JULIA PRESTON: CHAOS IN COURT! – TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S MAL-ADMINISTRATION OF IMMIGRATION COURTS RUINS LIVES, FRUSTRATES JUDGES!

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2018/01/19/lost-in-court

Julia writes for The Marshall Project:

“. . . .

And so in this gateway city on the Rio Grande [Laredo], inside a building rimmed with barbed wire, past security guards and locked doors, immigration judges on short details started hearing cases in a cramped courtroom that was hastily arranged in March.

But seven months later, the case of Oscar Arnulfo Ramírez, an immigrant from El Salvador, was not going quickly. He was sitting in detention, waiting for a hearing on his asylum claim. And waiting some more.

The court files, his lawyer discovered, showed that Ramírez’s case had been completed and closed two months earlier. Since the case was closed, the court clerk couldn’t schedule a new hearing to get it moving again. In fact, the clerk didn’t even have a record that he was still detained.

“It’s as if he’s non-existent,” his lawyer,, said. “He’s still in a detention center. He’s still costing the government and the American people tax dollars. But there’s no proceeding going on. He’s just sitting there doing completely nothing.”

Ramírez’s case was one of many signs of disarray in the improvised court in Laredo, which emerged during a weeklong visit in late October by a reporter from The Marshall Project and a radio producer from This American Life. Instead of the efficiency the Trump administration sought, the proceedings were often chaotic. Hearing schedules were erratic, case files went missing. Judges were exasperated by confusion and delays. Like Ramírez, detainees were lost in the system for months on end.


For a view of the border crossing in Laredo and the grinding process migrants begin there, check out Kirsten Luce’s photosfrom the gateway on the Rio Grande.


With the intense pressure on the court to finish cases, immigrants who had run from frightening threats in their home countries were deported without having a chance to tell the stories that might have persuaded a judge to let them stay.

. . . .

For Paola Tostado, the lawyer, Ramírez was not the first client to fall through the cracks in Laredo. Even though she is based in Brownsville, three hours away, Tostado was making the pre-dawn drive up the highway as many as three times a week, to appear next to her clients in court in Laredo whenever she could.

Another Salvadoran asylum-seeker she represented, whose case was similarly mislaid, had gone for four months with no hearing and no prospect of having one. Eventually he despaired. When ICE officers presented him with a document agreeing to deportation, without consulting Tostado he had signed it.

“I’ve had situations where we come to an individual client who has been detained over six months and the file is missing,” she said. “It’s not in San Antonio. It’s not in Laredo. So where is it? Is it on the highway?”

In her attempts to free Ramírez, Tostado consulted with the court clerk in San Antonio, with the ICE prosecutors and officers detaining him, but no one could say how to get the case started again.

Then, one day after reporters sat in the courtroom and spoke with Tostado about the case, ICE released him to pursue his case in another court, without explanation.

But by December Tostado had two other asylum-seekers who had been stalled in the system for more than seven months. She finally got the court to schedule hearings for them in the last days of the year.

“I think the bottom line is, there’s no organization in this Laredo court,” Tostado said. “It’s complete chaos and at the end of the day it’s not fair. Because you have clients who say, I just want to go to court. If it’s a no, it’s a no. If it’s a yes, it’s a yes.”

Unlike criminal court, in immigration court people have no right to a lawyer paid by the government. But there was no reliable channel in Laredo for immigrants confined behind walls to connect with low-cost lawyers. Most lawyers worked near the regular courts in the region, at least two hours’ drive away.

Sandra Berrios, another Salvadoran seeking asylum, learned the difference a lawyer could make. She found one only by the sheerest luck. After five months in detention, she was days away from deportation when she was cleaning a hallway in the center, doing a job she had taken to keep busy. A lawyer walked by. Berrios blurted a plea for help.

The lawyer was from a corporate law firm, Jones Day, which happened to be offering free services. Two of its lawyers, Christopher Maynard and Adria Villar, took on her case. They learned that Berrios had been a victim of vicious domestic abuse. A Salvadoran boyfriend who had brought her to the United States in 2009 had turned on her a few years later when he wanted to date other women.

Once he had punched her in the face in a Walmart parking lot, prompting bystanders to call the police. He had choked her, burned her legs with cigarettes, broken her fingers and cut her hands with knives. Berrios had scars to show the judge. She had a phone video she had made when the boyfriend was attacking her and records of calls to the Laredo police.

The lawyers also learned that the boyfriend had returned to El Salvador to avoid arrest, threatening to kill Berrios if he ever saw her there.

She had started a new relationship in Texas with an American citizen who wanted to marry her. But she’d been arrested by the Border Patrol at a highway checkpoint when the two of them were driving back to Laredo from an outing at a Gulf Coast beach.

After Berrios been detained for nine months, at a hearing in July with Maynard arguing her case, a judge canceled her deportation and let her stay. In a later interview, Berrios gave equal parts credit to God and the lawyers. “I would be in El Salvador by this time, already dead,” she said. “The judges before that just wanted to deport me.”

. . . .

We have heard frustration across the board,” said Ashley Tabaddor, a judge from Los Angeles who is the association [NAIJ] president. She and other union officials clarified that their statements did not represent the views of the Justice Department. “We’ve definitely heard from our members,” she said, “where they’ve had to reset hundreds of cases from their home docket to go to detention facilities where the docket was haphazardly scheduled, where the case might not have been ready, where the file has not reached the facility yet.”

Another association official, Lawrence Burman, a judge who normally sits in Arlington, Va., volunteered for a stint in a detention center in the rural Louisiana town of Jena, 220 miles northwest of New Orleans. Four judges were sent, Burman said, but there was only enough work for two.

“So I had a lot of free time, which was pretty useless in Jena, Louisiana,” Burman said. “All of us in that situation felt very bad that we have cases back home that need to be done. But in Jena I didn’t have any of my files.” Once he had studied the cases before him in Jena, Burman said, he was left to “read the newspaper or my email.”

The impact on Burman’s case docket back in Arlington was severe. Dozens of cases he was due to hear during the weeks he was away had to be rescheduled, including some that had been winding through the court and were ready for a final decision. But with the enormous backlog in Arlington, Burman had no openings on his calendar before November 2020.

Immigrants who had already waited years to know whether they could stay in the country now would wait three years more. Such disruptions were reported in other courts, including some of the nation’s largest in Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles.

“Many judges came back feeling that their time was not wisely used,” Judge Tabaddor, the association president, said, “and it was to the detriment of their own docket.”

Justice Department officials say they are pleased with the results of the surge. A department spokesman, Devin O’Malley, did not comment for this story but pointed to congressional testimony by James McHenry, the director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review. “Viewed holistically, the immigration judge mobilization has been a success,” he said, arguing it had a “positive net effect on nationwide caseloads.”

Justice Department officials calculated that judges on border details completed 2700 more cases than they would have if they had remained in home courts. Officials acknowledge that the nationwide caseload continued to rise during last year, reaching 657,000 cases by December. But they noted that the rate of growth had slowed, to .39 percent monthly increase at the end of the year from 3.39 percent monthly when Trump took office.

Judge Tabaddor, the association president, said the comparison was misleading: cases of immigrants in detention, like the ones the surge judges heard, always take priority and go faster than cases of people out on release, she said. Meanwhile, according to records obtained by the National Immigrant Justice Center, as many as 22,000 hearings in judges’ home courts had to be rescheduled in the first three months of the surge alone, compounding backlogs.

. . . .”

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Read Julia’s complete article at the above link. Always enjoy getting quotes from my former Arlington colleague Judge Lawrence O. (“The Burmanator”) Burman. He tends to “tell it like it is” in the fine and time-honored Arlington tradition of my now retired Arlington colleague Judge Wayne R. Iskra. And, Judge Iskra didn’t even have the “cover” of being an officer of the NAIJ. Certainly beats the “pabulum” served up by the PIO at the “Sessionized” EOIR!

Also, kudos to one of my “former firms” Jones Day, its National Managing Partner Steve Brogan, and the Global Pro Bono Counsel Laura Tuell for opening the Laredo Office exclusively for pro bono immigration representation, As firms like jones Day take the “immigration litigation field,” and give asylum applicants the “A+ representation” they need and deserve, I predict that it’s going to become harder for the Article III U.S. Courts to ignore the legal shortcomings of the Immigration Courts under Sessions.

A brief aside. My friend Laura Tuell was  a “Guest Professor” during a session of my Immigration Law & Policy class at Georgetown Law last June. On the final exam, one of my students wrote that Laura had inspired him or her to want a career embodying values like hers! Wow! Talk about making a difference on many levels!And talk about the difference in representing real values as opposed to the legal obfuscation and use of the legal system to inflict wanton cruelty represented by Sessions and his restrictionist ilk.

We also should recognize the amazing dedication and efforts of pro bono and “low bono” lawyers like Paola Tostado, mentioned in Julia’s report. “Even though she is based in Brownsville, three hours away, Tostado was making the pre-dawn drive up the highway as many as three times a week, to appear next to her clients in court in Laredo whenever she could.” What do you think that does to her law practice? As I’ve said before, folks like Paola Tostado, Christopher Maynard, Adria Villar, and Laura Tuell are the “real heroes” of Due Process in the Immigraton Court system. 

Compare the real stories of desperate, bona fide asylum seekers and their hard-working dedicated lawyers being “stiffed” and mistreated in the Immigration Court with Sessions’s recent false narrative to EOIR about an asylum system rife with fraud promoted by “dirty attorneys.” Sessions’s obvious biases against migrants, both documented and undocumented, and particularly against Latino asylum seekers on the Southern Border, make him glaringly unqualified to be either our Attorney General or in charge of our U.S. Immigration Court system.

No amount of “creative book-cooking” by EOIR and the DOJ can disguise the human and due process disaster unfolding here. This is exactly what I mean when I refer to “”Aimless Docket Reshuffling” (“ADR”), and it’s continuing to increase the Immigration Court backlogs (now at a stunning 660,000) notwithstanding that there are now more Immigration Judges on duty than there were at the end of the last Administration.

I’ll admit upfront to not being very good at statistics and to being skeptical about what they show us. But, let’s leave the “Wonderful World of EOIR” for a minute and go on over to TRAC for a “reality check” on how “Trumpism” is really working in the Immigration Courts. http://trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/court_backlog/apprep_backlog.php

On September 30, 2016, near the end of the Obama Administration, the Immigration Court backlog stood at a whopping 516,000! Not good!

But, now let go to Nov. 30, 2017, a period of 14 months later, 10 of these full months under the policies of the Trump Administration. The backlog has mushroomed to a stunning 659,000 cases — a gain of 153,000 in less than two years! And, let’s not forget, that’s with more Immigration Judges on board!

By contrast, during the last two full years of the Obama Administration — September 30, 2014 to September 30, 2016 —  the backlog rose from 408,000 to 516,000. Nothing to write home about — 108,000 — but not nearly as bad as the “Trump era” has been to date!

Those who know me, know that I’m no “fan” of the Obama Administration’s stewardship over the U.S. Immigration Courts. Wrongful and highly politicized “prioritization” of recently arrived children, women, and families from the Northern Triangle resulted in “primo ADR” that sent the system into a tailspin that has only gotten worse. And, the glacial two-year cycle for the hiring of new Immigration Judges was totally inexcusable.

But, the incompetence and disdain for true Due Process by the Trump Administration under Sessions is at a whole new level. It’s clearly “Amateur Night at the Bijou” in what is perhaps the nation’s largest Federal Court system. And, disturbingly, nobody except a few of us “Immigration Court Groupies” seems to care.

So, it looks like we’re going to have to stand by and watch while Sessions “implodes” or “explodes” the system. Then, folks might take notice. Because the collapse of the U.S. Immigration Courts is going to take a big chunk of the Article III Federal Judiciary with it.

Why? Because approximately 80% of the administrative review petitions in the U.S. Courts of Appeals are generated by the BIA. That’s over 10% of the total caseload. And, in Circuits like the 9th Circuit, it’s a much higher percentage.

The U.S. Immigration Judges will continue to be treated like “assembly line workers” and due process will be further short-shrifted in the “pedal faster” atmosphere intentionally created by Sessions and McHenry.  The BIA, in turn, will be pressured to further “rubber stamp” the results as long as they are removal orders. The U.S. Courts of Appeals, and in some cases the U.S. District Courts, are going to be left to clean up the mess created by Sessions & co.

We need an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court with competent, unbiased judicial administration focused on insuring individuals’ Due Process now! We’re ignoring the obvious at our country’s peril!

PWS

01-20-18

 

 

U.S. IMMIGRATION JUDGE RODGER P. HARRIS REPORTEDLY STANDS TALL FOR DUE PROCESS AS NEW COURT SUIT ALLEGES THAT HIS COLLEAGUES ON THE IMMIGRATION BENCH IN CHARLOTTE, N.C. ARE SCOFFLAWS WHO FAIL TO HOLD LEGALLY REQUIRED BOND HEARINGS!

https://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/immigration/b/immigration-law-blog/archive/2018/01/18/lawsuit-challenges-immigration-judges-who-refuse-to-hold-bond-hearings-palacios-v-sessions.aspx?Redirected=true

From LexisNexis Immigration Community online:

“Lawsuit Challenges Immigration Judges Who Refuse to Hold Bond Hearings: Palacios v. Sessions

AIC, Jan. 17, 2018

“The government cannot lock people up without giving them access to prompt bond hearings and an opportunity to show that they should be released for the months or years that it takes to adjudicate their removal cases. This lawsuit challenges the actions of immigration judges in Charlotte, North Carolina who have done just that: refused to conduct bond hearings for people who properly file bond motions with the Charlotte Immigration Court.  The case was filed as a class action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina by the American Immigration Council, the CAIR Coalition, and Cauley Forsythe Law Group.”

Complaint

Brief in Support of Motion for Class Certification”

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Go on over to LexisNexis Immigration Community at the link for the complete story.
Check out paragraph 6 of the Complaint which contrasts the conduct of Judge Harris, who holds bond hearing in accordance with the law and established procedures, and the alleged conduct of his judicial colleagues in Charlotte.
Not surprising to me! Judge Harris was my colleague for years at the U.S. Immigration Court in Arlington Virginia where he had a reputation for scrupulously following the law and providing full due process to all who came before him. Just like a U.S. Immigration Judge is supposed to do.
On the other hand, prior to Judge Harris’s arrival, the Charlotte Immigration Court had a reputation among the private bar, commentators, and the press as a place where due process was often given short shrift, particularly in asylum cases.
Of course, these are merely allegations at this time. We’ll see what happens as the case progresses in Federal District Court.
While Sessions, McHenry, and the “Falls Church Crew” are screwing around with imaginary “goals and timetables’ — untethered to reality in a system with a 660,000 backlog and no real plan for resolving it — these are the real due process problems that are festering in the U.S. Immigration Courts and denying individuals their legal right to due process on a regular basis. Where’s the concern from “on high” with a court system that’s failing in its mission to provide due process to individuals under our Constitution? Obviously, the problem starts with a “Scofflaw Attorney General” who cares more about expediting removals and a White Nationalist immigration enforcement agenda than he does about the Constitution, Due Process, and the integrity of the U.S. Immigration Court system.
We need an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court now!
PWS
01-18-18

 

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.”

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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