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.”

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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

 

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

ROGUE U.S. IMMIGRATION JUDGE IN CHARLOTTE, NC? — BIA TWICE ORDERS JUDGE TO FOLLOW PRECEDENT & GIVE DUE PROCESS TO ASYLUM SEEKER!

https://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/immigration/b/immigration-law-blog/archive/2017/11/10/unpub-bia-asylum-remand-insists-ij-follow-the-law-nov-6-2017.aspx?Redirected=true

Dan Kowalski reports at LexisNexis Immigration Community (quoting Respondent’s attorney Humza Kuzma):

“We appealed to the BIA, stating that the IJ was ignoring the law of the case and his direct instructions from a higher court. As Hassan noted in his FB post, we included redacted cases from a FOIA request another attorney had conducted, showing the various instances in the past two years where the IJ had been remanded in asylum proceedings. Yesterday, we got the remand, which reconfirmed that the prior rulings in the case were vacated and relying upon them was in judicial error, and instructed the IJ to grant our client a completely new hearing with an open record, and issue a new decision.”

BIA PANEL: Appellate Immigration Judges Guendelsberger, Kendall Clark, Grant

OPINION BY: Judge Edward R. Grant

)****************************

Read the full report and the BIA’s unpublished opinion at the link.

  • Why wasn’t this decision published?
  • Why wasn’t this Immigration Judge who is showing contempt for the BIA, precedent, asylum seekers, and Due Process named in the decision (a technique used by Article III Courts to deal with recalcitrant Judges)?
  • Why wasn’t this case remanded to a different Immigration Judge?
  • Why don’t we see more precedent decisions from appellate panels like this one which appears committed to a fair application of asylum law and reigning in rogue judges like this one?
  • How would an unrepresented individual ever be able to vindicate his or her statutory and constitutional rights before a biased and abusive judge like this?
  • What can be done to improve merit selection procedures for U.S. Immigration Judges so that individuals who are biased against migrants, unwilling comply with orders of higher tribunals, and uncommitted to Due Process will no longer be placed in judicial positions?

PWS

11-11-17

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

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

Mica Rosenberg, Read Levinson, & Ryan McNeill report:

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

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

Filed

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

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

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

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

That’s when their fates diverged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“GROSS DISPARITIES”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CRISIS AT THE BORDER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“NO POLICE HERE”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ASYLUM FREE ZONES”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAY IN COURT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“SOMEONE WANTS TO KILL THEM”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia and Kristina Cooke

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

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

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

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

Reade Levinson

Heavy Odds

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

Data: Reade Levinson and Ryan McNeill

Graphics: Ashlyn Still

Photo editing: Steve McKinley and Barbara Adhiya

Video: Zachary Goelman

Design: Jeff Magness

Edited by Sue Horton, Janet Roberts and John Blanton”

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

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

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

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

Great reporting by Mica and her team!

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

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

PWS

10-17-17

 

“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

 

 

 

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?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/migrants-in-surge-fare-worse-in-immigration-court-than-other-groups/2017/07/30/e29eeacc-6e51-11e7-9c15-177740635e83_story.html?utm_term=.5d2ca3c80278

 

Julia Preston of The Marshall Project reports in the Washington Post:

— Toward the end of a recent morning hearing in immigration court, Judge V. Stuart Couch looked out from his bench on a nearly empty chamber. On one side sat the prosecutor. But at the table for the immigrants, the chairs were vacant.

From a stack of case files, Couch called out names of asylum seekers: Dina Marciela Baires from El Salvador and her three children. No answer. Lesley Carolina Cardoza from Honduras and her young daughter. Silence. After identifying 17 people who had failed to appear for their hearings, the judge ordered all of them to be deported.

The scene is replaying across the country as immigration courts resolve the asylum cases of families who streamed across the Southwest border since 2014. Tens of thousands of families from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and some from Mexico, came here citing their need for protection from predatory gangs and criminal violence. Now, they face the prospect of being sent back to countries they fear have not become any less dangerous.

Of nearly 100,000 parents and children who have come before the courts since 2014, most asking for refuge, judges have issued rulings in at least 32,500 cases, court records show. The majority — 70 percent — ended with deportation orders in absentia, pronounced by judges to empty courtrooms.

Their cases are failing just as President Trump is rapidly expanding deportations.

Immigration courts have long had high rates of in absentia rulings, with one-quarter of all cases resolved by such decisions last year. But the rate for families who came in the border surge stands out as far higher, according to the Justice Department office that runs the immigration courts and tracked the cases of those families over the past three years.

Many immigrants did not understand what they were supposed to do to pursue their claims and could not connect with lawyers to guide them. Some just stayed away, fearing they could be deported directly from courthouses and choosing instead to take their chances in the immigration underground.

New cohort of fugitives

As a result, migrants from the surge are faring worse in the courts than other groups. By late January, the courts had granted asylum or otherwise allowed migrants to remain legally in this country in 3,792, or 11 percent, of those cases involving families, the figures show. By contrast, in all asylum cases last year, 43 percent ended in approvals.

The large-scale failure of the families’ claims is the final unraveling of President Barack Obama’s strategy to deal with the asylum seekers.

Unlike most illegal border crossers, who can generally be swiftly deported, many recent migrants from Central America asserted that they had strong reasons for seeking protection in the United States. Rather than dodging the Border Patrol, they turned themselves in, saying they were afraid to return home. Under U.S. law, that starts an asylum proceeding in which courts evaluate claims that migrants faced dangerous persecution.

When the surge began in 2014, Obama administration officials, worried they could spur an even greater flow if they accepted the migrants as refugees, tried to detain them near the border and deport them. But federal courts curtailed the detention of children and their parents, and so the Obama administration funneled them into immigration courts to ask for asylum. Families and unaccompanied minors who passed a first stage of screening at the border were released to pursue their cases in courts around the country.

In many of those cases, judges in the overburdened courts are only now rendering their decisions — and families from the Central American surge are becoming a new cohort of immigrant fugitives.

In the past, an order of removal — the immigration equivalent of an arrest warrant — did not necessarily lead to swift expulsion. But the Trump administration has made it clear that anyone on the wrong side of immigration law can be tracked down and deported, whether or not they committed a serious crime.


María Arita and her children, Amilcar, left, and Allison, at their home in Charlotte. Arita came to the United States from Honduras in 2013 with her then-3-year-old son to escape a gang that was targeting her family. (Logan Cyrus/For The Washington Post)
‘Don’t stop in Charlotte!’

The fates of the asylum-seeking families are particularly stark in Charlotte. Three immigration judges, appointed by the U.S. attorney general, labor under a backlog of nearly 8,000 cases. The court, which covers both Carolinas, has an amply earned reputation as one of the toughest in which to win an asylum case.

María Arita discovered these realities only after she left Honduras in 2013, forded the Rio Grande in south Texas with her 3-year-old son, turned herself in to border authorities and was sent to Charlotte to join her husband, who had found work here after coming illegally a year earlier. She said a mara — a criminal gang — had taken a dislike to her husband, for reasons the family still does not fully understand. But the gang made its animus very clear.

“First they killed my brother-in-law,” Arita said, trying to remember the attacks in the correct order. “Then they killed my father-in-law. Then . . . they shot another brother-in-law. That’s when my husband realized he had to get out, and he left for the United States. Then they broke down the door of my house. I wasn’t home, but they left a message saying they were going to kidnap my son to make my husband come back.”

Unlike many asylum seekers in this region, Arita found a lawyer. But after she paid several thousand dollars in legal fees, she said, he dropped her case. Despite her family’s trail of death in Honduras, he told her, she wasn’t going to win in Charlotte.


A photo of María Arita from when she was living in Honduras, next to a school photo of her son, Amilcar. (Logan Cyrus/For The Washington Post)

Terrified of going back, she went by herself to a hearing this spring. Before it was over, the judge had denied her claim and given her a few weeks to pack up, take her son and leave the United States. Results like that are among many reasons immigrants nationwide have been failing to appear in court.

Some migrants came to this country more to escape poverty than violence, and they may have avoided court because they knew their asylum claims were likely to be rejected. But more than 85 percent of the families passed the first legal test for asylum, in which they had to show they had a “credible fear” of returning home, according to Department of Homeland Security figures.

For many of them, the law itself presents a problem. Migrants running from gangs do not easily fit into the classic categories for asylum, which offers protection to people fearing persecution based on race, religion, nationality or politics. Yet in some courts, artful lawyers have won for people from Central America by crafting cases to fit a fifth, more loosely defined category of persecution in the law, against members of a “particular social group.” In recent years, migrant women have also won if they were escaping extreme domestic violence.

But not in Charlotte. Couch and Judge  — two out of three judges on the bench — have made it clear they view asylum as a narrow opportunity, and they regard claims stemming from gang violence as inconsistent with the letter of the law. Couch has scolded lawyers for trying to bend the statute like “silly putty” to make it work for Central American migrants.

Couch grants asylum in 18 percent of the cases he hears, while Pettinato grants 15 percent, both less than half the national rate, according to an analysis of court records by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data research group at Syracuse University. As sitting judges, Couch and Pettinato were not able to comment on their rulings.

“We should set up billboards on the highway for people coming from the border. Keep going, don’t stop in Charlotte!” said Viridiana Martínez, who works with Alerta Migratoria, a group in Durham, N.C., that helps immigrants fight deportation.”

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

Read Julia’s complete article at the link.

According to the FY 216 Statistics Yearbook, elsewhere in the Fourth Circuit the Baltimore Immigration Court granted 63% of asylum application while the Arlington Immigration Court was nearly identical with 62%. The Charlotte Immigration Court, on the other hand, was 17%.

The Supreme Court in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987) and the BIA in Matter of Mogharrabi, 19 I&N Dec. 439 (BIA 1987) both commanded that the “well-founded fear” standard for asylum be generously applied in favor of applicants! Although the BIA has not been as generous as it could and should have been in cases involving Central Americans needing protection from targeted gang violence, they have gone out of their way to reject notions that there should be any “presumption” against asylum grants from Central America. For example, in Matter of M-E-V-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 227, 251 (BIA 2014), the BIA cautioned their decisions “should not be read as a blanket rejection of all factual scenarios involving gangs. . . . . Social group determinations are made on a case-by-case basis.”

Moreover, established BIA precedents giving favorable treatment to LGBT individuals and those seeking protection from domestic violence frequently apply to cases of those fleeing Central America. See e.g., Matter of Tobaso-Alfonso, 20 I&N Dec. 819 (BIA 1990) (gays); Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388 (BIA 2014)  (domestic violence). Additionally, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has generally been protective of the substantive and procedural rights of asylum  seekers. See, e.g., Crespin-Valladares v. Holder, 632 F.3d 117  (4th Cir. 2011) (family members).

Something is seriously wrong in the Charlotte Immigration Court. Due process is not being fully protected. More seriously, nobody in “the system” — DOJ & EOIR — appears to care or be doing anything to correct the problems in Charlotte.

This is symptomatic of deeper problems in our U.S. Immigration Court system: 1) a weak BIA that fails to protect asylum seekers and require IJs to follow precedents favorable to asylum seekers; 2) lack of proper training compounded by the departure of experienced judges, hiring of new judges, and an inexplicable decision by the DOJ to cancel IJ training this year; and 3) a biased selection system that has systematically excluded private sector asylum expertise developed in representing applicants over this and the past three Administrations. Overall, it is what happens when a system lacks judicial independence and has not developed a merit selection system for judges.

The Immigration Judges in Charlotte can and should do better in providing fairness and due process for asylum seekers. Given the systemic failures, at present it appears to be up to those representing asylum seekers and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to see that asylum seekers in the Charlotte Immigration Court receive the Constitutional due process to which they are entitled.

PWS

07-31-17

 

 

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.

 

COME ONE, COME ALL! — FBA IMMIGRATION SECTION HONORS ARLINGTON JUDGE RODGER HARRIS ON HIS TRANSFER TO CHARLOTTE! — Details Below!

Dear Colleagues,
Immigration Judge Rodger Harris will be leaving Arlington for Charlotte NC.  The local FBA members would like to celebrate his service here in Arlington.  It is also an excellent opportunity for ILS members to get together!
The party will be TUESDAY June 20 @ 5:30 pm.  Location: McCormick & Schmick at the corner of Crystal Drive and 20th Street, in beautiful Crystal City Just a stone’s throw from the court.
Suggested contribution is $20.  You may pay at the door, or bring a check payable to Eileen Blessinger who has undertaken the thankless task of organizing the event.  NO NEED TO REGISTER!  Just come if you can.  There will be a cash bar.
Feel free to spread the word to other Judge Harris fans.
I hope to see you there!
Larry Burman
Immigration Law Section
*************************************************************
Judge Harris is a wonderful colleague, an amazing person, and a great judge. I know he will be missed by all at the Arlington Immigration Court. But, we’re all happy that he finally gets to be “closer to home.” No more weekend commutes on I-95! Hope everyone in the Arlington area will turn out to honor Judge Harris for his service and to wish him well in his new location.
Hope to see you there,
PWS
06-14-17

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOT YOUR FATHER’S FOURTH CIRCUIT: Technology, Innovation, & A More Diverse Judiciary Change Tribunal Sitting In The Former Capital Of The Confederacy!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/after-a-ruling-on-trumps-travel-ban-all-eyes-are-on-the-4th-circuit/2017/06/02/b7a555f2-4545-11e7-bcde-624ad94170ab_story.html?utm_term=.825d55d2e2d7

Carl Tobias reports for the Washington Post.

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit is a court in transition. The Richmond-based appeals court was long considered the most ideologically conservative of the 12 regional circuits, the intermediate appellate tribunals across the country that are the courts of last resort for 99 percent of appeals. When a case heard in Maryland and Virginia federal district courts is appealed, it goes to the 4th Circuit. This is the court that has resolved appeals involving Maryland gun laws and Virginia transgender students’ rights, for example.

And change has come to the 4th Circuit.

This was recently on display when the entire court — all judges in active service who did not have conflicts of interest — substantially affirmed a Maryland district court’s nationwide injunction that blocked enforcement of President Trump’s revised travel ban. Notably, a majority of the judges proclaimed that the Constitution “protects Plaintiffs’ right to challenge the Executive Order that in text speaks in vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.”

For decades, the 4th Circuit was a conservative stronghold. Seated in the former capital of the Confederacy, the court hears appeals in the Lewis F. Powell Jr. Courthouse, a building that served as the official headquarters for Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The circuit retains Southern manners. For instance, judges descend from the bench after oral arguments to shake the hands of counsel.

President George W. Bush tried to continue the court’s conservative legacy when numerous vacancies materialized in his administration. However, the White House insisted on pressing for confirmation of nominees whom many Democratic senators considered outside the mainstream, even after Democrats had captured a Senate majority in November 2006. Political machinations left four vacancies at the Bush administration’s close, enabling President Barack Obama to appoint numerous judges. The court now has nine members whom Democratic presidents appointed, five whom Republican presidents confirmed and Chief Judge Roger Gregory, whom President Bill Clinton recess-appointed and Bush confirmed.

Two recent developments in the travel ban appeal demonstrate change in the court. First, all of the active judges without conflicts heard the appeal, called an initial en banc proceeding, which is so extraordinary that the last one was decades ago. One judge, not the parties, suggested this procedure, and the court requested the litigants’ views on an en banc process, while a circuit majority favored it apparently because of the appeal’s exceptional public importance.

Another sign of change was the court’s April 27 announcement that the argument would be livestreamed. Allowing “cameras in the courtroom” has proved extremely controversial at the Supreme Court, which has never permitted live broadcast of arguments. Indeed, since-retired Justice David Souter famously declared “over my dead body.” A few lower federal courts allow broadcasts. The 9th Circuit began livestreaming all oral arguments in 2015.”

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Read the complete article at the above link.

As a U.S. Immigration Judge sitting in the Fourth Circuit, I credited the Fourth Circuit’s carefully-crafted asylum jurisprudence and overriding concern for due process and fairness for asylum seekers as reasons why asylum grant rates were relatively high in the Arlington and Baltimore Immigration Courts (of course, along with my judicial colleagues’ careful attention the what the Fourth Circuit was saying; new Fourth Circuit rulings were a frequent topic of our lunch conversations.)

Apparently, however, the word didn’t reach as far south as the Charlotte Immigration Court, where advocates regularly complain of the rights of asylum seekers being “steamrolled.” To date, the BIA has failed to step in and fix the Charlotte situation. And, I wouldn’t expect it to happen with Jeff Sessions in charge of the U.S. Immigration Courts.

PWS

06-04-17

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

Here’s My Keynote Address From Today’s FBA Immigration Law Conference In Denver, CO!

LIFE AT EOIR – PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE

By

Paul Wickham Schmidt

Retired U.S. Immigration Judge

Keynote Address

2017 Immigration Law Conference

Denver, CO

May 12, 2017

INTRODUCTION

Good afternoon. Thank you so much for inviting me. Its an honor to appear before you.

Funny thing happened to me on the way to this conference. When I arrived at the airport yesterday afternoon, my good friend Judge Lory Rosenberg rushed up to me at baggage claim and said “Oh, I see we’re having you for lunch!” I said “What?” She said “You’re our keynote speaker at lunch tomorrow.” I scoffed at the idea, saying I might be on the after lunch panel with her, but that was it. However, when I actually took the time to look at the program I saw that certainly not for the first time, Lory was right. Unbeknownst to me I was, in fact, listed as the keynote speaker.

I’ve composed this speech on my I-pad, which I’m using as a teleprompter. As you know, those of us who worked at EOIR aren’t used to this new-fangled technology. So, please bear with me.

As we get started, I’d like all of you to join me in recognizing my friend and former colleague Judge Larry Burman for his tireless efforts to make the ILS the best section in the FBA. In the later years, I tried very hard to avoid being at court at nights, weekends, and holidays. But, occasionally I had to go pick up my cellphone or something else I had inadvertently left in my office. And, who should be there but Larry. And he was always working on a FBA project, the Green Card, Conference Planning, recruiting new members, etc. So, please join me in a round of applause for Judge Burman for all he has done for promoting productive dialogue and improving the practice of immigration law.

Now, this is when I used to give my comprehensive disclaimer providing plausible deniabilityfor everyone in the Immigration Court System if I happened to say anything inconvenient or controversial. But, now that Im retired, we can skip that part.

My speech is entitled: Life At EOIR, Past Present, and Future.I will start by introducing myself to you and telling you a bit about how my life and career have been intertwined with EOIR. Then I will briefly address five things: the court systems vision, the judges role, my judicial philosophy, what needs to be done to reclaim the due process vision of the Immigration Courts, and how you can get involved.

CAREER SUMMARY

I graduated in 1970 from Lawrence University a small liberal arts college in Appleton, Wisconsin, where I majored in history. My broad liberal arts education and the intensive writing and intellectual dialogue involved were the best possible preparation for all that followed.

I then attended the University of Wisconsin School of Law in Madison, Wisconsin, graduating in 1973. Go Badgers!

I began my legal career in 1973 as an Attorney Advisor at the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) at the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) under the Attorney Generals Honors Program. Admittedly, however, the BIAs Executive Assistant culled my resume from the Honors Program reject pile.One of my staff colleagues at that time, now retired U.S Immigration Judge Joan Churchill, is right here in the audience.

At that time, before the creation of the Executive Office for Immigration Review – “EOIR” for you Winnie the Pooh fans — the Board had only five members and nine staff attorneys, as compared to todays cast of thousands. Among other things, I worked on the famous, or infamous, John Lennon case, which eventually was reversed by the Second Circuit in an opinion by the late Chief Judge Irving Kaufman.[1] As an interesting historical footnote, that case was argued in the Circuit by then Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Maguire Dunne, who went on to become a distinguished Member of the BIA and one of my Vice Chairs during my tenure as Chairman.

I also shared an office with my good friend, the late Lauri Steven Filppu, who later became a Deputy Director of the Office of Immigration Litigation (OIL) in the DOJs Civil Division and subsequently served with me on the BIA. The Chairman of the BIA at that time was the legendary immigration guru” Maurice A. “Maury” Roberts. Chairman Roberts took Lauri and me under this wing and shared with us his love of immigration law, his focus on sound scholarship, his affinity for clear, effective legal writing, and his humane sense of fairness and justice for the individuals coming before the BIA.

In 1976, I moved to the Office of General Counsel at the “Legacy” Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”). There, I worked for another legendary figure in immigration law, then General Counsel Sam Bernsen. Sam was a naturalized citizen who started his career as a 17-year-old messenger at Ellis Island and worked his way to the top of the Civil Service ranks. Perhaps not incidentally, he was also a good friend of Chairman Roberts.

At that time, the Office of General Counsel was very small, with a staff of only three attorneys in addition to the General Counsel and his Deputy, another mentor and immigration guru, Ralph Farb. At one time, all three of us on the staff sat in the same office! In 1978, Ralph was appointed to the BIA, and I succeeded him as Deputy General Counsel.   I also served as the Acting General Counsel for several very lengthy periods in both the Carter and Reagan Administrations.

Not long after I arrived, the General Counsel position became political. The incoming Administration encouraged Sam to retire, and he went on to become a name and Managing Partner of the Washington, D.C. office of the powerhouse immigration boutique Fragomen, Del Rey, and Bernsen. He was replaced by my good friend and colleague David Crosland, now an Immigration Judge in Baltimore, who selected me as his Deputy. Dave was also the Acting Commissioner of Immigration during the second half of the Carter Administration, one of the periods when I was the Acting General Counsel.

The third General Counsel that I served under was one of my most unforgettable characters:the late, great Maurice C. “Mike” Inman, Jr. He was known, not always affectionately, as Iron Mike.His management style was something of a cross between the famous coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, and the fictional Mafia chieftain, Don Corleone. As my one of my colleagues said of Iron Mike:” “He consistently and unreasonably demanded that we do the impossible, and most of the time we succeeded.Although we were totally different personalities, Mike and I made a good team, and we accomplished amazing things. It was more or less a good cop, bad coproutine, and Ill let you guess who played which role. You can check the “Inman era” out with retired Immigration Judge William P. Joyce, who is sitting in the audience and shared the experience with me.

Among other things, I worked on the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Cuban Boatlift, the Refugee Act of 1980, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (“IRCA”), the creation of the Office of Immigration Litigation (OIL), and establishing what has evolved into the modern Chief Counsel system at Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”).

I also worked on the creation of EOIR, which combined the Immigration Courts, which had previously been part of the INS, with the BIA to improve judicial independence. Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, the leadership and impetus for getting the Immigration Judges into a separate organization came from Mike and the late Al Nelson, who was then the Commissioner of Immigration. Prosecutors by position and litigators by trade, they saw the inherent conflicts and overall undesirability, from a due process and credibility standpoint, of having immigration enforcement and impartial court adjudication in the same division. I find it troubling that officials at todays DOJ arent able to understand and act appropriately on the glaring conflict of interest currently staring them in their collective faces.

By the time I left in 1987, the General Counsels Office, largely as a result of the enactment of IRCA and new employer sanctions provisions, had dozens of attorneys, organized into divisions, and approximately 600 attorneys in the field program, the vast majority of whom had been hired during my tenure.

In 1987, I left INS and joined Jones Days DC Office, a job that I got largely because of my wife Cathy and her old girl network.I eventually became a partner specializing in business immigration, multinational executives, and religious workers. Among my major legislative projects on behalf of our clients were the special religious worker provisions added to the law by the Immigration Act of 1990 and the “Special Immigrant Juvenile” provisions of the INA with which some of you might be familiar.

Following my time at Jones Day, I succeeded my former boss and mentor Sam Bernsen as the Managing Partner of the DC Office of Fragomen, Del Rey & Bernsen, the leading national immigration boutique, where I continued to concentrate on business immigration. You will note that immigration is a small community; you need to be nice to everyone because you keep running into the same folks over and over again in your career. While at Fragomen, I also assisted the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) on a number of projects and was an adviser to the LawyersCommittee, now known as Human Rights First.

In 1995, then Attorney General Janet Reno appointed me Chairman of the BIA. Not surprisingly, Janet Reno, who recently died, was my favorite among all of the Attorneys General I worked under. I felt that she supported me personally, and she supported the concept of an independent judiciary, even though she didnt always agree with our decisions and vice versa.

She was the only Attorney General who consistently came to our Investitures and Immigration Judge Conferences in person and mixed and mingled with the group. She was also kind to our clerical staff and invited them downtown to meet personally with her. She had a saying equal justice for allthat she worked into almost all of her speeches, and which I found quite inspirational. She was also hands down the funniest former Attorney General to appear on Saturday Night Live,doing her famous Janet Reno Dance Partyroutine with Will Farrell immediately following the end of her lengthy tenure at the DOJ.

Among other things, I oversaw an expansion of the Board from the historical five members to more than 20 members, a more open selection system that gave some outside experts a chance to serve as appellate judges on the Board, the creation of a supervisory structure for the expanding staff, the establishment of a unified Clerks Office to process appeals, implementation of a true judicial format for published opinions, institution of bar coding for the tens of thousands of files, the establishment of a pro bono program to assist unrepresented respondents on appeal, the founding of the Virtual Law Library, electronic en banc voting and e-distribution of decisions to Immigration Judges, and the publication of the first BIA Practice Manual, which actually won a Plain Language Awardfrom then Vice President Gore.

I also wrote the majority opinion in my favorite case, Matter of Kasinga, establishing for the first time that the practice of female genital mutilation (“FGM”) is persecution” for asylum purposes.[2] As another historical footnote, the losingattorney in that case was none other than my good friend, then INS General Counsel David A. Martin, a famous immigration professor at the University of Virginia Law who personally argued before the Board.

In reality, however, by nominally losingthe case, David actually won the war for both of us, and more important, for the cause of suffering women throughout the world. We really were on the same side in Kasinga. Without Davids help, who knows if I would have been able to get an almost-united Board to make such a strong statement on protection of vulnerable women.

During my tenure as Chairman, then Chief Immigration Judge (now BIA Member) Michael J. Creppy and I were founding members of the International Association of Refugee Law Judges (“IARLJ”). This organization, today headquartered in The Hague, promotes open dialogue and exchange of information among judges from many different countries adjudicating claims under the Geneva Convention on Refugees. Since my retirement, I have rejoined the IARLJ as a Vice President for the Americas.

In 2001, at the beginning of the Bush Administration, I stepped down as BIA Chairman, but remained as a Board Member until April 2003. At that time, then Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was not a fan of my opinions, invited me to vacate the Board and finish my career at the Arlington Immigration Court, where I remained until my retirement on June 30 of last year. So, Im one of the few ever to become an Immigration Judge without applying for the job. Or, maybe my opinions, particularly the dissents, were my application and I just didnt recognize it at the time. But, it turned out to be a great fit, and I truly enjoyed my time at the Arlington Court.

I have also taught Immigration Law at George Mason School of Law in 1989 and Refugee Law and Policyat Georgetown Law from 2012 through 2014. Ive just agreed to resume my Adjunct position with Georgetown Law for a compressed summer course” in “Immigration Law & Policy.

Please keep in mind that if everyone agreed with me, my career wouldnt have turned out the way it did. On the other hand, if nobody agreed with me, my career wouldnt have turned out the way it did. In bureaucratic terms, I was a “survivor.” I have also, at some point in my career, probably been on both sides of many of the important issues in U.S. immigration law.

One of the challenges that lawyers will face in Immigration Court is that different judges have distinct styles, philosophies, and preferences.   I always felt that although we might differ in personality and approach, at least in Arlington we all shared a commitment to achieving fairness and justice.

As a sitting judge, I encouraged meticulous preparation and advance consultation with the DHS Assistant Chief Counsel to stipulate or otherwise narrow issues. In Arlington, for example, even with a new high of 10 Immigration Judges, the average docket is still 3,000 cases per judge. There currently are more than 30,000 pending cases at the Arlington Court. Because of this overwhelming workload, efficiency and focusing on the disputed issues in court are particularly critical. 

THE DUE PROCESS VISION

Now, lets move on to the other topics: First, vision.   The “EOIR Vision” is: “Through teamwork and innovation, be the worlds best administrative tribunals, guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.In one of my prior incarnations, I was part of the group that developed that vision statement. Perhaps not surprisingly given the timing, that vision echoed the late Janet Reno’s “equal justice for alltheme.

Sadly, the Immigration Court System is moving further away from that due process vision. Instead, years of neglect, misunderstanding, mismanagement, and misguided priorities imposed by the U.S. Department of Justice have created judicial chaos with an expanding backlog now approaching an astounding 600,000 cases and no clear plan for resolving them in the foreseeable future.   There are now more pending cases in Immigration Court than in the entire U.S. District Court System, including both Civil and Criminal dockets, with fewer than half as many U.S. Immigration Judges currently on board as U.S. District Judges.

And, the new Administration promises to add hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of new cases to the Immigration Court docket, again without any transparent plan for completing the half million already pending cases consistent with due process and fairness. In fact, notably, and most troubling, concern for fairness and due process in the immigration hearing process has not appeared anywhere in the Administrations many pronouncements on immigration.

Nobody has been hit harder by this preventable disaster than asylum seekers, particularly scared women and children fleeing for their lives from the Northern Triangle of Central America. In Immigration Court, notwithstanding the life or death issues at stake, unlike criminal court there is no right to an appointed lawyer. Individuals who cant afford a lawyer must rely on practicing lawyers who donate their time or on nonprofit community organizations to find free or low cost legal representation. Although the Government stubbornly resists the notion that all asylum seekers should be represented, studies show that represented asylum seekers are at least five times more likely to succeed than those who must represent themselves. For recently arrived women with children, the success differential is an astounding fourteen times![3]

You might have read about the unfortunate statement of an Assistant Chief Judge for Training who claimed that he could teach immigration law to unrepresented toddlers appearing in Immigration Court. Issues concerning representation of so-called vulnerable populationscontinue to challenge our Court System. Even with Clinics and Non-Governmental Organizations pitching in, there simply are not enough free or low cost lawyers available to handle the overwhelming need. In fact, soon to be former EOIR Director Juan Osuna once declared in an officially-sanctioned TV interview that the current system is “broken.”[4]

Notwithstanding the admitted problems, I still believe in the EOIR vision. Later in this speech Im going to share with you some of my ideas for reclaiming this noble due process vision.

THE ROLE OF THE IMMIGRATION JUDGE

Changing subjects, to the role of the Immigration Judge: Whats it like to be an Immigration Judge? As an Immigration Judge, I was an administrative judge. I was not part of the Judicial Branch established under Article III of the Constitution. The Attorney General, part of the Executive Branch, appointed me, and my authority was subject to her regulations.

We should all be concerned that the U.S. Immigration Court system is now totally under the control of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has consistently taken a negative view of immigrants, both legal and undocumented, and has failed to recognize the many essential, positive contributions that immigrants make to our country.  

Perhaps ironically, the late Judge Terence T. Evans of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals offered one of the best descriptions of what its like to be an Immigration Judge. Judge Evans was not one of us, but saw plenty of our work during his lifetime. Judge Evans said:

“Because 100 percent of asylum petitioners want to stay in this country, but less than 100 percent are entitled to asylum, an immigration judge must be alert to the fact that some petitioners will embellish their claims to increase their chances of success. On the other hand, an immigration judge must be sensitive to the suffering and fears of petitioners who are genuinely entitled to asylum in this country. A healthy balance of sympathy and skepticism is a job requirement for a good immigration judge. Attaining that balance is what makes the job of an immigration judge, in my view, excruciatingly difficult.”[5]

My Arlington Immigration Court colleague Judge Thomas G. Snow also gives a very moving and accurate glimpse of an Immigration Judges life in a recent article from USA Today:

” Immigration judges make these decisions alone. Many are made following distraught or shame-filled testimony covering almost unimaginable acts of inhumanity. And we make them several times a day, day after day, year after year.

We take every decision we make very seriously. We do our best to be fair to every person who comes before us. We judge each case on its own merits, no matter how many times weve seen similar fact patterns before.

We are not policymakers. We are not legislators. We are judges. Although we are employees of the U.S. Department of Justice who act under the delegated authority of the attorney general, no one tells us how to decide a case. I have been an immigration judge for more than 11 years, and nobody has ever tried to influence a single one of my thousands of decisions

And finally, because we are judges, we do our best to follow the law and apply it impartially to the people who appear before us. I know I do so, even when it breaks my heart.[6]

My good friend and colleague, Judge Dana Leigh Marks of the San Francisco Immigration Court, who is the President of the National Association of Immigration Judges, offers a somewhat pithier description: [I]mmigration judges often feel asylum hearings are like holding death penalty cases in traffic court.’”[7]

Another historical footnote: as a young lawyer, then known as Dana Marks Keener, Judge Marks successfully argued the landmark Supreme Court case INS v. Cardoza Fonseca, establishing the generous well-founded fearstandard for asylum, while I helped the Solicitor Generals office develop the unsuccessful opposing arguments for INS.[8] Therefore, I sometimes refer to Judge Marks as one of the founding mothers” of U.S. asylum law.

From my perspective, as an Immigration Judge I was half scholar, half performing artist. An Immigration Judge is always on public display, particularly in this age of the Internet.His or her words, actions, attitudes, and even body language, send powerful messages, positive or negative, about our court system and our national values. Perhaps not surprisingly, the majority of those who fail at the job do so because they do not recognize and master the performing artistaspect, rather than from a lack of pertinent legal knowledge.

One of the keys to the Immigration Judges job is issuing scholarly, practical, well-written opinions in the most difficult cases. That ties directly into the job of the Immigration Courts amazing Judicial Law Clerks (“JLCs”) assisted by all-star legal interns from local law schools. The JLC’s job is, of course, to make the judge look smart,no matter how difficult or challenging that might be in a particular case.  

MY JUDICIAL PHILOSOPHY

Next, I’ll say a few words about my philosophy. In all aspects of my career, I have found five essential elements for success: fairness, scholarship, timeliness, respect, and teamwork.

Obviously, fairness to the parties is an essential element of judging. Scholarship in the law is what allows us to fairly apply the rules in particular cases. However, sometimes attempts to be fair or scholarly can be ineffective unless timely. In some cases, untimeliness can amount to unfairness no matter how smart or knowledgeable you are.

Respect for the parties, the public, colleagues, and appellate courts is absolutely necessary for our system to function. Finally, I view the whole judging process as a team exercise that involves a coordinated and cooperative effort among judges, respondents, counsel, interpreters, court clerks, security officers, administrators, law clerks and interns working behind the scenes, to get the job done correctly. Notwithstanding different roles, we all share a common interest in seeing that our justice system works.

Are the five elements that I just mentioned limited to Immigration Court? They are not only essential legal skills, they are also necessary life skills, whether you are running a courtroom, a law firm, a family, a PTA meeting, a book club, or a soccer team. As you might imagine, I am a huge fan of clinical experience as an essential part of the law school curriculum. Not only do clinical programs make important actual contributions to our justice system due process in action but they teach exactly the type of intellectual and practical values and skills that I have just described.

RECLAIMING THE VISION

Our Immigration Courts are going through an existential crisis that threatens the very foundations of our American Justice System. Earlier, I told you about my dismay that the noble due process vision of our Immigration Courts has been derailed. What can be done to get it back on track?

First, and foremost, the Immigration Courts must return to the focus on due process as the one and only mission. The improper use of our due process court system by political officials to advance enforcement priorities and/or send “don’t comemessages to asylum seekers, which are highly ineffective in any event, must end. Thats unlikely to happen under the DOJ as proved by over three decades of history, particularly recent history. It will take some type of independent court. I think that an Article I Immigration Court, which has been supported by groups such as the ABA and the FBA, would be best.

Clearly, the due process focus was lost during the last Administration when officials outside EOIR forced ill-advised prioritizationand attempts to “expedite” the cases of frightened women and children from the Northern Triangle who require lawyers to gain the protection that most of them need and deserve. Putting these cases in front of other pending cases was not only unfair to all, but has created what I call aimless docket reshuffling— “ADR” — that has thrown the Immigration Court system into chaos and dramatically increased the backlogs.  

Although those misguided Obama Administration priorities have been rescinded, the reprieve is only fleeting. The Trump Administration has announced plans to greatly expand the prioritytargets for removal to include even those who were merely accused of committing any crime. The Administration also plans a new and greatly expanded immigration detention empire,likely to be situated in remote locations near the Southern Border, relying largely on discredited private for profitprisons. The Administration also wants to make it more difficult for individuals to get full Immigration Court hearings on asylum claims and to expand the use of so-called expedited removal,thereby seeking to completely avoid the Immigration Court process.

Evidently, the idea, similar to that of the Obama Administration, is to remove most of those recently crossing the border to seek protection, thereby sending a “don’t come, we dont want youmessage to asylum seekers.

Second, there must be structural changes so that the Immigration Courts are organized and run like a real court system, not a highly bureaucratic agency. This means that sitting Immigration Judges, like in all other court systems, must control their dockets. The practice of having administrators in Falls Church and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., none of whom are sitting judges responsible for daily court hearings, manipulate and rearrange local dockets in a vain attempt to achieve policy goals unrelated to fairness and due process for individuals coming before the Immigration Courts must end.  

If there are to be nationwide policies and practices, they should be developed by an Immigration Judicial Conference,patterned along the lines of the Federal Judicial Conference. That would be composed of sitting Immigration Judges representing a cross-section of the country, several Appellate Immigration Judges from the BIA, and probably some U.S. Circuit Judges, since the Circuits are one of the primary consumersof the court’s “product.”

Third, there must be a new administrative organization to serve the courts, much like the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. This office would naturally be subordinate to the Immigration Judicial Conference. Currently, the glacial hiring process, inadequate courtroom space planning and acquisition, and unreliable, often-outdated technology are simply not up to the needs of a rapidly expanding court system.  

In particular, the judicial hiring process over the past 16 years has failed to produce the necessary balance because judicial selectees from private sector backgrounds particularly those with expertise in asylum and refugee law have been so few and far between. Indeed, during the last Administration nearly 90% of the judicial appointments were from Government backgrounds. And, there is no reason to believe that pattern will change under the current Administration. In fact, only one of the seven most recent appointments by Attorney Generals Sessions came from a private sector background.

Fourth, I would repeal all of the so-called Ashcroft reformsat the BIA and put the BIA back on track to being a real appellate court.   A properly comprised and well-functioning BIA should transparently debate and decide important, potentially controversial, issues, publishing dissenting opinions when appropriate. All BIA Appellate Judges should be required to vote and take a public position on all important precedent decisions. The BIA must also “rein in” those Immigration Courts with asylum grant rates so incredibly low as to make it clear that the generous dictates of the Supreme Court in Cardoza-Fonseca[9] and the BIA itself in Mogharrabi[10] are not being followed.

Nearly a decade has passed since Professors Andy Schoenholtz, Phil Shrag, and Jaya Ramji-Nogales published their seminal work Refugee Roulette, documenting the large disparities among Immigration Judges in asylum grant rates.[11] While there has been some improvement, the BIA, the only body that can effectively establish and enforce due process within the Immigration Court system, has not adequately addressed this situation.

For example, let’s take a brief “asylum magical mystery tour” down the East Coast.[12] In New York, 84% of the asylum applications are granted. Cross the Hudson River to Newark and that rate sinks to 48%, still respectable in light of the 47% national average but inexplicably 36% lower than New York. Move over to the Elizabeth Detention Center Court, where you might expect a further reduction, and the grant rate rises again to 59%. Get to Baltimore, and the grant rate drops to 43%. But, move down the BW Parkway a few miles to Arlington, still within the Fourth Circuit like Baltimore, and it rises again to 63%. Then, cross the border into North Carolina, still in the Fourth Circuit, and it drops remarkably to 13%. But, things could be worse. Travel a little further south to Atlanta and the grant rate bottoms out at an astounding 2%.

In other words, by lunchtime some days the Immigration Judges sitting in New York granted more than the five asylum cases granted in Atlanta during the entire Fiscal Year 2015!   An 84% to 2% differential in fewer than 900 miles! Three other major non-detained Immigration Courts, Dallas, Houston, and Las Vegas, have asylum grants rates at or below 10%.

Indeed a recent 2017 study of the Atlanta Immigration Court by Emory Law and the Southern Poverty Law Center found:

[S]ome of the Immigration Judges do not respect rule of law principles and maintain practices that undermine the fair administration of justice. During the course of our observations, we witnessed the following [issue, among others]. Immigration Judges made prejudicial statements and expressed significant disinterest or even hostility towards respondents in their courts. In at least one instance, an Immigration Judge actively refused to listen to an attorney’s legal arguments. In another instance, an Immigration Judge failed to apply the correct standard of law in an asylum case. [13]

This is hardly “through teamwork and innovation being the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all!” These unusually low asylum grant rates are impossible to justify in light of the generous standard for well-founded fear established by the Supreme Court in Cardoza-Fonseca and the BIA in Mogharrabi, and the regulatory presumption of future fear arising out of past persecution that applies in many asylum cases.[14] Yet, the BIA has only recently and fairly timidly addressed the manifest lack of respect for asylum seekers and failure to guarantee fairness and due process for such vulnerable individuals in some cases arising in Atlanta and other courts with unrealistically low grant rates.[15]    

Over the past 16 years, the BIA’s inability or unwillingness to aggressively stand up for the due process rights of asylum seekers and to enforce the fair and generous standards required by American law have robbed our Immigration Court System of credibility and public support, as well as ruined the lives of many who were denied protection that should have been granted.   We need a BIA which functions like a Federal Appellate Court and whose overriding mission is to ensure that the due process vision of the Immigration Courts becomes a reality rather than an unfulfilled promise.

Fifth, 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 nightaura 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. 

GETTING INVOLVED 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, I have introduced you to one of Americas largest and most important, yet least understood and appreciated, court systems: the United States Immigration Court. I have shared with you the Courts noble due process vision and my view that it is not currently being fulfilled. I have also shared with you my ideas for effective court reform that would achieve the due process vision and how you can become involved in improving the process. Now is the time to take a stand for fundamental fairness’! Join the New Due Process Army! Due process forever!        

Thanks again for inviting me and for listening. Have a great conference!

 

 

(05/12/17)

        

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Matter of Lennon, 15 I&N Dec. 9 (BIA 1974), rev’d Lennon v. INS, 527 F.2d 187 (2d Cir. 1975).

[2] Matter of Kasinga, 21 I&N Dec. 357 (BIA 1996).

[3] TRAC Immigration, “Representation is Key in Immigration Proceedings Involving Women with Children,” Feb. 18, 2015, available online at http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/377/.

[4] “Immigration Director Calls for Overhaul of Broken System,” NBC Bay Area News, May 27, 2015, available online.

[5] Guchshenkov v. Ashcroft, 366 F.3d 554 (7th Cir. 2004) (Evans, J., concurring).
[6] Hon. Thomas G. Snow, “The gut-wrenching life of an immigration judge,” USA Today, Dec. 12, 2106, available online at http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2016/12/12/immigration-judge-gut-wrenching-decisions-column/95308118/

[7] Julia Preston, “Lawyers Back Creating New Immigration Courts,” NY Times, Feb. 6, 2010.

[8] INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987).

[9] INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987).

[10] Matter of Mogharrabi, 19 I&N Dec. 4379(BIA 1987).

[11] Jaya Ramji-Nogales, Andrew I. Schoenholtz, and Philip G. Schrag, Refugee Roulette: Disparities in Asylum Adjudication, 60 Stan. L. Rev. 295 (2007);

[12] All statistics are from the EOIR FY 2015 Statistics Yearbook, available online at https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/fysb15/download,

[13] See Emory Law/SPLC Observation Study Rips Due Process Violations At Atlanta Immigration Court — Why Is The BIA “Asleep At The Switch” In Enforcing Due Process? What Happened To The EOIR’s “Due Process Vision?” in immigrationcourtside.com, available online at http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/03/02/emory-lawsplc-observation-study-rips-due-process-violations-at-atlanta-immigration-court-why-is-the-bia-asleep-at-the-switch-in-enforcing-due-process-what-happened-to-the-eoirs-due-proces/

[14] See 8 C.F.R. § 1208.13(b)(1).

[15] See, e.g., Matter of Y-S-L-C-, 26 I&N Dec. 688 (BIA 2015) (denial of due process where IJ tried to bar the testimony of minor respondent by disqualifying him as an expert witness under the Federal Rules of Evidence). While the BIA finally stepped in with this precedent, the behavior of this Judge shows a system where some Judges have abandoned any discernable concept of “guaranteeing fairness and due process.” The BIA’s “permissive” attitude toward Judges who consistently deny nearly all asylum applications has allowed this to happen. Indeed the Washington Post recently carried a poignant story of a young immigration lawyer who was driven out of the practice by the negative attitudes and treatment by the Immigration Judges at the Atlanta Immigration Court. Harlan, Chico, “In an Immigration Court that nearly always says no, a lawyer’s spirit is broken,” Washington Post, Oct. 11, 2016, available online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/in-an-immigration-court-that-nearly-always-says-no-a-lawyers-spirit-is-broken/2016/10/11/05f43a8e-8eee-11e6-a6a3-d50061aa9fae_story.html

How does this live up to the EOIR Vision of “through teamwork and innovation being the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all?”   Does this represent the best that American justice has to offer?

Asylum Free Zones in the U.S. Examined by Inter-American Commission — Ignites Dialogue Pro and Con

http://immigrationimpact.com/2016/12/20/asylum-free-zones/

This article by Katie Shepard in Immigration Impact fueled a “spirited dialogue” among my long-time Lawrence University friend Thomas “The Mink” Felhofer, a retired Postmaster and U.S. Navy Veteran from Sturgeon Bay, WI; my former BIA colleague Hon. Lory D. Rosenberg; my former colleague, Retired U.S. Immigration Judge Bruce Einhorn, of Los Angeles, CA; and me.  For those interested, I’ve tried my best to recreate the back and forth (most of which occurred before the birth of immigrationcourtside.com) in the “Comments” section below.  Further dialogue is always welcome!

PWS

12/29/16