WASHINGTON POST: “DEATH PENALTY IN TRAFFIC COURT” — BIG STAKES, LITTLE COURTS, FLAWED PROCEDURES, IMPROPER POLITICAL INFLUENCE, SOME JUDGES WHO FAIL TO PROTECT INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS LEAD TO LIFE-THREATENING ERRORS ON A DAILY BASIS IN OVERWHELMED U.S. IMMIGRATION COURTS. — What If YOU or YOUR Loved Were On Trial In This Godforsaken Corner Of Our Justice System Controlled By Jeff “Gonzo Aocalypto” Sessions!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-mexican-journalists-life-hangs-in-the-balance/2017/12/11/9783ab1a-deac-11e7-8679-a9728984779c_story.html

The WashPost Editorial Board writes:

“As he awaits his fate in a remote Texas jail, Mr. Gutierrez, 54, remains convinced of the peril he faces if deported to his native country. “My life depends on this [appeal],” he said by telephone in a news conference organized Monday by the National Press Club. “I’m terrified to set foot in Mexico.”

The judge who denied asylum in the case, Robert S. Hough, pointed to an absence of documentary and testimonial corroboration of Mr. Gutierrez’s claim. The woman who relayed word of the alleged death threat did not come forward; neither did Mr. Gutierrez’s former boss at the newspaper for which he worked in Chihuahua. Much of Mr. Gutierrez’s case comes down to his word.

Nonetheless, the judge’s cut-and-dried application of the law fails to take into account conditions in Mexico generally and the peril faced there by journalists in particular. It’s not surprising that Mr. Gutierrez cannot recover copies of his articles, written more than a decade ago for a regional newspaper. Nor is it unusual that witnesses are reluctant to come forward, given the fear with which many Mexicans regard the security forces.

As a U.N. report published this month concluded, citing the deaths, disappearances and attacks on dozens of journalists tallied by Mexico’s Human Rights Commission, “The data . . . presents a picture for the situation of journalists in Mexico that cannot be described as other than catastrophic.” Against that background, it seems cavalier to dismiss the threat Mr. Gutierrez faces should he be deported to Mexico. He should be granted asylum.”

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Read the complete Editorial at the link.

Unfortunately, a “cut and dried application of the law” without proper regard to the facts or reality is a disturbingly accurate snapshot of what all too often happens daily in our Immigration Courts, a “wholly owned subsidiary” of the US Department of Justice and part of the “Trump Conglomerate” (formerly known as the US Government).

Our failing US Immigration Court system and its aggravation by AG “Gonzo Apocalypto’s” oft-expressed hostility to immigrants, asylum, the rule of law (except his 1950s “Jim Crow” views on the law and how it should be a tool for injustice and advancing White Nationalism), lawyers, Latinos, Mexicans, and the press has become an almost daily topic for major editorial boards. At least someone (other than me) is watching and documenting as this mockery of American justice unfolds before us.

In particular, too many U.S. Immigration Judges are tone-deaf to Mexican asylum claims, not wanting to be accused of “opening the floodgates” ( a concept that is nowhere to be found in the actual law) and knowing that “Gonzo” wants lots of  “quick removals” rather than asylum grants.  Additionally, the only administrative check on the Immigration Judges’ authority is a weak Appeals Board that never “calls out” overly restrictive Immigration Judges by name and seldom publishes precedents granting asylum. Truly, a prescription for a “Due Process Disaster!”

Judge Hough seems to have forgotten that under the law:

  • ”Corroborating evidence” can only be required if it is “reasonably available;”
  • Testimony may be corroborated by country condition information describing the same abuses that the applicant claims;
  • The standard for granting asylum is a  generous “well-founded fear” or “reasonable likelihood” of future harm which can be “significantly less than probable — as little as a 10% chance can suffice;
  • Asylum applicants are supposed to be given the “benefit of the doubt” in recognition of the evidentiary challenges of providing proof of persecution and the difficulties of relating traumatic events in the past.

It remain to be seen whether the Board of Immigration Appeals, EOIR’s “Appellate Court,” will correct Judge Hough’s life-threatening errors and, further, issue a strong precedent on asylum for foreign journalists (traditionally one of the most vulnerable and persecuted groups) to prevent further miscarriages of Justice such as this. Such a precedent would also discourage the DHS from continuing to abuse our system by pushing for removal (and needless detention) in cases such as this where a grant of asylum at the DHS  Asylum Office or at the hearing following the testimony would be the correct result.

Or, will the next major editorial describe and decry Mr. Gutierrez’s death in Mexico!

In a well-functioning justice system, this case should have been a “Short-docket, No-brainer Grant.” But, Gonzo Apocalypto seeks to use the US Immigration Courts as an extension of DHS enforcement rather than, as they were intended, as Courts guaranteeing fairness, Due Process, and equal justice for all! We need change. Lots of it!

[NOTE: For those interested, Judge Hough apparently has not decided enough asylum cases on the merits in El Paso to be listed on the statistical profile of asylum outcomes maintained by TRAC Immigration.]

PWS

12-12-17

 

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

4th Cir on changed circumstances-1yr

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

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

OPINION BY: Judge Gibney

KEY QUOTE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PWS

12-08-17

 

HON. JEFFREY CHASE DISCUSSES ASYLUM BASED ON FEAR OF HONOR KILLINGS!

https://www.jeffreyschase.com/blog/2017/12/2/honor-killings-and-particular-social-group

Honor Killings and Particular Social Group

The threat of honor killing may form the basis of an asylum claim.  While men may be targeted as well,1 honor killings are a gender-based form of persecution, as the underlying basis is the view in certain societies that a woman’s failure to strictly adhere to a rigid moral code imposed upon her brings such dishonor on her family in the eyes of the community that nothing short of her murder (at the hands of her own family) can restore the family’s “honor.”  The BIA has issued no precedent decisions relating to these types of claims; there are not many published circuit court decisions.  In a recent published decision, Kamar v. Sessions, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the BIA’s incorrect determination that a woman from Jordan who credibly fears an honor killing was not genuinely at risk, and did not show that the government of Jordan was unwilling or unable to protect her.  However, I would like to focus in this article on the particular social group aspects of such claims.

As I have stated in other posts, the BIA established a requirement in its 1985 precedent decision Matter of Acosta that members of a particular social group must share an immutable characteristic.  In a series of later decisions beginning with it’s 2006 precedent  Matter of C-A-, the BIA additionally required cognizable social groups to satisfy its particularity and social distinction requirements.  The former requires that there be a clear benchmark of who is and is not included in the group.  The latter requires that the society in question (i.e. not the persecutors alone) view the members as forming a distinct group.  It is not easy for a group to meet all three of these requirements.

However, I believe that women (and sometimes men) targeted for honor killings must be found to meet all three of these requirements, as they are inextricably built into the social code which gives rise to such horrific actions.  First, being targeted for an honor killing is clearly an immutable characteristic.  The entire reason the society in question requires an act as drastic as murder is that nothing short of eliminating the individual will undo the perceived shame on the family.  There is no lesser form of rehabilitation or restitution available.  Nor will the passage of time or the target’s departure from the society suffice.  USCIS itself states in its own training materials for asylum officers on gender-based persecution that “the family may go to great lengths to pursue women (and men) accused of violating the family’s honor.  Families employ bounty hunters, private detectives and social networks to pursue victims and searches may persist over years.  In cultures with extended family networks over a large geographic area, relocation may offer no real protection.”2  This is the definition of an immutable characteristic.

Additionally, the group satisfies the particularity requirement.  The code giving rise to honor killings (a term which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has called “an oxymoron if we’ve ever heard one”)3 specifies who must be targeted.  In societies in which such killings take place, if a family that adheres to a rigid moral code believes that a female member of the family has behaved in a way that tarnished its reputation to the point that an honor killing is required, the family cannot decide to kill, e.g., the third person that walks down the street, or a more distant relative, or the gardener to achieve the goal of restoring honor.  The code governing such killings is specific as to who must be targeted.

Furthermore, social distinction is a given in such cases, as it is the perception of the society in question itself that is entirely responsible for both the family’s perceived loss of honor and for the “need” to carry out the murder.  It is  the society’s moral code that has been violated by the group member’s behavior; it is the society that has distinguished the violator in a manner that brings shame on her family; and it is the society’s perception that the honor killing is intended to appease.  Therefore, while the asylum officer, immigration judge, or BIA may deny asylum for another reason, if credible, an asylum applicant who fears an honor killing should not be denied based on a failure to meet her burden of establishing membership in a cognizable particular social group.

In order to avoid the Board’s prohibition against the group being defined in a circular manner, it is best not to include the term “honor killing” in the definition of the proposed group itself.  The membership in the group is the reason the person fears persecution.  The definition should therefore generally not include the actual harm feared, because a person is not targeted for an honor killing because they are targeted for an honor killing- this is what the Board terms a circular argument.  However, a person may be targeted for persecution because they are a member of the group consisting of, for example, “women from country X whose behavior is perceived to have brought dishonor on their family by flouting repressive moral norms.”  The honor killing is the type of persecution that the applicant fears as a result of their membership in the group.

Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase.  All rights reserved.

Notes:

1.  On the topic of males targeted for honor killings, see Caitlin Steinke, Male Asylum Applicants Who Fear Becoming the Victims of Honor Killings: The Case for Gender Equality, 17 CUNY L.Rev. 233,(2013).

2.  See USCIS, RAIO Directorate, Combined Training Course, Gender Related Claims Training Module, p. 24 (Rev. 9/26/2011)https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/About%20Us/Directorates%20and%20Program%20Offices/RAIO/Gender%20Related%20Claims%20LP%20%28RAIO%29.pdf.

3.  Sarhan v. Holder, 658 F.3d 649 (7th Cir. 2011).

 

 

 

 

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Jeffrey S. Chase is an immigration lawyer in New York City.  Jeffrey is a former Immigration Judge, senior legal advisor at the Board of Immigration Appeals, and volunteer staff attorney at Human Rights First.  He is a past recipient of AILA’s annual Pro Bono Award, and previously chaired AILA’s Asylum Reform Task Force.

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My recent blog blog on this same case is here:

https://wp.me/p8eeJm-1IB

Instead of being on the wrong side of the law and history here, why hasn’t the BIA taken the lead in issuing a precedent establishing protection under the INA and the Conventions for these vulnerable individuals?

The was a time when the BIA had the courage to stand up for the rights of the oppressed and take a leadership role in recognizing legal protections.  See Matter of Kasinga, 21 I&N Dec. 357 (BIA 1996). Decisions like Kasinga both saved lives and promoted the fair and orderly administration of immigration, refugee, and asylum laws in accordance with Due Process.

Today’s BIA appears more interested in serving as an apologist for the extreme anti-immigrant policies of Jeff Sessions and the Trump Administration and helping the DOJ’s OIL justify legally questionable positions in the U.S. Courts of Appeals than in standing up for the Due Process and statutory rights of migrants. What’s the purpose of a supposedly deliberative body that seldom visibly “deliberates” and all too often fails to perform its SOLE FUNCTION of “guaranteeing fairness and Due Process for all?”

PWS

12-04-17

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

PWS

11-29-17

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

 

HON. JEFFREY CHASE SPEAKS OUT AGAINST EXPEDITED REMOVAL!

Expedited Removal is Not the Answer to the Backlog

With the immigration court backlog at over 600,000 cases and rising, immigration law commentator (and fellow BIA alum) Nolan Rappaport recently suggested that the present administration might view the  increased use of expedited removal as “the only viable alternative” to shrink the swelling tide of cases. My fellow blogger Paul Schmidt has opposed such approach; I wish to join him in adding my arguments as to why the expansion of expedited removal would be unacceptable.

If the criminal court system were to be flooded to the breaking point, the solution could not be to let supervisory police officers decide which defendants might have a reasonable enough chance of being found innocent and get to go to court, and just find the rest guilty without the right to a trial.  However, that is pretty much the premise of expedited removal.  An overwhelming volume of cases cannot be used to justify the stripping away of due process protections.

Our immigration courts have evolved significantly over the decades.  Deportation hearings were once conducted by “special inquiry officers,” who were attorneys working for the INS.  Beginning in 1973, immigration judges began presiding over hearings.  In 1983, those judges were separated from the INS into a separate adjudicatory agency, EOIR.  In 2002, INS was moved into three components within the newly-created DHS, while EOIR remained in the Department of Justice.  The strong motive behind these developments was that the agency charged with enforcement was not suited to serve as a neutral factfinder and decision maker.  Increasing the scale of expedited removal would undo the above progress and return decision-making into the hands of the enforcement branch – the legal equivalent of having the fox guard the hen house.

Immigration judges render decisions independently, with no pressure or influence from their higher-ups.  This is not true of asylum officers.  I had one case years ago in which the asylum officer’s supervisor so adamantly opposed the grant of asylum that the officer had to wait until the supervisor went on vacation, and then had the acting supervisor sign off approving the grant.  I have also heard of an asylum office director pressuring the staff to grant fewer cases in order to bring the office’s grant rate closer to the lower grant rate of another asylum office.  Furthermore, to the extent that those seeking expedited removal are able to obtain counsel in the short time frame provided (and while detained, sometimes in remote settings), asylum officers allow attorneys a greatly reduced role in the process.  In immigration court, the attorney makes legal arguments and objections, questions the respondent, and lays the foundation for documents to be offered into evidence.  Even in full asylum office interviews, attorneys are relegated to sitting in the back row and taking notes.  As the government’s own statistics show that represented asylum seekers are twice as likely to be granted relief, the asylum office’s minimizing of the attorney’s role clearly lessens the asylum seeker’s chance of success.

Expedited removal has really never worked well.  In opposing its implementation in the mid-1990s, myself and other advocates argued that the legal threshold – the newly-created “credible fear” standard – was problematic.  When the 1980 Refugee Act adopted the legal standard of “well-founded fear” for asylum claims, INS interpreted the term to mean “more likely than not;” it took seven years of litigation and a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to correctly define the standard as requiring only a 10 percent chance of persecution.  But expedited removal asked us to trust the same INS to properly interpret the vague new “credible fear” standard, and this time without the right to seek judicial review.  Not surprisingly, so many mistakes were made after the standard was implemented that by mid-1997, the then INS director of asylum instructed asylum officers to simply find all applicants professing a fear of persecution to have met the credible fear standard.  Those who claimed no fear in their countries were summarily removed; INS claimed that the majority of arrivees were in this latter group.

But where they really?  A person arriving in this country only gets a credible fear interview if they indicate to the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer who first encounters them that they fear return to their country.  Two studies conducted over a decade apart by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government entity, found serious problems with the screening process of those arriving but not found admissible to the U.S.  According to USCIRF, some arrivees were never asked whether they feared return; others who were asked and responded in the affirmative had “no” recorded in their statements, which were often not read back to them.  The USCIRF report cited instances in which those wishing to seek asylum were pressured into signing inaccurate statements, or even into retracting their fear claims and withdrawing their applications for admission.

The answer to the immigration court backlog is clearly not to subject more people to the flawed and biased expedited removal system in lieu of  removal hearings.  To my knowledge, every other high volume court employs prosecutorial discretion and stipulated settlements to lessen the case load.  Plea bargains are employed in everything from murder to traffic court cases.  Under the Obama administration, prosecutorial discretion was employed in immigration court and significantly helped prosecutors and judges deal with the caseload.  For unknown reasons, the present administration has ended this useful practice.  DHS attorneys are also being instructed to oppose requests to terminate proceedings made by those wishing to leave the U.S. to attend immigrant visas abroad.  These intending immigrants want to leave the country, and will only be allowed to return legally if they are found by a U.S. consular officer to be qualified and admissible to this country; under the prior administration, termination under these circumstances was readily agreed to by DHS.  At the same time DHS is forcing so many immigrants to unnecessarily remain in removal proceedings, the agency will not put into proceedings those who want to be there in order to apply for certain types of relief that may only be granted by an immigration judge, such as cancellation of removal.  Preventing immigrants from obtaining legal status to which they might be entitled seems suspiciously consistent with the present administration’s desire to stem the pace of naturalization in order to preserve the voting bloc that brought them to office last year.

Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase.  All rights reserved.

 

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Jeffrey S. Chase is an immigration lawyer in New York City.  Jeffrey is a former Immigration Judge, senior legal advisor at the Board of Immigration Appeals, and volunteer staff attorney at Human Rights First.  He is a past recipient of AILA’s annual Pro Bono Award, and previously chaired AILA’s Asylum Reform Task Force.

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Thanks, Jeffrey. Not surprisingly, I agree with everything you are saying!

There are no “silver bullet” solutions to backlogs that have built up over years and are largely the result of Congressional indifference, administrative incompetence, and improper political meddling by the Department of Justice over at least the last three Administrations. This has caused what I have termed “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” (“ADR”). Punishing the innocent “consumers” of services, the immigrants, by depriving them of Due Process is clearly not the answer.

I also agree with Jeffrey that eventually the answer will require:

  • Restoration of a “robust” ICE “PD program” to take off the docket large numbers of cases that don’t really belong in Immigration Court;
  • Far greater efforts by the DHS and USCIS to resolve deserving cases such as adjustment of status, asylum, T visas, U visas, ands SIJ visas favorably internally without resorting to the Immigration Courts;
  • Reduced use of immigration detention, and concerted efforts by the Government to schedule Immigration Court cases in a manner that best insures the reasonable access to pro bono legal services;
  • Realistic immigration reform legislation that will allow the bulk of the approximately 11 million supposedly “undocumented” individuals who have been residing in a productive and law-abiding manner in the U.S. to be granted some type of legal status (preferably with, but if necessary without, a specific path forward to citizenship);
  • Common-sense modifications in existing law to allow individuals who otherwise now qualify for permanent immigration to do so without the “unlawful presence” bar;
  • Restoration of the so-called “section 245(i) program” allowing such individuals to adjust status in the U.S. by paying a substantial “penalty fee;”
  • Substantially more resources for the U.S. Immigration Courts, but distributed in  a measured, professionally competent, and reasonable manner over time.

PWS

11-24-17

 

A DECADE AFTER THE “GEORGETOWN 3” PUBLISHED “REFUGEE ROULETTE” THE PROBLEM OF GROSS DISPARITIES IN ASYLUM ADJUDICATION PERSIST – NEW TRAC STUDY!

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Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Greetings. Very recent data from the Immigration Courts, current through September 2017, reveals that the outcome for asylum seekers continues to depend on the identity of the immigration judge assigned to hear the case. In the San Francisco as well as the Newark Immigration Courts, for example, the odds of being granted asylum during FY 2012 – FY 2017 ranged between a high of 90 percent down to a low of only 3 percent depending upon which immigration judge the asylum seeker was assigned.

The two courts with the largest number of asylum cases, New York and Los Angeles, also had sizable judge-to-judge differences in asylum outcomes. In the New York Immigration Court judge denial rates ranged from a low of 3.0 percent up to a high of 58.5 percent. The disparity in asylum denial rates among the judges on the Los Angeles court ranged from a low of 29.4 percent denied to a high of 97.5 percent.

Immigration judge-to-judge decision disparities have long existed and are well documented. Despite widespread concern about this problem, between 2010 and 2016 judge-to-judge decision disparities actually increased. This year’s report, updated through FY 2017, shows that disparity levels had become more extreme on both the Newark and San Francisco courts. Judge-to-judge differences for the Chicago Immigration Court also increased. The Los Angeles and San Diego courts saw modest improvement.

To view results for the complete list of courts see the full report at:

http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/490/

To view a particular judge’s report, go to:

http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judgereports/

In addition, many of TRAC’s free query tools – which track the court’s overall backlog, new DHS filings, court dispositions and much more – have now been updated through October 2017. For an index to the full list of TRAC’s immigration tools go to:

http://trac.syr.edu/imm/tools/

If you want to be sure to receive notifications whenever updated data become available, sign up at:

http://tracfed.syr.edu/cgi-bin/tracuser.pl?pub=1&list=imm

or follow us on Twitter @tracreports or like us on Facebook:

http://facebook.com/tracreports

TRAC is self-supporting and depends on foundation grants, individual contributions and subscription fees for the funding needed to obtain, analyze and publish the data we collect on the activities of the U.S. federal government. To help support TRAC’s ongoing efforts, go to:

http://trac.syr.edu/cgi-bin/sponsor/sponsor.pl

David Burnham and Susan B. Long, co-directors
Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse
Syracuse University
Suite 360, Newhouse II
Syracuse, NY 13244-2100
315-443-3563

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The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse is a nonpartisan joint research center of the Whitman School of Management (http://whitman.syr.edu) and the Newhouse School of Public Communications (http://newhouse.syr.edu) at Syracuse University. If you know someone who would like to sign up to receive occasional email announcements and press releases, they may go to http://trac.syr.edu and click on the E-mail Alerts link at the bottom of the page. If you do not wish to receive future email announcements and wish to be removed from our list, please send an email to trac@syr.edu with REMOVE as the subject.

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More than a decade ago, three universally respected “scholar litigators,” my good friends and Georgetown Law colleagues Professors Andy Schoenholtz, Phil Schrag, and Jaya Ramirez-Nogales (now at Temple Law) exposed this problem. While there have been some attempts to address it, and results actually appeared to be improving for a time, the problem persists.

Whatever the solution is, I’m sure of what it isn’t: running more cases through the Immigration Court System faster, hiring more Immigration Judges without giving them sufficient training, a weak Appellate Board that won’t speak up for the rights of asylum seekers, and putting “production quotas” on Immigration Judges. 

Haste makes waste” so-called “solutions” only make things worse. Promoting quality decision-making is a more nuanced and painstaking process.

I have no doubt that this system still denies asylum and other forms of legal protection in far too many cases. A more realistic and appropriately generous approach to asylum would force the DHS to grant more of these cases at the Asylum Office and would shorten hearing times for certain types of “clearly grantable” cases.

PWS

11-20-17

 

 

US IMMIGRATION COURTS MAKE DEADLY MISTAKES: 6th CIRCUIT STOPS BIA, IJ, DHS FROM APPLYING WRONG STANDARDS TO SEND JORDANIAN WOMAN BACK TO TORTURE AND HONOR KILLING! — KAMAR V. SESSIONS, 6th CIR., PUBLISHED — While Sessions Babbles On With False Anti-Asylum Narrative & Bogus Need To Deport Law-Abiding Long-Time US Residents, He Administers a “Court System” That Denies Constitutional Due Process & Ignores Correct Legal Standards In Life Or Death Cases!

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Kamar v. Sessions, 11-17-17, published

PANEL: MERRITT, MOORE, ROGERS, CIRCUIT JUDGES

OPINION: JUDGE MERRITT

KEY QUOTES:

“We now address, under the substantial evidence standard, the question of whether Kamar will be persecuted by threat of death if she returns to Jordan, which is relevant to both withholding under the Act and relief under the Convention. Kamar testified at the merits hearing that her cousins, specifically Alias, want to restore their family’s honor by killing her, and her sister confirmed this. She knows this because of letters she received and communications with family and friends. The Board expressly found Kamar to be credible. On remand, the IJ concluded the letter from Alias was not credible and did not facially threaten Kamar. The IJ reasoned that even if it was credible, there was no indication that Alias knew that Kamar had gotten married and might not want to kill her anymore. The IJ found that the intent to kill Kamar was expressed only through an “ambiguous” comment in the letter from Kamar’s mother. The Board agreed that Kamar did not establish that her fear of persecution was objectively reasonable. The probability of harm occurring in these cases is an inference based on facts in the record. Considering the evidence, it is hard to reconcile these findings with the Board’s conclusion that even if Kamar had a subjective fear of persecution, this fear was not objectively reasonable. There is nothing to cast doubt on Kamar’s testimony. Even if the letter from Alias is not considered, the letter from Kamar’s mother states that Alias wishes to kill Kamar even if it is his last act on earth, and credible testimony confirms this. Nothing indicates that Alias does not still intend to carry out the honor killing. Both Kamar and her sister testified that it did not matter that Kamar married her second husband because Alias knows that she had sexual relations outside of marriage and believes that she committed adultery. The record overwhelming supports the finding that she will be persecuted if she returns.

Finally, we consider whether the Jordanian government would be “unwilling or unable” to protect Kamar from harm. In the country reports in the record, it has been established that governors in Jordan routinely abuse the law and use imprisonment to protect potential victims of honor crimes. These victims are not released from imprisonment unless the local governor consents, the victim’s family guarantees the victim’s safety, and the victim consents. One non-governmental organization has provided a temporary, unofficial shelter as an alternative.

On the other hand, successful perpetrators of honor killings typically get their sentences greatly reduced. Additionally, if the victim’s family, who is usually the family of the alleged perpetrator as well, does not bring the charges, the government dismisses the case. See also Sarhan, 658 F.3d at 657 (“After reviewing the evidence of the Jordanian government’s treatment of honor crimes, we conclude that . . . the government is ineffective when it comes to providing protection to women whose behavior places them in the group who are threatened with honor killings.”).

The Board’s decision outlined the Jordanian government’s efforts to combat honor crimes, including placing potential victims in “protective custody.” As the Ninth Circuit concluded in an analogous case, “This observation omits the fact that such protective custody is involuntary, and often involves extended incarceration in jail.” Suradi v. Sessions, No. 14-71463, 2017 WL 2992234, at *2 (9th Cir. July 14, 2017). While victim protection is necessary, incarceration is an insufficient solution. This practice is akin to persecuting the victim as she “must choose between death and an indefinite prison term.” Sarhan, 658 F.3d at 659. Further, nothing in the record suggests that the country conditions in Jordan have changed such that the government will be able to adequately protect Kamar from being killed. This showing satisfies both of the standards for finding governmental action for purposes of withholding of removal under the Act and also those for protection under the Convention, as it amounts to “pain or suffering” that is inflicted with the acquiescence of a public official or a person acting in an official capacity.

We do not address whether Kamar can safely relocate to escape persecution, which is also relevant to withholding of removal and protection under the Convention. The Board did not mention relocation, and the parties’ briefs do not address the issue. Like the particular social group inquiry, the issue of safe relocation must be addressed in the first instance by the Board. Gonzales v. Thomas, supra.

Substantial evidence does not support the Board’s refusal to find that Kamar will probably be persecuted if she is returned to Jordan, due to her membership in the particular social group we discussed, or that the Jordanian government can or will do nothing to help her. The Board’s decision with regard to those issues is reversed.

. . . .

The Seventh Circuit has found that the Jordanian government’s “solution” to protect honor killing victims is actually a form of punishing the victims of these crimes amounting to mental “pain or suffering,” which is “inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” 8 C.F.R. § 208.18(a)(1); see Sarhan, 658 F.3d at 659. Taking into account our reasoning and findings above on the factors relating to both withholding of removal under the Act and protection under the Convention, we agree that “[d]espite the contrary conclusion of the Immigration Judge and the Board, the record here also compels the conclusion that the government of Jordan acquiesces to honor killings.” Suradi, 2017 WL 2992234, at *1.

Given the likelihood that Kamar would be subject to involuntary imprisonment at the hands of the Jordanian authorities, resulting in mental pain and suffering, the Board erred in concluding that Kamar failed to establish that it was more likely than not that she would be tortured upon removal to Jordan. We grant the petition with respect to the Board’s reasoning under the Convention.“

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This should have been an easy withholding grant by the Immigration Judge. Indeed, the 6th Circuit characterized the evidence of persecution as “overwhelming.”

Instead the BIA and the Immigration Judge spent literally years passing the case back and forth and still got it wrong! No wonder the system is backlogged when judges at both the trial and appellate levels get the law requiring protection wrong time after time! How would an unrepresented individual have any chance of vindicating her rights in a system this complicated and screwed up! Skewing the system as this Administration has done to make it more difficult for individuals to get effective representation is a direct attack on due process.

Instead of making a conscientious effort to fix this system to provide due process, Sessions’s clear xenophobia and his anti-immigrant, anti-refugee rants encourage  Immigration Judges and BIA Appellate Judges to treat asylum applicants unfairly and misapply the law to deny protection.

There will be no true due process and justice for migrants until the politicized DOJ and this highly biased Attorney General are removed from control of our US Immigration Court system! How would YOU like to be on trial for your life in a court system controlled by Jeff Sessions?

PWS

11-18-17

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?”

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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

JOE PATRICE @ ABOVE THE LAW: WE NOW HAVE “SCIENTIFIC PROOF” THAT IMMIGRATION LAWYERS ARE “INCREDIBLY USEFUL” — IN FACT, THEY ARE ESSENTIAL TO DUE PROCESS — So, Why Are Sessions & His Minions Smearing Lawyers & Trying To Railroad More Migrants Through The System Without Fair Hearings?

We Have Scientific Proof That Lawyers Are Incredibly Useful

Patrice writes:

“So instead of fighting whether or not the feds can order cops to bust up the local Motel 6, cities can just hire some lawyers.

This is the lie of every talking head that praises building a wall but adds, with all faux sincerity, that they have “no problem with legal immigrants.” Almost half of the people shuttled through assembly line deportation hearings actually fit within legal immigration protections, but the complexity of the system — not to mention language barriers — make them victims of the bureaucracy.

If that projection is correct, NYIFUP cases result in immigrant victories 48 percent of the time. As Oren Root, director of the Vera Institute’s Center for Immigration and Justice, puts it, that means that of every 12 immigrants who are winning at Varick Street right now, 11 would have been deported without a lawyer.

That finding challenges a widely held assumption about immigration court: that most immigrants who go through it don’t qualify for the types of protection that Congress has laid out for particularly compelling cases. The Vera finding implies that, in fact, many immigrants do deserve relief as Congress and the executive branch have established it — but that hundreds of thousands of them have been deported without getting the chance to pursue those claims.

New York’s program has inspired 12 more cities to adopt the program. It’s put up or shut up time for the Department of Justice — if they’re really committed to proving some undocumented migrant is in violation of the law, then stand up and make that case in court.

Against a real attorney.

Unless they’re chicken.”

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Read the complete article at the link. I have previously reported on the VOX News Article and the Vera study.

I think Patrice has hit the nail on the head. Sessions, Miller, Bannon and the White Nationalist crowd are biased bullies picking on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Like all bullies, they have absolutely no desire to compete fairly on a level playing field.

The Vera report confirms what many of us involved in the field have been saying for years: a significant portion of those going through Immigration Court, probably 50% or more are entitled to be in the US. Without lawyers, such individuals have little or no chance of making and succeeding on claims that would allow them to stay. Since at least one-third of individuals (and a much higher percentage of detained individuals) are unrepresented, we are unlawfully removing tens of thousands of individuals each year, in violation of due process. And nothing aggravates this unfairness more than unnecessary detention (in other words, the majority of immigration detention which involves individuals who are not criminals, security threats, or threats to abscond if they are represented and understand the system).

A competent and conscientious Attoyney General would work cooperatively with private bar groups, NGOs, and localities to solve the representation crisis and drastically reduce the use of expensive and inhumane immigration detention. But, Sessions is moving in exactly the opposite direction, in violation of constitutional principles of due process, practical efficiency, and basic human decency.

PWS

11-13-17

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

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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

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

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

Dara Lind reports for VOX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Read Dara’s full article at the link.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PWS

11-10-17

SURPRISE: TO DATE, JEFF SESSIONS IS APPOINTING A MORE DIVERSE AND BALANCED IMMIGRATION JUDICIARY!

https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/pages/attachments/2017/11/06/ijinvestitures_11062017.pdf

In what I would consider a pleasant surprise, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to be appointing a more diverse and balanced group of U.S. Immigration Judges than his immediate predecessors.

As shown at the above link to the latest official announcement of judicial appointments, five of the seven newly appointed U.S. Immigration Judges reflect expertise developed outside the prosecutorial role. This is at least the second group of Sessions’s appointees to reflect such a diversity of backgrounds.

By contract, the Obama Administration drew nearly 90% of its appointees to the Immigration Bench from government prosecutorial backgrounds. Prosecutors of course should be a significant source of judicial appointments. But, they should not be the “sole source” as was the case prior to the creation of EOIR and a situation EOIR was returning to during the Bush and Obama Administrations.

A well-qualified, well-balanced, diverse Immigration Bench can only help the Immigration Courts in achieving Due Process. It also creates a positive and intellectually stimulating environment for the individual judges. I always learned something from my colleagues whose experiences and approaches differed from mine. Sometimes it spurred me to rethink an approach or position. Other times my reexamination convinced me I was on the right track. Either way, looking at other ways of analyzing common problems is good for sitting judges.

Congrats to all of the new Immigration Judges! And, congrats to Attorney General Sessions for looking beyond “the usual suspects” for folks who bring a variety of professional  backgrounds and experiences to the Immigration Bench!

PWS

11-08-17

 

DOUBT THAT THERE IS ANTI-ASYLUM BIAS IN THE STEWART (DETENTION CENTER) IMMIGRATION COURT? — Read This Outrageously Wrong IJ Decision (Fortunately) Reversed By The BIA!

Go on over to Dan Kowalski at LexisNexis Immigration Community to read this outrageous abuse of justice by a U.S. Immigration Judge!

Matter of K-D-H-, unpublished (BIA 10-05-17)

Here’s the link:

https://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/immigration/b/immigration-law-blog/archive/2017/11/03/unpub-bia-asylum-victory-somalia-matter-of-k-d-h-oct-5-2017.aspx?Redirected=true

The BIA Panel that got this one right was:

Chairman/Chief Appellate Judge David Neal

Appellate Immigration Judge John Guendelsberger

Appellate Immigration Judge Molly Kendall Clark

OPINION BY: Judge Kendall Clark

Interestingly, this panel configuration seldom, if ever, appears in BIA precedent decisions. Nor are these Judges recorded as dissenting or commenting upon the BIA’s generally anti-asylum precedents, some of which almost mock the BIA’s leading precedent on the generous nature of asylum law following the Supreme Court’s decision in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca: Matter of Mogharrbi, 19 I&N Dec. 439 (BIA 1987).

So, why are the Appellate Immigration Judges who appear to have a good understanding of asylum law that is much more in line with the Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and the BIA’s own pre-2003 precedents “buried in obscurity?” Meanwhile, those Appellate Immigration Judges who evince a lack of  understanding of asylum law, the realities of being asylum applicants in the “purposely user unfriendly” Immigration Courts, or any visible sympathy for the plight of asylum seekers (even those who are denied under our overly technical legal standards often face life threatening situations upon return — some actually die — we just choose not to take the necessary steps to protect them) seem to be among the “featured” in BIA precedents? Do all of the BIA Judges really agree with every precedent. If not, why aren’t we seeing some public dialogue, debate, and dissent, as with every other collegial, deliberative court in America? What’s the purpose and value of a “deliberative court” that almost never engages in any public deliberation (about some of the most difficult and complex questions facing our nation)? Where’s the accountability if all BIA Appellate Judges are not recording their votes on published precedents?

As you read the BIA decision and the decision below of Judge Randall Duncan of the Stewart Immigration Court here are a few questions you might keep in mind:

  • Why doesn’t Judge Duncan cite any actual cases?  (He refers to “the Eleventh Circuit” with no specific citations.)
  • Why didn’t Judge Duncan follow (or even discuss) either the BIA’s precedent in Matter of O-Z- & I-Z-, 23 I&N Dec. 22 (BIA 1998) or the Eleventh Circuit precedent in De Santamaria v, U.S. Att’y Gen., 525 F.3d 999, 1008 (11th Cir. 2008) both of which discuss “cumulative harm” and would inescapably have led to the conclusion that this respondent suffered past persecution?
  • Why isn’t this a published precedent in light of Judge Duncan’s clear misunderstanding of the applicable asylum law and because of the notorious reputation of the Atlanta-Stewart Immigration Courts as an “asylum free zone.”
  • Why did Judge Duncan, a relatively new Immigration Judge (Nov. 2016), attempt to dispose of this case with an obviously inadequate “Oral Decision.”
  • What kind of asylum training did Judge Duncan get?
  • What would have happened if this individual had been unrepresented (as many asylum applicants are at Stewart)?
  • What steps have the DOJ and EOIR taken to improve the poor substantive performance of some Immigration Judges who ignore applicable legal standards and deny far too many asylum cases?
  • What will Jeff Sessions’s “more untrained Immigration Judges peddling even faster” do to due process and justice in a court system that is currently failing to achieve fairness and due process in too many cases?

Taking a broken system and trying to expand it and make it run faster is simply going to produce more unfair and unjust results. In other words, it would be “insanely stupid.” The Immigration Court system has some serious quality of decision-making, bias, consistency, and due process issues that must be solved before the system can be expanded. Otherwise, the system will be institutionalizing “bad practices” rather than the “best practices.”

PWS

11-06-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DOJ PLANS TO CUT U.S. IMMIGRATION COURT BACKLOG IN HALF BY 2020 — CONTINUES TO PRESS BOGUS CLAIM THAT BACKLOGS DRIVEN BY PRIVATE ATTORNEYS — THE TRUTH: BACKLOGS DRIVEN PRIMARILY BY POOR DECISIONS BY CONGRESS (E.G., USG SHUTDOWN) & “AIMLESS DOCKET RESHUFFLING” BY THE DOJ OVER THE PAST THREE ADMINISTRATIONS, INCLUDING THIS ONE!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration/doj-details-plan-to-slash-immigration-court-backlog/2017/11/03/03fcef34-c0a0-11e7-959c-fe2b598d8c00_story.html

Maria Sacchetti reports in the Washington Post:

“The Department of Justice said Friday it is aiming to slash the massive immigration court backlog in half by 2020 by adding judges, upgrading technology and refusing to tolerate repeated delays in deportation cases.

Officials, who briefed reporters on condition that they not be identified by name, said the effort is part of the Trump administration’s broad plan to more efficiently handle cases of undocumented immigrants, who number 11 million nationwide.

The administration has reversed Obama-era policies that allowed prosecutors to indefinitely postpone low-priority cases, which the Justice Department officials said allowed some immigrants to delay “inevitable” deportations. In other cases, they said, immigrants who deserved to win their cases were delayed for years because of the backlog.

The immigration court backlog has tripled since 2009, the year former president Obama took office, to more than 630,000 cases in October.

“That is what this administration is committed to, getting this done right, ensuring that we’re never in this place again,” a Justice Department official said. “Really and truly, when you look at the numbers . . . it reflects the fact that the last administration likely wasn’t as committed to ensuring that the system worked the way that Congress intended it to.”

The agency, which oversees the administrative immigration courts, said it plans to hire new immigration judges, use technology such as videoconferencing, and increase judges’ productivity by setting case-completion guidelines, though officials would not give details.

The department also will have a “no dark courtrooms” policy, the officials said, explaining that there are at least 100 courtrooms nationwide that are empty every Friday because of judges’ alternate work schedules. The Justice Department is tapping retired judges to fill those courts.

The immigration court overhaul comes as the Trump administration is carrying out policies that could generate even more cases in coming months. Arrests and deportations from the interior of the United States are rising sharply, and the Trump administration has ended Obama-era protections for some undocumented immigrants, including 690,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.

By Monday, the Trump administration is also expected to say if it will renew temporary protected status for thousands of longtime immigrants from Honduras and Nicaragua whose permits expire next year.

The Justice Department officials said they are no longer widely using certain protections for undocumented immigrants, including a tool known as prosecutorial discretion that allowed the government to set aside low-priority deportation cases.

DOJ officials criticized immigration lawyers, saying they “have purposely used tactics designed to delay” immigration cases. As of 2012, the officials said, there were an average of four continuances for each case before the court.

Gregory Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the administration’s plan to cut the backlog would “undermine judicial independence” in the immigration courts.

“This administration has been extremely hostile toward the judiciary and the independence of immigration judges, as well as other judges,” Chen said.

Speeding up cases depends partly on congressional funding. It also rests partly on the actions of immigration judges, who have expressed concerns about due process for immigrants, many of whom are facing deportation to some of the world’s most violent countries. Immigrants are not entitled to a government-appointed lawyer in these courts and often handle cases on their own.

The Justice officials would not comment on reports that they will impose case-completion quotas on judges, which raised an outcry from the judges’ union. But the officials said they would give judges clear standards to complete cases and add more supervisors.

Officials say they are already seeing results from efforts this year to improve efficiency. From February to September, judges ordered 78,767 people to leave the country, a 33 percent jump over the same period in 2016. The total number of final decisions, which includes some immigrants who won their cases, is 100,921.”

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

THE GOOD:

  • Using retired U.S. Immigration Judges to fill in while Immigration Judges are on leave or otherwise scheduled to be out of court is a good idea. Indeed, the National Association of Immigration Judges (“NAIJ”) has been pushing this idea since the Clinton Administration with no results until now. Additionally, finally taking advantage of the available “Phased Retirement Options” for the the many Immigration Judges nearing retirement could also be helpful.
  • Over time, hiring additional Immigration Judges could be helpful, at least in theory. But, that depends on whether the hiring is done on a merit basis, the new judges are properly trained, and they have the space, equipment, and support staff to function. The DOJ/EOIR’s past record on accomplishing such initiatives has been beyond abysmal. So, it’s just as likely that additional hiring will harm the Immigraton Courts’ functioning as it is that it will help.

THE BAD:

  • “Productivity standards” are totally inappropriate for an independent judiciary. They are almost certain to infringe on due process by turning judges into “assembly line workers.”  Moreover, if hiring is done properly, judges should be self-motivated professionals who don’t need “Micky Mouse performance evaluations” to function. While it might be helpful to have some “periodic peer review” involving input from those appearing before the courts and judges of courts reviewing the judges’ work, such as takes place in some other independent judicial systems, that clearly isn’t they type of system this Administration has in mind.
  • More use of Televideo is problematic. In person hearings are definitely better for delivering due process. The EOIR Televideo equipment tends to be marginal from a technology standpoint. “Pushing the envelope” on Televideo could well force the Article IIIs to finally face up and hold at least some applications of this process unconstitutional.
  • More “Supervisory Judges” are totally unnecessary and a waste of resources. In the “EOIR World,” Supervisory Judges often don’t hear cases. Moreover, as noted previously, professional judges need little, if any, real “supervision.” The system might benefit from having local Chief Judges (“first among equals”), like in other independent judicial systems, who can address administrative issues with the Court Administrator and the public, But, judges don’t need supervision unless the wrong individuals are being selected as judges. And, as in the U.S. District Courts, local Chief Judges should carry meaningful case loads.
  • Every other court system in the U.S., particularly the U.S. District Courts, rely on heavy doses of “Prosecutorial Discretion” (“PD”) by government prosecutors to operate. By eliminating PD from the DHS Chief Counsels, then touting their misguided actions, this Administration has  guaranteed the ultimate failure of any backlog reduction plan. Moreover, this stupid action reduces the status of the DHS Assistant Chief Counsels. There is no other system I’m aware of where the enforcement officials (“the cops”) rather than professional prosecutors make the decisions as to which cases to prosecute. PD and sensible use of always limited docket time is part of the solution, not the problem, in the Immigration Courts.

THE UGLY:

  • The DOJ and EOIR continue to perpetuate the myth that private attorneys are responsible for the backlogs. No, the backlogs are primarily the result of Congressional negligence multiplied by improper politically motived docket manipulation and reschuffling to meet DHS enforcement priorities by the last three Administrations, including this one! This Administration was responsible for unnecessarily “Dark Courtrooms” earlier this year in New York and other heavily backlogged Immigration Courts.
  • Although not highlighted in this article, EOIR Acting Director James McHenry recently admitted during Congressional testimony that EOIR has been working on e-filing for 16 years without achieving any results! Thats incredible! McHenry promised a “Pilot Program” in 2018 with no telling when the system will actually be operational. And DOJ/EOIR has a well-established record of problematic and highly disruptive “technology rollouts.”

THE INCREDIBLE:

  • As usual, the DOJ/EOIR “numbers” don’t add up. EOIR “touts” compleating approximately 100,000 cases in the 7-month period ending on August 31, 2017. That’s on a pace to complete fewer than 200,000 cases for a fiscal year. But, EOIR receives an average of at least 300,000 new cases each year (even without some of the “Gonzo” Enforcement by the Trump DHS).  So, EOIR would have to “pick up the pace” considerably just to keep the backlogs from growing (something EOIR hasn’t done since before 2012). Not surprisingly, TRAC and others show continually increasing backlogs despite having more judges on board. To cut the backlog from 640,000 to 320,000 (50%) by 2020, the courts would have to produce an additional 160,000 annual completions in 2018 and 2019! That, in turn, would require completing a total of at least 460,000 cases in each of those years. That’s an increase of 230% over the rate touted by DOJ/EOIR in the Post article. Not going to happen, particularly since we’re already more than one month into FY 2018 and Congress has yet to authorize or appropriate the additional resources the DOJ wants!

WHAT’S CLEAR:

  • The DOJ hocus pocus, fake numbers, unrealistic plans, political scheming, cover-ups, blame shifting, and gross mismanagement of the U.S. Immigration Courts must end!
  • Unless and until Congress creates an independent, professionally managed Article I Immigration Court, any additional resources thrown into the current Circus being presided over by Jeff Sessions’s DOJ would be wasted.

PWS

11-04-17