyers were released from detention while their cases were pending, compared to 7 percent of those who lacked lawyers.

Legal counsel can also speed up the process for those detainees with no viable claims to stay in the country, experts said. A discussion with a lawyer might prompt the detainee to cut his losses and opt for voluntary departure, avoiding a pointless legal fight and the taxpayer-funded costs of detention.

Lawmakers in some states, such as New York and California, have stepped in to help, pledging taxpayer money toward providing lawyers for immigrants who can’t afford their own. But such help only aids those detainees whose deportation cases are assigned to courts in those areas.

“What brings good results is access to family and access to counsel and access to evidence, and when you’re in a far off location without those things, the likelihood of ICE winning and the person being denied due process increase dramatically,” said Conor Gleason, an immigration attorney at The Bronx Defenders in New York.”

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Read the complete article at the above link.

Lumpkin is “at the outskirts” of what “downtown area?” Don’t all major metro areas have “metropolitan correctional centers,” city jails, county jails, or some equivalent located near the courts and hub of legal activities for criminal defendants awaiting trial? Why are civil detainees allowed to be treated this way?

For far too long, under AGs from both parties, the DOJ has participated in this disingenuous charade designed to promote removals over due process. Because cases often have to be continued for lawyers, even where none is likely to be found, the procedure actually adds to detention costs in many cases.  Why not house only those with final orders awaiting removal or with pending appeals at places like Lumpkin? Why don’t the BIA and Courts of Appeals rule that intentionally detaining individuals where they cannot realistically exercise their “right to be represented by counsel of their own choosing” is a denial of due process?

Look for the situation to get much worse under Sessions, who envisions an “American Gulag” where detention rules as part of his program to demonize migrants by treating them all as “dangerous criminals.”

Meanwhile, as I pointed in a recent panel discussion at AYUDA, the only part of the immigration system over which the private sector has any control or influence these days is promoting due process by providing more pro bono lawyers for migrants. Eventually, if those efforts are persistent enough, the Government might be forced to change its approach.

PWS

05-18-17

FBA Denver Wrap-Up — The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly!

The Good

It was a great conference in a great location — Denver. Lots of restaurants and things to do (although I was actually too busy to get out much).

Hats off to Conference Co-Chairs Barry Frager and the Honorable Lawrence O. (“The Burmanator”) Burman for putting the whole thing together and pulling it off without a hitch. Judge Burman, one of the few real judicial leaders at EOIR, also serves as the Chair of the Immigration Law Section (“ILS”) and editor of the outstanding newsletter, The Green Card.

An impressive group of approximately 400 attended, consisting of private practitioners, NGO lawyers, government attorneys, and several Federal Judges. They came from across the country. They heard from a faculty of dozens of experts covering 60 separate learning sessions over two days.

I particularly enjoyed catching up with old friends like fellow retired U.S. Immigration Judges Joan Churchill, Eliza Klein, and Bill Joyce and my former BIA colleague, Judge Lory Rosenberg. I was pleased to serve with Lory as the other member of the Due Process Panel, and I want to thank her for her very kind remarks about me.

A number of folks commented that they had never seen a happier and more relaxed group of Immigration Judges than our “Gang of Four” retired jurists. I should add that Bill and Eliza are both still actively practicing law, while Joan and I have chosen different retirement paths.

I loved the tremendous energy and spirit that the many younger practitioners brought to the conference. As I pointed out in my three presentations, never has the need for skilled immigration lawyers, ready to strongly and courageously fight the battle for due process, been greater. As one panelist put it, this is the time to show off and improve real legal skills and display creativity and toughness in conducting aggressive litigation in an era where the Government is seeking and intentionally provoking confrontation. Enjoy the moment! And these folks are ready to step up to the plate and give the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant agenda all it can handle on every front.

It was heartening to see many “charter members” of the “New Due Process Army” (“NDPA”) — folks like Alex Ribe, Claudia Cubas, Eileen Blessinger, Jillian Blake, Robyn Barnard, Paromita Shah, and others — participating in the activities. I believe I also got some “new recruits” for the NDPA.

I’m already looking forward to next year in Memphis!

The Bad

Although The Office of Immigration Litigation (“OIL”), the DHS, U.S. Attorneys, and U.S. Magistrates participated in the panels, not a single current EOIR employee was on the faculty, although a number had been invited. The local U.S. Immigration Judges were “no shows,” although they would have had much to offer the group and vice versa.

Only a handful of EOIR employees attended, in their “personal capacities” and at their own expense. A troubling performance from an agency that amazingly cancelled their badly needed judicial training conference. And, the FBA is the only nationwide bar association concentrating on Federal Practice that encourages and makes possible full membership by both Federal employees and private sector attorneys.

The Ugly

In three words: “The Immigration Courts.” Everyone there, including government attorneys, has been affected in one way or another by the ridiculous backlog of non-detained cases. My references to “ADR” – aimless docket reshuffling – and feeling like I was in “Clown Court” some days struck a real chord with the audience.

Almost every session I attended was replete with descriptions of inappropriate behavior from several courts, Charlotte and Atlanta in particular. Things like Immigration Judges going off record and saying that they didn’t believe in A-R-C-G- (asylum for domestic violence) or asylum for Central Americans. Rude and intimidating treatment of counsel, failure to listen to arguments, unwillingness to grant bond, applying wrong legal standards, and inappropriately going “off record” were among the “horror stories” mentioned. It’s quite obvious that Atlanta and Charlotte, among others, are failing to follow the generous standards for granting asylum set forth by the Supreme Court in Cardoza-Fonseca and reinforced by the BIA in Mogharrabi.

It’s not about what an Immigration Judge personally believes. It’s about fairly and impartially applying the law, particularly to those needing protection. Gosh, I often had to apply BIA precedents that I not only disagreed with, but where I had actually dissented from the majority decision. But, the job of a judge is to follow the law, whether one likes it or not.

Much of the blame goes to the BIA. It sometimes appears to me that certain BIA Appellate Immigration Judges and panels are committed neither to enforcing due process nor their own precedent in Mogharrabi. Some folks are fortunate enough to be in Circuits that hold the BIA to the appropriate standards; others labor away in Circuits that have “blown off” their judicial review function by ”over-deferring” to the BIA. Clearly, the BIA has lost sight of its vision of “being the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.”

In any event, while some of the behavior issues could perhaps be addressed by EOIR management through the complaint system, that won’t solve the problem. Only the BIA has the ability to correct incorrect applications and attitudes about the law and due process in the U.S. Immigration Courts. Only the BIA can bring “outlier courts” – those with far too many asylum denials – into line with the law.

As I gave my keynote speech involving the history of EOIR, it occurred to me that EOIR, quite sadly, was actually returning to what the Immigration Courts were before the “spinoff” from the “Legacy INS:” inbred, staffed almost exclusively with former prosecutors, not user friendly, mismanaged, lacking necessary technology, and essentially being used as a tool for immigration enforcement. In other words, there is a notable lack of judicial independence. Very sad. It appears that as an due process oriented court system, EOIR has “run its course” in the DOJ and is now returning to it’s origins as a captive of the enforcement system.

The Immigration Courts’ problems have been aggravated by DHS leadership’s apparent decision to limit “prosecutorial discretion,” discourage cooperation and stipulation, and to “go to the mat” on everything. At a time when DHS should be looking for ways to get cases off the dockets, they instead appear to be looking for ways to jam the docket even fuller with cases, many of which are unlikely to be resolved in the next decade.

 

 

PWS

05-16-17