WHEN DEPORTATION IS A DEATH SENTENCE!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/09/21/he-said-deportation-would-kill-him-his-body-was-found-in-mexico-this-week/

Kyle Swenson writes in the Washington Post:

“Juan Coronilla-Guerrero promised deportation to Mexico would kill him and it did.

On Sept. 12, four armed men burst into a house in San Luis de la Paz in central Mexico looking for the 28-year-old married father. The gunmen went to the bedroom where Coronilla-Guerrero was sleeping with his young son, jammed a pistol to his temple and took him away. “Don’t worry, my love. Don’t worry,” he told his son before disappearing, according to an account in the Austin American-Statesman.

“I knew that if he came back here, they were going to kill him,” Coronilla-Guerrero’s wife told the paper. “That’s what happened.”

Coronilla-Guerrero’s body was found last week on the side of a road 40 minutes away from the house where he had been staying in Central Mexico. The death occurred three months after Coronilla-Guerrero and his family begged a federal judge not to catapult him back over the border for fear of the Mexican gangs they had illegally crossed the border to flee in the first place.

Coronilla-Guerrero’s warnings had apparently been well-founded — his wife (who has not used her first name publicly for safety reasons) — has indicated she believes a gang was responsible for the killing. The violence now serves as a grim reminder of the life facing some immigrants after they’ve been taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody and worked through the immigration courts.

 

The case raised alarms from the start. On March 3, Coronilla-Guerrero was arrested at the Travis County Courthouse. He was in the building to face two misdemeanor charges — marijuana possession and family violence. Although he had already been arrested and deported in 2008, Coronilla-Guerrero made the appearance to address the charges; both he and his wife said the family violence charge was a misunderstanding and Coronilla-Guerrero had not abused his wife.

“He wanted to do the right thing and he appeared at his second court date,” Coronilla-Guerrero’s wife told the Austin American-Statesman. “When he was leaving, immigration agents were waiting for him and took him. He didn’t even get to say goodbye to me, or to his son, because now we don’t even know where he is going to be.”

The arrest, however, triggered larger concerns. In the wake of President Trump’s increased emphasis on immigration control and promises to build a border wall with Mexico, many observers were worried ICE agents would use the criminal justice system as a fishing ground for undocumented defendants. At the time of the arrest, KVUE reported it was the first time federal immigration agents had made an arrest at the courthouse.

 

“It struck me as extraordinary,” Daniel Betts, Coronilla-Guerrero’s attorney, told the station.

Following his deportation, Coronilla-Guerrero went to live with his wife’s family in San Luis de la Paz while his wife stayed in Texas. Following his death, she returned to Mexico. Local authorities reportedly have not released any information on the death.”

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As my friend and former colleague Judge Dana Leigh Marks says, “like trying death penalty cases in traffic court.” We need an independent Article I Immigraton Court to inbsure that the DHS and Sessions (the “real” head of DHS Enforcement) comply with the law and due process!

The stakes are far too high to be entrusted to an administrative court held captive by Jeff Sessions!

PWS

 

MUST SEE TV FROM PBS: Judge Dana Leigh Marks Explains The Dire Backlogs In U.S. Immigration Courts & Why They Are Becoming Worse Every Day!

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/dire-immigration-court-backlog-affects-lives/

Click the above link to see John Yang of PBS interview United States Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks of the U.S. Immigration Court in San Francisco, speaking in her capacity as President of the National Association of Immigration Judges (“NAIJ”).

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a “retiree member” of the NAIJ.

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As this interview shows, this problem has been building steadily under the past three Administrations. However, the “gonzo enforcement” policies of the Trump Administration, combined with “ADR” (“Aimless Docket Reschuffling”) caused by poorly planned, and in many cases unneeded, details of Immigration Judges from backlogged “home dockets” to obscure detention centers along the Southern Border in response to Trump’s Executive Orders on enforcement, made worse by constant threats to mindlessly throw DACA individuals and TPS holders into the already overwhelmed system have greatly and unnecessarily aggravated an already bad situation.

Judge Marks points out that nearly 40% of the current U.S. Immigration Judiciary, including all of the most experienced judges, are eligible or nearly eligible to retire. That would mean a whopping 140 new Immigration Judge hires in a short period of time in addition to filling the current approximately 50 vacancies and any other positions that might become available. That adds up to approximately 200 new judicial vacancies, not counting any additional positions that Congress might provide.

No Administration has been able to competently hire that many new judges using a proper merit selection process. Indeed, the last Administration, using a system that could hardly be viewed as ”merit based,” took an astounding average of nearly two years to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Immigration Court! That’s amazing considering that these are administrative judges who do not require Senate confirmation.

The total unsuitability of the U.S. Justice Department to be administering the U.S. Immigration Courts has been demonstrated not only in terns of misuse of the courts for politicized law enforcement objectives, but also in terms of poor planning and stunningly incompetent judicial administration.

We need an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court, and we need it now!

PWS

09-20-17

 

 

“JRUBE” IN WASHPOST: DEPT OF IN–JUSTICE: Under “Gonzo Apocalypto” White Nationalist, Xenophobic, Homophobic Political Agenda Replaces “Rule Of Law” — Latest DOJ Litigation Positions Fail “Straight Face” Test: “making up rules willy-nilly so as to show its rabid xenophobic base it is adhering to its promise of racial and ethnic exclusion!” — Read My “Mini-Essay” On How Advocates and U.S. Courts Could Restore Justice & Due Process To Our Broken U.S. Immigration Courts!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2017/09/08/trump-is-getting-rotten-legal-advice-and-once-again-it-shows/?utm_term=.e34528c36b2c

Jennifer Rubin writes in “Right Turn” in the Washington Post:

“The 9th Circuit gave the back of the hand to the argument that the Trump administration could borrow a definition from another section of the immigration statute to exclude grandmothers. The Supreme Court had used mothers-in-law as an example of a close familial relationship it wanted to protect. The 9th Circuit judges wrote: “Plaintiffs correctly point out that the familial relationships the Government seeks to bar from entry are within the same ‘degree of kinship’ as a mother-in-law.” It’s hard to make a case that grandmothers would not qualify. It does not appear that the government even made a good-faith effort to apply the Supreme Court’s direction.

On one level, it’s shocking that a Republican administration that is supposed to be a defender of “family values” would take such a miserly position. But, of course, family values are of little consequence to an administration that is more than willing to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, auguring for the breakup of intimate family relations (e.g., one sibling gets deported but American-born siblings remain).

The 9th Circuit also looked at the administration’s argument that a refugee with a formal assurance of settlement lacks a bona fide relationship with some entity or individual in the United States. The court set out the laborious screening process refugees undertake (making a mockery of the notion these people are a security threat) and noted that after all those steps are completed the refugee gets a sponsorship assurance “from one of nine private non-profit organizations, known as resettlement agencies.” The 9th Circuit held: “The Government contends that a formal assurance does not create a bona fide relationship between a resettlement agency and a refugee, and stresses that ‘[t]he assurance is not an agreement between the resettlement agency and the refugee; rather, it is an agreement between the agency and the federal government.’ But the Supreme Court’s stay decision specifies that a qualifying relationship is one that is ‘formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading [the Executive Order].”’”

Again, one cannot help but come away with the impression that the government is throwing up every half-baked idea it can find to limit the number of people entering the country, regardless of the national security risk or the hardship its action inflicts. The Trump administration is plainly reasoning backward — deny as many people as possible admittance and then think up a reason to justify its position.

In its fixation with keeping as many immigrants out of the United States as possible, the Trump administration cannot claim to merely be following the dictates of the law. (Gosh it’s out of our hands — “Dreamers” and grandmas have to go!) It is making up rules willy-nilly so as to show its rabid xenophobic base it is adhering to its promise of racial and ethnic exclusion. It’s hard to believe seasoned career Justice Department lawyers agree with these arguments. In its oversight hearings Congress should start grilling Attorney General Jeff Sessions as to how he comes up with his cockamamie legal arguments and whether political appointees are running roughshod over career DOJ lawyers.

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Read Rubin’s full article at the link.

Mini-Essay:

TIME FOR ACTION ON THE BROKEN U.S. IMMIGRATION COURTS — IF CONGRESS WON’T ACT, THE FEDERAL COURTS MUST

By

Paul Wickham Schmidt

United States Immigration Judge (Retired)

If nothing else, the Trump Administration has given me a new appreciation for the Post’s “JRube.” She certainly has “dialed up” Gonzo’s number and exposed what’s behind his pompous, disingenuous misuse of the term “rule of law.”

No chance that a GOP Senate with Chuck Grassley as Judiciary Chair is going to hold Gonzo accountable for his daily perversions of “justice.” But, at some point, Federal Courts could begin sanctioning DOJ lawyers for willful misrepresentations (the Hawaii arguments before the 9th contained several) and frivolous positions in litigation. It’s possible that some DOJ lawyers all the way up to Gonzo himself could be referred by Federal Judges to state bar authorities for a look at whether their multiple violations of ethical standards should result suspension of their law licenses.

Another thought kicking around inside my head is that Gonzo’s actions and his public statements are starting to make a plausible case for a due process challenge to the continued operation of the U.S. Immigration Courts.

As with school desegregation, prison reform, and voting rights, a Federal Court could find systematic bias and failure to protect due process. That could result in something like 1) a requirement that the DOJ submit a “due process restoration” plan to the court for approval, or 2) the court appointment of an independent “judicial monitor” to run the courts in a fair and unbiased manner consistent with due process, or 3) the Federal Courts could take over supervision of the US Immigration Courts pending the creation of an Article I (or Article III) replacement.

High on the list of constitutionally-required reforms would be ending the location of courts within DHS detention facilities. All courts should be located in areas where adequate pro bono counsel is reasonably available and accessible. Immigration Courts should be located outside of DHS facilities in buildings accessible to the public with reasonable security requirements. Immigration Judges must be required to continue cases until pro bono counsel can be retained. Alternatively, the Government could provide for appointed counsel. 

Another obvious due process reform would be to strip the Attorney General of his (conflict of interest) authority to establish or review precedents and operating procedures for the U.S.  Immigration Courts. Along with that, the DHS should be given an equal right to appeal adverse BIA appellate decisions to the Courts of Appeals (rather than seeking relief from the AG — clearly an interested party in relation to immigration enforcement).

There also should be an immediate end to the appointment and supervision of U.S. Immigration Judges by the politically-biased AG. U.S. Immigration Judges and BIA Appellate Immigration Judges should be appointed on a strict merit basis by either an independent judicial monitor or by the U.S. Courts of Appeals until Congress enacts statutory reforms.

The current U.S. Immigration Court system mocks justice in the same way that Jeff “Gonzo Apocalypto” Sessions mocks it almost every day. There might be no practical way to legally remove Gonzo at present, but the Federal Courts could step in to force the U.S. Immigration Courts to undertake due process reforms. The current situation is unacceptable from a constitutional due process standpoint. Something has to change for the better!

PWS

09-09-17\

U.S. IMMIGRATION COURTS: Judge Lawrence O. “Burmanator” Burman (SOLELY In His NAIJ Officer Capacity) Gives Rare Peek Inside U.S. Immigration Courts’ Disaster Zone From A Sitting Trial Judge Who “Tells It Like It Is!”

Judge Burman appeared at a panel discussion at the Center for Immigration Studies (“CIS”). CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian; Hon. Andrew Arthur, former U.S. Immigration Judge and CIS Resident Fellow; and former DOJ Civil Rights Division Official Hans von Spakovsky, currently Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation were also on the panel entitled “Immigration Court Backlog Causes and Solutions” held at the National Press Club on Aug. 24, 2017.  Here’s a complete transcript furnished by CIS (with thanks to Nolan Rappaport who forwarded it to me).

Here’s the “meat” of Judge Burman’s remarks:

“First, the disclaimer, which is important so I don’t get fired. I’m speaking for the National Association of Immigration Judges, of which I am an elected officer. My opinions expressed will be my own opinions, informed by many discussions with our members in all parts of the country. I am not speaking on behalf of the Department of Justice, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the chief judge, or anybody else in the government. That’s important.

What is the NAIJ, the National Association of Immigration Judges? We’re a strictly nonpartisan organization whose focus is fairness, due process, transparency for the public, and judicial independence. We’re opposed to interference by parties of both administrations with the proper and efficient administration of justice. We’ve had just as much trouble with Republican administrations as Democratic administrations.

It’s been my experience that the people at the top really don’t understand what we do, and consequently the decisions they make are not helpful. For example, the – well, let me backtrack a little bit and talk about our organization.

Immigration judges are the – are the basic trial judges that hear the cases. Above us is the Board of Immigration Appeals, who function as if they were an appellate court. We, since 1996, have been clearly designated as judges by Congress. We are in the statute. We have prescribed jurisdiction and powers. Congress even gave us contempt authority to be able to enforce our decisions. Unfortunately, no administration has seen fit to actually give us the contempt authority. They’ve never done the regulations. But it’s in the statute.

The Board of Immigration Appeals is not in the statute. It has no legal existence, really. It’s essentially an emanation of the attorney general’s limitless discretion over immigration law. The members of the Board of – Board of Immigration Appeals are – in some cases they’ve got some experience. Generally, they don’t have very much. They’re a combination of people who are well-respected in other parts of the Department of Justice and deserve a well-paid position. Very often they’re staff attorneys who have basically moved up to become board members, skipping the immigration judge process. Very few immigration judges have ever been made board members, and none of them were made board members because they had been immigration judges. If they were, it was largely a coincidence.

The administration of the Executive Office for Immigration Review in which we and the BIA are housed is basically an administrative agency. We are judges, but we don’t have a court. We operate in an administrative agency that’s a lot closer to the Department of Motor Vehicles than it is to a district court or even a bankruptcy court, an Article I type court.

Our supervisors – I’m not sure why judges need supervisors, but our supervisors are called assistant chief immigration judges. Some of them have some experience. Some of them have no experience not only as judges, but really as attorneys. They were staff attorneys working in the bowels of EOIR, and gradually became temporary board members, and then permanent board members.

Interestingly, when a Court of Appeals panel is short a judge, they bring up a district judge. EOIR used to do that, by bringing up an immigration judge to fill out a panel at the board. They don’t do that anymore. They appoint their staff attorneys as temporary board members, a fact that is very shocking when we tell it to federal judges. They can’t imagine that a panel would be one member short and they’d put their law clerk on the panel, but that’s what goes on.

The top three judges until recently – the chief judge and the two primary deputies – had no courtroom experience that I’m aware of. Two of them have gone on. Unfortunately, one of them has gone on to be a BIA member. The other retired.

Our direct supervisors are the assistant chief immigration judges. Some are in headquarters, and they generally have very little experience. Others are in the field, and they do have some experience – although, for example, the last two ACIJs – assistant chief immigration judges – who were appointed became judges in 2016. So they don’t have vast experience. Well, they may be fine people with other forms of experience, but this agency is not run by experienced judges, and I think it’s important to understand that.

There’s a severe misallocation of resources within EOIR. I think Congress probably has given us plenty of money, but we misuse it. In the past administration, the number of senior executive service – SES – officials has doubled. Maybe they needed some more administrative depth, although I doubt it. The assistant chief immigration judges are proliferating. I think there’s 22 of them now. These are people who may do some cases. Some of them do no cases. They generally don’t really move the ball when it comes to adjudicating cases. Somehow, the federal courts are able to function without all of these intermediaries and supervisory judges, and I think that we would function better without them as well.

To give you a few examples – I could give you thousands of examples, and if you want to stick around I’ll be happy to talk about it. Art was talking about the juvenile surge. I think it was approximately 50,000 juveniles came across the border. To appear to be tough, I guess, they were prioritized. The official line is, you know, we’re going to give them their asylum hearings immediately. I’m not sure what kind of asylum case that a 6-year-old might have, but we would hear the case and do it quickly, and then discourage people from coming to our country. But, in fact, what’s actually happened is the juvenile docket is basically a meet-and-greet. The judges are not – first of all, I’m not allowed to be a juvenile judge. The juvenile judges are carefully selected for people who get along well with children, I guess. (Laughter.) Really, what they do is they just – they see the kids periodically, and in the meantime the children are filing their asylum cases with the asylum office, where they’re applying for special immigrant juvenile status, various things. But judge time is being wasted on that.

Another example is the current surge. I have a really busy docket. Art was talking about cases being scheduled in 2021. The backlog for me is infinite. 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. So they’re just piling up in the ether somewhere.

As busy as I am, they send me to the border, but these border details are politically oriented. First of all, we probably could be doing them by tele-video. But assuming that they want to do them in person, you would think that they would only send the number of judges that are really needed. But, in fact, on my last detail of 10 business days, two-week detail, two days I had no cases scheduled at all. And back home having two cases off the docket, which almost never happens – or two days off the docket, which almost never happens, would be useful because I could work on motions and decisions. But when I’m in Jena, Louisiana, I can’t really work on my regular stuff. So I’m just reading email and hanging out there.

The reason for that is because there’s been no attempt to comply with the attorney general’s request that we rush judges to the border with, at the same time, making sure that there’s enough work or not to send more judges than is really necessary to do the work. I assume the people that run our agency just want to make the attorney general happy, and they send as many judges to the border as possible.

One particularly bizarre example was in San Antonio. The San Antonio judges were doing a detail to one of the outlying detention facilities by tele-video. But they wanted to rush judges to the border, so they assigned a bunch of judges in the country that had their own dockets to take over that docket by tele-video on one week’s notice. Well, one week’s notice meant that the judges in San Antonio couldn’t reset cases. You’ve got to give at least 10 days’ notice of a hearing by regulation. So we had judges taken away from their regular dockets to do that; judges who normally would have done that who already were on the border – San Antonio is pretty closer to the border – didn’t have anything to do.

Now, those may be extreme cases, but this happens all too much, and it’s because of political interference. And like I say, it’s got nothing to do with party. We’ve had the same problem with Democratic and Republican administrations. It comes from political decisions animating the process and people who don’t really understand what they’re managing, just attempting to placate the guy on the top. So that’s basically what’s been happening.

Am I over my 10 minutes here?

MR. KRIKORIAN: Yeah. Well, I mean, you’re right at it. If you’ve got a couple more minutes, that’s fine.

JUDGE BURMAN: Well, let me just go over some possible suggestions.

Let judges be judges – immigration judges that control their own courts and their own dockets. We should be able to supervise our own law clerks and our own legal assistants, which currently we don’t. And the contempt authority we were given in 1996 should eventually – should finally get some regulations to implement it.

EOIR’s overhead needs to be reduced. There’s too many positions at headquarters and too few positions in the field. When EOIR was originally set up, the idea was that each judge would need three legal assistants to docket the cases and find the files and make copies and all that. At one point last year we were down to less than one legal assistant per judge in Arlington, where I am, and in Los Angeles it was even worse. When you do that, the judge is looking for files, the judge is making copies, the judge doesn’t have the evidence that’s been filed. There’s nothing more annoying than to start a hearing and to find that evidence was filed that I don’t have. The case has to be continued. I have to have a chance to find the evidence and review it.

It would be nice if our management were more experienced than they are, or at least have some more courtroom experience.

We need an electronic filing system like all the other courts have. Fortunately, that’s one thing that Acting Director McHenry has said is his top priority, and I think that he will take care of that.

The BIA is a problem. The BIA doesn’t have the kind of expertise that the federal courts would defer to. Consequently, I think a lot of the bad appellate law that Art was referring to is caused by the fact that the BIA really doesn’t have any respect in the federal court system. They’re not immigration experts. They want their Chevron deference, but they are not getting it. They’re not getting it from the Court of Appeals. They’re not getting it from the Supreme Court, either.

The BIA also remands way too many cases. When we make a decision, we send it up to the BIA. We don’t really care what they do. They could affirm us. They could reverse us. We don’t want to see it back. We’ve got too much stuff to see them back. And this happens all the time. If they remand the case, they don’t ever have to take credit for the decision that they make. I assume that’s why they’re doing it, to try to make us do it.

We need a proper judicial disciplinary system. Starting in 2006, which is where the backlog problem began, the attorney general first of all subjected us to annual appraisals, evaluations, which previously OPM had waived due to our judicial function. So that’s a waste of time. Judges were punished for the – for things that are not punishment. Judges were punished because a Court of Appeals would say that you made a mistake or he was rude or – it’s just crazy. Judges were punished or could be punished for granting – for not granting continuances. No judge was ever punished for granting a continuance. So it’s no surprise that, as I pointed out, continuances have been granted at a much greater level – in fact, too great a level. But when in doubt, we continue now because if we don’t do that we’re subject to punishment, and nobody really wants that.

And finally, the ultimate solution, I think, is an Article I court like the bankruptcy court – a specialized court, could be in the judicial branch, could be in the executive branch – to give us independence, to ensure that we have judges and appellate judges who are appointed in a transparent way, being vetted by the private bar, the government, and anybody else.

And I’m way over my 10 minutes, so I’ll be – I’ll be sure to babble on later if you want me to. Thank you.”

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Judge Arthur’s kind opening words about the late Juan Osuna were a nice touch. One of Juan’s great strengths as person, executive, judge, and teacher was his ability to maintain good friendships with and respect from folks with an assortment of ideas on immigration.

Judge Burman’s “no BS” insights are as timely as they are unusual. That’s because U.S. Immigration Judges are not encouraged to speak publicly and forthrightly about their jobs.

The Supervisory Judge and the EOIR Ethics Office must approve all public appearances by U.S. Immigration Judges including teaching and pro bono training. A precondition for receiving permission is that the judge adhere to the DOJ/EOIR “party line” and not say anything critical about the agency or colleagues. In other words, telling the truth is discouraged.

As a result, most Immigration Judges don’t bother to interact with the public except in their courtrooms. A small percentage of sitting judges do almost all of the outreach and public education for the Immigration Courts.

While EOIR Senior Executives and Supervisors often appear at “high profile events” or will agree to limited press interviews, they all too often have little if any grasp of what happens at the “retail level” in the Immigration Courts. Even when they do, they often appear to feel that their job security depends on making things sound much better than they really are or that progress is being made where actually regression is taking place.

In reality, the system functioned better in the 1990s than it does two decades later. Due Process protection for individuals — the sole mission of EOIR — has actually regressed in recent years as quality and fairness have taken a back seat to churning numbers, carrying out political priorities, not rocking the boat, and going along to get along. Such things are typical within government agency bureaucracies, but atypical among well-functioning court systems.

I once appeared on a panel with a U.S. District Judge. After hearing my elaborate, global disclaimer, he chuckled. Then he pointedly told the audience words to the effect of  “I’m here as a judge because you asked me, and I wanted to come. I didn’t tell the Chief Judge I was coming, and I wouldn’t dream of asking his or anyone else’s permission to speak my mind.”

I hope that everyone picked up Judge Burman’s point that “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” or “ADR” is still in full swing at EOIR. Cases are shuffled, moved around, taken off docket, and then restored to the docket to conceal that the backlog in Arlington goes out beyond the artificial “2020 limit” that Judge Burman has been instructed to use for “public consumption.” But there are other cases out there aimlessly “floating around the ether.” And, based on my experience, I’m relatively certain that many courts are worse than Arlington.

Judge Burman also makes another great  “inside baseball” point — too many unnecessary remands from the BIA. Up until the very ill-advised “Ashcroft Reforms” the BIA exercised de novo factfinding authority. This meant that when the BIA disagreed with the Immigration Judge’s disposition, on any ground, they could simply decide the case and enter a final administrative order for the winning party.

After Ashcroft stripped the BIA of factfinding  authority, nearly every case where the BIA disagrees with the lower court decision must be returned to the Immigration Court for further proceedings. Given the overloaded docket and lack of e-filing capability within EOIR, such routine remands can often take many months or even years. Sometimes, the file gets lost in the shuffle until one or both parties inquire about it.

The Immigration Courts are also burdened with useless administrative remands to check fingerprints in open court following BIA review. This function should be performed solely by DHS, whose Counsel can notify the Immigration Court in rare cases where the prints disclose previously unknown facts. In 13 years as an Immigration Judge, I had about 3 or 4 cases (out of thousands) where such “post hoc” prints checks revealed previously unknown material information. I would would have reopened any such case. So, the existing procedures are unnecessary and incredibly wasteful of limited judicial docket time.

I agree completely with Judge Burman that the deterioration of the Immigration Courts spans Administrations of both parties. Not surprisingly, I also agree with him that the only real solution to the Courts’ woes is an independent Article I Court. Sooner, rather than later!

PWS

09-03-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

ZOE TILLMAN ON BUZZFEED: Administration Has Nowhere To Hide As Stats Show Immigration Court Backlog Careening Out Of Control On Their Watch: Head Of Judges Assn Says Judges Are “canaries in the coal mine . . . still gasping for air.!”

https://www.buzzfeed.com/zoetillman/the-backlog-of-cases-in-immigration-courts-has-hit-a-record?utm_term=.gsZy1Gdqr#.pqmop3XAD

Zoe reports:

“The backlog of cases in US immigration courts has continued to worsen amid the Trump administration’s border crackdown, new statistics show.

As of the end of July, there were 617,527 cases pending in immigration courts. It’s the first time this number has crossed the 600,000 mark, according to information released on Thursday by the Transactional Records Action Clearinghouse, or TRAC, a research center at Syracuse University that tracks US government data.

The immigration court system, which is an arm of the US Department of Justice, has been grappling with growing caseloads for years. Immigration judges and lawyers have reported case delays stretching years out. But the latest numbers show a large jump in 2017. When Trump took office in January, there were approximately 540,000 pending cases.

“It is still overwhelming to the immigration judges,” said Judge Dana Leigh Marks, an immigration judge in San Francisco and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. “The levels of caseload are higher than we’ve ever seen before.”

. . . .

As of Aug. 14, there were 334 immigration judges nationwide — 54 have been hired since Trump took office. The office is authorized by Congress to have 384 judges. Marks said that a large number of judges are eligible to retire, which could cut into any progress that DOJ makes in hiring new judges. New judges also don’t move as quickly as experienced ones, she said.

Under a Jan. 25 executive order on immigration enforcement, the Justice Department said in August that it had mobilized more than 100 immigration judges to hear cases at Department of Homeland Security detention facilities, either in-person or by video teleconferencing. Between Feb. 1 and July 31, immigration judges had issued nearly 28 percent more deportation orders as compared to the same time period last year, DOJ said.

Marks said that immigration judges had been warning officials about the backlog for years, and would continue to do so.

“The canaries in the coal mine are still gasping for air,” she said.”

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Read Zoe’s entire report at the link.

The DOJ is: clueless. planless, incompetent, and totally unqualified to manage a system of the size and importance of the current US Immigration Court consistently with due process. Systemically, knowingly running a system that engages in Aimless Docket Reshuffling (“ADR”), puts long pending cases that can be tried at the end of the line (many years out), while engaging in unnecessary detention and hustling more recent arrivals through without a reasonable chance to obtain representation or present their claims for relief, indeed sometimes without any hearings at all, is already a “default” on due process. Greater reliance on already outdated and overwhelmed “televideo court equipment” will further compromise due process. Even now, as most Immigration Judges and attorneys who have to use EOIR Televideo courts will tell you, the system is NQRFPT (“Not Quite Ready For Prime Time”).  Jamming more cases into it is asking for a complete breakdown.

I’m actually somewhat surprised that no group has found a way to bring a class action seeking to shut down the entire Immigration Court System and the DHS Administrative Removal System until improvements are made so that they comply with due process.  Sort of like the litigation that eventually required some prison systems to come into compliance with constitutional norms. In some cases, this is even worse than prisons, since many individuals in immigration detention haven’t been convicted of any crimes; they are just asserting their statutory and constitutional rights to have a fair adjudication of their ability to remain in the US.

Also, how is a system that treats its own judges as “canaries gasping for breath in the coal mine” going to deliver on due process for those individuals expecting it from those same judges? It isn’t.

And Congress should not get off the hook either. This problem has been growing very publicly for years over several Administrations while Congress has failed to deliver on proposals for an independent US Immigration Court that have been kicking around for more than a decade!

None of the DOJ’s statements deal with the real solution here: use of prosecutorial discretion “PD” on a widespread basis to resolve most of these cases and take them off the Immigration Courts’ docket. That needs to be followed by serious negotiations with Congress for: 1) a realistic legalization program, 2) an increase in legal immigration to put our immigration laws more in line with the actual market conditions that are bringing, and will continue to bring, more immigrant workers to the US, and an independent Immigration Court where the capacity to adjudicate cases consistently with due process is a primary consideration in both DHS’s deciding how many cases to place on the docket and how individual judges manage their individual dockets. That’s simply making changes to bring the Immigration Court system and the immigration laws into line with the rest of the U.S. legal system and our overall needs to maintain and administer a much more robust and inclusive legal immigration system that wouldn’t waste money on impractical walls and on “gonzo” immigration enforcement ands unnecessary detention.

 

PWS

09-01-17

 

 

 

 

ATTN RETIRED US IMMIGRATION JUDGES: EOIR Wants YOU!

Here is the link from OCIJ with complete information. Good luck!

 

https://www.justice.gov/legal-careers/job/immigration-judge-1

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

Seems like a good idea (and one that most past Administrations have failed to take advantage of — I was able to use it at the BIA when I was Chair).

REMEMBER, DUE PROCESS FOREVER!

PWS

08-30-17

HON. JEFFREY CHASE ON WHY WE NEED AN ARTICLE I IMMIGRATION COURT!

https://www.jeffreyschase.com/blog/2017/8/17/the-need-for-an-independent-immigration-court

Jeffrey writes:

“On August 8, the Department of Justice issued a highly unusual press release that inadvertently illustrated the need for an independent Article I immigration court.  Titled “Return to Rule of Law Under Trump Administration Marked by Increase in Key Immigration Statistics,” the release proudly cited a 30 percent increase in the number of people ordered deported by immigration judges since the present administration took office (which of course corresponded with a marked decrease in the number of individuals granted relief and allowed to remain legally in the country).  The press release was posted on the public website of  the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the agency which includes both the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals.

On his blog immigrationcourtside.com, former BIA chairman Paul Schmidt drew some apt analogies, imagining what the reaction would be if the Supreme Court were to proudly announce that in support of Donald Trump’s deregulaton initiative, it had struck down 30 percent more regulations since he took office?  Or if a circuit court released a self-congratulatory statement that in support of the president’s war on drugs, it issued 30 percent more convictions and 40 percent longer sentences for drug crimes than under the previous administration?  Such statements would be unthinkable, and would trigger a strong backlash.  But not so for the August 8 announcement.  Fortunately, EOIR itself did not sink to issuing such a statement.  Unfortunately, EOIR felt the need to post the release in a prominent place on its website (either because it was instructed to do so, or was afraid not to).

The National Association of Immigration Judges (the immigration judges’ union) has for years made a strong argument for the creation of an independent Article I immigration court.  The 334 immigration judges are the only judges among the Department of Justice’s 112,000 total employees.  The concept of the judges’ independence and political neutrality never really took within DOJ.  When both the former INS and EOIR were housed within Justice (prior to the former being moved to the Department of Homeland Security after the reorganization that followed the 9/11 tragedy), INS higher-ups would make complaints about immigration judges known to the Deputy Attorney General’s office, which oversaw EOIR’s director, a process that would be highly improper in other courts.  When 1996 legislation provided immigration judges with contempt power over attorneys appearing in their courts, INS managed to indefinitely block implementing DOJ regulations because the agency did not wish to afford immigration judges such authority over their fellow DOJ attorneys within INS; as a result, the judges still lack such contempt power 21 years later.

. . . .

It is a cornerstone of our justice system that judges not only be impartial, but that they also avoid the appearance of impartiality.  28 U.S.C. § 455(a) requires federal judges to recuse themselves in any proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned.  How can the impartiality of an immigration judge not be questioned when the agency that employs him or her releases statements celebrating the increase in the percentage of cases in which deportations are ordered as a “return to the rule of law?”

The partisan pronouncement raises questions not only as to the independence of the judges in their decision making.  It also casts a cloud over hiring and policy decisions by EOIR’s management.  In hiring new judges and Board members, will EOIR’s higher-ups feel pressured to choose candidates likely to have higher deportation rates?  Are they likely to implement policies aimed at increasing fairness or expediency?  As an example, let’s use what Paul Schmidt aptly refers to as “aimless docket reshuffling,” in which immigration judges are detailed away from their home courts to hear cases elsewhere.  Of course, this means that the individuals scheduled for hearing in the home court (who have likely been waiting two years for their hearing) need to have their cases adjourned due to the judge’s absence.  I have no information as to what factors go into making these detailing decisions.  But hypothetically, if EOIR’s managers feel pressure to produce more deportations, might they consider shifting judges in high-volume courts in large cities such as New York or Los Angeles, where the respondents are likely to be represented by counsel, have adequate time to prepare and gather evidence, and have access to call witnesses (including experts),  to instead hear cases of detained, recently-arrived respondents in remote areas where they have less access to counsel, community support, evidence, or witnesses?  In which of those two scenarios might the judge “accomplish” more deportations in the same amount of time?

There is some irony in the use of the term “rule of law” in the Aug. 8 press release, because rules of law take a great deal of time to develop properly.  In a 2013 article titled “Let Judges Be Judges,” , Hon. Dana Leigh Marks, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, stated that allowing “immigration judges to consider the individual circumstances unique to each case” in an independent Article I court setting “would create a fine-tuned tool…instead of the blunt instrument that now exists.”  A “fine-tuned tool” is needed, as many of the claims presently being heard involve very complex legal issues.  Many cases involve those fleeing an epic humanitarian crisis in Central America.  Case law continues to develop, as leading asylum attorneys and scholars have spent years crafting nuanced theories to clarify the nexus between the serious harm suffered or feared and one of the five protected grounds required for a grant of asylum.  In other claims from countries such as Albania or the former Soviet republics, highly detailed testimony from country condition experts is required to educate judges as to specific dangers not mentioned in the generalized State Department country reports.  This type of painstaking development of the record cannot be accomplished under conditions termed in a 2009 report of the Appleseed Foundation as “assembly line injustice.”

In summary, a Department of Justice which chooses to publicly celebrate accelerated hearings resulting in orders of deportation as a positive development cannot oversee an immigration court system which aspires to provide “due process and fair treatment for all parties involved.”

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

Head over to Jeffrey’s great blog at the above link for the complete story.

Jeff Sessions seldom, if ever, has a kind word to say about migrants of any type. He has been the enthusiastic “point man” for the President’s xenophobic, White Nationalist immigration enforcement program. He has promoted and repeated false narratives about immigrants and crime. The idea of him running the U.S. Immigration Court system charged with proving fair hearings to migrants is preposterous on it’s face.

And, it’s not just Sessions. All Attorneys General have the actual or apparent conflict of interest described by Jeffrey Chase. Sessions is just one of the most outrageous examples to date. If an Immigration Judge made the type of statement set forth  in the DOJ press release, he or she would undoubtedly be charged with ethical violations. And, let’s not forget that under the bizarre structure of the U.S. Immigration Courts, the Attorney General has authority to “certify” any individual case to him or her self and substitute his decision for that of the Immigration Judge and the BIA.

PWS

08-16-17

 

ATTENTION RETIRED U.S. IMMIGRATION JUDGES — EOIR ANNOUNCES PLANS TO RECRUIT REHIRED ANNUITANTS FOR 58 COURT LOCATIONS!

Attached is the text of an e-mail forwarded to me by Hon. Dana Leigh Marks, President of the National Association of Immigration Judges, which has been very active in working with EOIR to tap into the resource of retired U.S. Immigration Judges:

From: Swanwick, Daniel (EOIR)
Sent: Monday, August 14, 2017 3:17 PM
To: Marks, Dana (EOIR) <Dana.Marks@EOIR.USDOJ.GOV>; Slavin, Denise (EOIR) <Denise.Slavin@EOIR.USDOJ.GOV>
Cc: Mart, H. Kevin (EOIR) <H.Kevin.Mart@EOIR.USDOJ.GOV>; Scheinkman, Rena (EOIR) <Rena.Scheinkman@EOIR.USDOJ.GOV>; Maggard, Print (EOIR) <Print.Maggard@EOIR.USDOJ.GOV>; Cheng, Mary (EOIR) <Mary.Cheng@EOIR.USDOJ.GOV>; Keller, Mary Beth (EOIR) <MaryBeth.Keller@EOIR.USDOJ.GOV>
Subject: Reemployed Annuitant IJs
Dear Judges Marks and Slavin:
We are happy to report that the Agency will be posting an advertisement very soon seeking to hire retired IJs.  We know this is something NAIJ has wanted for a long time, and we are excited about the prospects of having retired IJs back on board to assist with our critical mission.  While the specifics of the advertisement are still in flux, we expect to advertise for all 58 court locations, as well as the Falls Church VTC location.  Selectees will be hired as intermittent employees, which likely will allow for flexibilities in their schedules to account for the their personal preferences, as well as to meet varying needs of the Agency.  Selectees also will be expected to be available to travel, as necessary, to meet the mission.  Retired IJs will be hired pursuant to the Reemployment of Annuitants regulation (5 C.F.R. § 837), as well as accompanying OPM guidance,available at, https://www.chcoc.gov/content/reemployment-civilian-retirees-under-national-defense-authorization-act-fiscal-year-2010-1.  To assist NAIJ and potential applicants in understanding the impact of returning as a reemployed annuitant, the Agency has prepared the attached reference sheet.
We appreciate your efforts in spreading the word to retired IJs that this advertisement will be posted shortly.  We will circle back with you when we have more specific information about when the advertisement will be posted.
Thank you,
Dan
Daniel L. Swanwick
Attorney Advisor
Office of the Chief Immigration Judge
5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 2500
Falls Church, VA  22041
703-605-1381
***************************************************************
Sounds like a smart idea! Congrats to the NAIJ and EOIR for working together to make it happen.
PWS
08-14-17

TRUMP’S “GONZO” ENFORCEMENT POLICIES PRODUCE MORE REMOVAL ORDERS BUT FEWER ACTUAL DEPORTATIONS! — CRIMINAL DEPORTATIONS FALL AS DHS PICKS ON NON-CRIMINALS! — MINDLESS ABUSE OF ALREADY OVERWHELMED IMMIGRATION COURT DOCKETS ACTUALLY INHIBITS ABILITY TO CONCENTRATE ON CRIMINALS!

Read this eye opener from Maria Sacchetti in the Washington Post about how the Administration manipulates data to leave a false impression of effective law enforcement.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration/trump-is-deporting-fewer-immigrants-than-obama-including-criminals/2017/08/10/d8fa72e4-7e1d-11e7-9d08-b79f191668ed_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_immigration-540am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.a8889396e334

“By Maria Sacchetti August 10 at 9:43 PM
President Trump has vowed to swiftly deport “bad hombres” from the United States, but the latest deportation statistics show that slightly fewer criminals were expelled in June than when he took office.

In January, federal immigration officials deported 9,913 criminals. After a slight uptick under Trump, expulsions sank to 9,600 criminals in June.

Mostly deportations have remained lower than in past years under the Obama administration. From January to June, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported 61,370 criminals, down from 70,603 during the same period last year.

During the election, Trump vowed to target criminals for deportation and warned that they were “going out fast.” Later, he suggested he would try to find a solution for the “terrific people” who never committed any crimes, and would first deport 2 million to 3 million criminals.

But analysts say he is unlikely to hit those targets. Since January, immigration officials have deported more than 105,000 immigrants, 42 percent of whom had never committed any crime.

Last year, a total of 121,170 people were deported during the same period, and a similar percentage had no criminal records.

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John Sandweg, the former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said part of the reason for the decline is that illegal border crossings have plunged since Trump took office pledging to build a “big, beautiful” wall and crack down on illegal immigration. Immigrants caught at the border accounted for a significant share of deportations under the Obama administration.

 

Another factor, however, is that immigration officials are arresting more people who never committed any crime — some 4,100 immigrants in June, more than double the number in January — clogging the already backlogged immigration courts and making it harder to focus on criminals.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement released the deportation figures, which the Post had requested, late Thursday, two days after the Justice Department announced that immigration courts ordered 57,069 people to leave the United States from February to July, a nearly 31 percent increase over the previous year.

However, Justice officials have not said how many of the immigrants ordered deported were actually in custody — or if their whereabouts are even known. Every year scores of immigrants are ordered deported in absentia, meaning they did not attend their hearings and could not immediately be deported.

The deportation figures come as the Trump administration is fighting with dozens of state and local officials nationwide over their refusal to help deport immigrants, and as the administration is attempting to reduce legal and illegal immigration.”

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

It appears that many of the increased removal orders touted by DOJ/EOIR earlier this week might have been “in absentia” orders, issued without full due process hearings and all too often based on incorrect addresses or defective notices. Some of those orders turn out to be unenforceable. Many others require hearings to be reopened once the defects in notice or reasons for failure to appear are documented. But, since there wild inconsistencies among U.S. Immigration Judges in reopening in absentia cases, “jacking up” in absentia orders inevitably produces arbitrary justice.

The article also indicates that the Administration’s mindless overloading of already overwhelmed U.S. Immigration Courts with cases of non-criminal migrants has actually inhibited the courts’ ability to concentrate on criminals.

Taxpayer money is being squandered on “dumb” enforcement and a “captive court system” that no longer functions as a provider of fairness, due process, and justice. How long will legislators and Article III judges continue to be complicit in this facade of justice?

PWS

08-11-17

 

DEPORTATIONS RISE UNDER TRUMP, BUT BORDER CROSSINGS ALSO CONTINUE TO TICK UPWARDS! — Read My OpEssay: “Due Process Disaster Is Brewing In The U.S. Immigration Courts — Is Anybody Paying Attention?”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration/deportation-orders-up-under-trump-fewer-prevail-in-immigration-court/2017/08/08/d3f0a6a6-7c74-11e7-9d08-b79f191668ed_story.html?utm_term=.848b8a83c250&wpisrc=nl_daily202&wpmm=1

Maria Sacchetti reports in the Washington Post:

“Federal immigration courts ordered 57,069 people to leave the United States in the first six months of the Trump administration, up nearly 31 percent over the same period last year, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

Additionally, 16,058 people prevailed in their immigration cases, or had them closed, allowing them to stay in the United States, according to the data, which tallied orders issued from Feb. 1 to July 31. That total marked a 20.7 percent drop from the 20,255 immigrants who prevailed at the same time last year.

In a news release, the Justice Department said the notoriously backlogged court system is making a return to the “rule of law” under President Trump, who has vowed to speed deportations. But officials did not say how many of the orders were issued in absentia, meaning to immigrants who did not attend their hearings and therefore could not immediately be deported.

The Washington Post reported last week that thousands of immigrants, some seeking protection from violence in their homelands, have missed their court dates in recent years, often because they did not know about them or were afraid to show up. Advocates for immigrants have also raised concern about the lack of legal aid for immigrants, especially for those in immigration jails.

Last month, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges said courts are severely understaffed, with about 300 immigration judges juggling a quickly rising caseload. An estimated 600,000 cases are pending nationwide.

United We Dream, an immigrant youth-led organization, protested ICE raids at Lafayette Square near the White House in February. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Unlike the traditional federal court system, which is independent of the executive branch of government, immigration courts are administered by the Justice Department.

That agency said that from Feb. 1 to July 31, judges issued 73,127 final immigration decisions, an increase of 14.5 percent over the same period in 2016.

Of those decisions, 49,983 were deportation orders, an increase of nearly 28 percent from the same period in 2016. The rest were orders to leave the United States voluntarily, a process by which immigrants generally face fewer barriers if they wish to apply to return to the United States in the future.

Federal officials attributed the increase in case completions to Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order dispatching more than 100 immigration judges to immigration jails across the country. More than 90 percent of cases heard in jails have led to orders to leave the United States. The department has also hired 54 new judges to work in immigration courts since Trump took office. More are being hired every month.

Dana Leigh Marks, an immigration judge based in San Francisco who heads the national association, wrote in Newsday last month that immigration courts should be separated from the Justice Department to ensure “judicial independence and protection from political influences.”

“More skilled court management, provided by experienced court administrators, rather than a law enforcement agency with priorities other than fairness and efficiency, would greatly enhance our ability to complete the tasks,” she wrote. “For example, cases would not be docketed to make political statements or serve as a show of force by the U.S. government.”

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

Due Process Disaster Is Brewing In The U.S. Immigration Courts — Is Anybody Paying Attention? 

by Paul Wickham Schmidt

U.S. Immigration Judge (Retired)

Meanwhile, according to CQ Roll Call, arrests of undocumented individuals at the Southern Border rose 13.1% in July, the second consecutive monthly increase. Overall, DHS’s CBP reports arresting more family units and fewer unaccompanied children during the first 10 months of FY 2017.

While CBP “fobs off” the increases as “seasonal,” they do cast some doubt on whether the Trump Administration’s “send ’em all back asap” enforcement approach is really going to decrease undocumented migration in the long run. It might simply be a case of professional human smuggling operations revising their methods and raising their prices to adjust to higher risk factors and the “market” taking time to adjust to the changing practices and price increases. Moreover, to date, neither increases in removal orders, some as noted by Horwitz undoubtedly “in absentia orders” issued without full due process protections, nor increases in the number of U.S. Immigration Judges has stopped the growth of the backlog of cases before the U.S. Immigration Courts, currently estimated at more than 610,000 pending cases!

Apparently, under the Trump/Sessions regime success in the U.S. Immigration Court System is no longer measured by improvements in due process and fairness or by insuring that the individuals coming before the court get the protections and relief to which they are entitled under the law. Nope! The “rule of law” in Immigration Court now appears synonymous with turning that Court System into a “deportation mill” — just another whistle stop on the “deportation express.”

In other words, we’ve now come “full circle” since 1983. Then, EOIR was created to get the Immigration Courts out of INS to enhance due process and overcome a public perception that the courts were merely functioning as adjuncts of INS enforcement. The U.S. Immigration Courts and EOIR essentially have been “recaptured” by DHS  enforcement.

EOIR has once again become an insulated “inbred” agency. Judicial appointments are made by DOJ politicos almost exclusively from the ranks of government attorneys, primarily DHS and DOJ prosecutors, just like when the “Legacy INS” ran the courts. Dockets are out of control, management is haphazard, technology is outdated and inadequate, and clerical staffing shortages are chronic. Staffing and docketing priorities are designed to accommodate enforcement priorities and to maximize removals, rather than to promote due process and fairness. Training and attention to the real “rule of law” are afterthoughts. Public service is a dirty word.

Morale among those at EOIR who care about the due process judicial mission has been steadily declining even as already sky-high stress levels continue to ratchet up. Numbers and removals have replaced fairness, professionalism, and unbiased decision making as objectives.

There are rumors that the Immigration Courts are going to be taken out of the DOJ and “reintegrated” into DHS to reflect their “true function” as part of the deportation mechanism. I think it’s unlikely unless Sessions becomes the new Secretary of DHS. But, really, what difference would it make? Sessions basically “reassumed” the immigration enforcement functions that once were in the Attorney General’s portfolio but were sent over to DHS when it was created after 9-11. Kelly merely signed off and nodded agreement to what Sessions told him to do.

A move by the DOJ apparently is afoot to revamp the judicial “evaluation system” to rate Immigration Judges more like “lower level DOJ attorneys” rather than judicial officials exercising independent judgment. Such bureaucratic ratings systems often elevate “productivity” above quality, value “following agency priorities” over exercising independent judgment, and serve to give the politicos at the DOJ more control and leverage over the day to day functioning of what is supposed to be a judiciary free from political influence or intimidation. Moreover, such ratings are often prepared by “supervisory judges” many of whom hear no cases and most of whom have little daily contact with the Immigration  Judges they nominally “supervise.” In a well-functioning judicial system, the local “Chief Judge” is a leader and problem solver, not a “supervisor” of her or his peers.

At this point, the Trump Administration clearly has no interest in fixing the festering problems in the U.S. Immigration Courts; they are determined to make things worse. While there is some bipartisan support in Congress for an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court, to date it hasn’t coalesced into any specific, politically viable legislation.

That basically leaves it to the Article III Federal Courts to decide whether or not to fix the Immigration Courts. One possibility is that they will decide that it is too much: just forget due process for foreign nationals, rubber stamp the removal orders, stay above the fray, and become another “whistle stop on the deportation express.”

A more optimistic possibility is that they will draw the line on the due process nightmare in the U.S. Immigration Courts being promoted by the Administration. But, that will make the Article III Courts a major “track block” on the deportation express. The trains will derail and pile up on the doorstep, and the Article III Courts can count on little if any help or resources from Congress in untangling the mess and getting things back on track. Understandably, from a practical if not a legal point of view, some Article III Judges aren’t going to want to go there.

One thing is certain — things can’t continue they way they are going now. Something has got to give! And, when it does, the Article III Courts will be forced to do some self-examination and decide whether they are going to be part of the problem, or part of the solution. Are life-tenured Article III judgeships in essence about securing life sinecures, or about taking a perhaps unpopular and labor intensive stand for Constitutional Due Process for all, even the weakest and most vulnerable among us? We’ll soon find out!

PWS

08-09-17

NAIJ PRESIDENT JUDGE DANA LEIGH MARKS DETAILS MELTDOWN IN U.S. IMMIGRATION COURTS — CALLS ON CONGRESS FOR URGENT ACTION ON ARTICLE I IMMIGRATION COURT!

https://www.naij-usa.org/images/uploads/publications/NAIJ_-_Snapshot_CRISIS_FACING_OUR_IMMIGRATIONJune_2017.pdf

Judge Marks writes:

“SNAPSHOT OF THE CRISIS FACING OUR IMMIGRATION COURTS TODAY SALIENT FACTS AND URGENT NEEDS

June 2017

As America wrestles with unprecedented challenges to our immigration system, we are once again at a delicate juncture where we must avoid repeating the mistakes of our past. The most overlooked and often forgotten piece of the complicated immigration puzzle facing the nation is our immigration court system. Action is needed NOW to protect these unique courts from politicization and dysfunction. They are often the only face of American justice that non-citizens experience, and our values must be embodied by them. What is needed is an efficient, fair system that assures independent and timely decisions which protect the public from those who may be dangerous to our communities, and allows noncitizens who qualify (because of close family connections, employment here, or persecution in their home country) to stay here.

RECALCITRANT CASE BACKLOGS

As of the end of April, 2017, the Immigration Court backlog stood at 585,930.i The caseload of the Immigration Court has more than doubled since 2010. ii

LENGTHY DELAYS

The average number of days a case was pending on the Immigration Court docket until decision was 670 days as of April 30, 2017, although 9 states (in order of descending magnitude: Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, Texas, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona and California) exceeded that average.iii The longest wait time is in Colorado, which is 1,002 days.iv

SURGING CASELOAD ON THE HORIZON

In 2014, an unprecedented influx of unaccompanied minors at our nation’s southwest border was labeled a humanitarian crisis, prompting the Senate to nearly double the available funding for care and resettlement of child migrants.v Those cases remain on our dockets and are not easily resolved: of the 229,357 pending juvenile cases as of April 30, 2017, 42% had no legal representation.vi It is inevitable that this influx caused dramatic increases in our dockets and will impact our system for years to come.vii Since January of 2017, our courts have been experiencing another significant increase in new cases resulting from the initiatives announced by President Trump and DHS.viii Many observers agree this is overwhelming an already strained system.ix During the first three months following these announcements, immigration arrests increased 38% over the same period one year earlier.x

1

FAILURE TO MEET PREDICTABLE STAFFING NEEDS IN A TIMELY FASHION

The inability of the Immigration Courts to meet these surges in caseload is due, in large part, to the chronic lack of sufficient court staff. As long ago as 2006, after a comprehensive review of the Immigration Courts by Attorney General Gonzales, it was determined that a judge corps of 230 Immigration Judges was inadequate for the caseload at that time (approximately 168,853 pending cases) and should be increased to 270.xi Despite this finding, there were less than 235 active field Immigration Judges at the beginning of FY 2015.xii To make matters much worse, 39% of all Immigration Judges are currently eligible to retire.xiii Even with a recent renewed emphasis on hiring, the current number of Immigration Judges nationwide stands at approximately 318 today (298 who are actually in field courts), well below authorized hiring levels of 384.xiv One expert observer recommends adding at least 150 immigration judges to the corps based on its meticulous analysis of past caseload needs.xv The American Bar Association, Administrative Conference of the United States and two expert roundtables convened by Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration have all called for dramatically increased resources to staff up our courts.xvi

INADEQUATE SPACE, FACILITIES AND EQUIPMENT

As caseloads explode, the Immigration Courts find themselves in desperate need of additional physical space and facilities to conduct hearings, to accommodate both staff and the voluminous legal filings. Modernized equipment and electronic filing initiatives are needed immediately in order to respond.xvii The current courtrooms are too small to accommodate the large numbers of families now appearing before our courts, raising serious concerns regarding public safety and security. In addition, we don’t have enough courtrooms or courtrooms in the appropriate places to address the caseload.

FAILURE TO PROVIDE ESSENTIAL TOOLS FOR ADJUDICATIONS

Despite express congressional authorization of contempt power for Immigration Judges in 1996, the Department of Justice still has not promulgated implementing regulations. Without authority to impose civil monetary sanctions for attorney misconduct, Immigration Judges lack an important tool in controlling court proceedings over which they preside.

DEEPENING DISCONNECT IN FUNDING BETWEEN DHS AND THE IMMIGRATION COURTS

In the past decade, budgets for components in the Department of Homeland Security (Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement) rose approximately 300% compared to 70% for the Executive Office of Immigration Review.xviii In the meantime, while grappling with this meteoric rise in our dockets, budget bills fail to “right-size” this funding ratio and properly provide for the predictable needs of our courts. xix

CHRONIC SCARCITY OF RESOURCES CRIPPLES DAILY OPERATIONS OF THE COURT

A catastrophic hardware failure on April 12, 2014 took the docketing system off-line for five weeks, impacting the public hotline, digital audio recording and access to the electronic docketing database.xx We fear occurrences like this are just the tip of the iceberg as our chronically resource-starved system continues to face the unprecedented challenges of aging technology, surging caseloads and potential retirements.xxi We remain behind the curve, lacking state-of-the art-technology, e-filing and a reliable corps of skilled interpreters. Cases are cancelled on a regular basis because of the language services contractor’s inability to provide interpreters and serious due process concerns are implicated as the quality of interpreters which are provided has diminished.

2

JUDGES PUSHED TO THE BRINK

More than five years ago, Immigration Judges reported stress and burnout at higher levels than prison wardens or doctors at busy hospitals.xxii After continuing to struggle in an environment of decreased resources and skyrocketing caseloads for so long, morale is at an all-time low and stress at an all-time high. An unprecedented number of retirements is looming.

SOLUTION

While it cannot be denied that additional resources are desperately needed immediately, resources alone cannot solve the persistent problems facing our Immigration Courts. Structural reform can no longer be put on the back burner. Since the 1981 Select Commission on Immigration, the idea of creating an Article I court, similar to the U.S. Tax Court, has been advanced.xxiii In the intervening years, a strong consensus has formed supporting this structural change. xxiv For years experts debated the wisdom of far-reaching restructuring of the Immigration Court system. Now “[m]ost immigration judges and attorneys agree the long term solution to the problem is to restructure the immigration court system….” xxv

The time has come to undertake structural reform of the Immigration Courts. It is apparent that until far-reaching changes are made, the problems which have plagued our tribunals for decades will persist. For years NAIJ has advocated establishment of an Article I court. We cannot expect a different outcome unless we change our approach to the persistent problems facing our court system. Acting now will be cost effective and will improve the speed, efficiency and fairness of the process we afford to the public we serve. Our tribunals are often the only face of American justice these individuals experience, and it must properly reflect the principles upon which our country was founded. Action is needed now on this urgent priority for the Immigration Courts. It is time to stop the cycle of overlooking this important component of the immigration enforcement system – it will be a positive step for immigration enforcement and due process.

For additional information, visit our website at www.naij-usa-org or contact:

Dana Leigh Marks, President
National Association of Immigration Judges
100 Montgomery Street, Suite 800
San Francisco, CA 94104
415-705-0140
Dana.Marks@usdoj.gov and danamarks@pobox.com

i Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), Syracuse University, Backlog of Pending Cases in Immigration Courts as ofDecember2016,http://trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/court_backlog/apprep_backlog.php; TRAC,SyracuseUniversity, Average Time Pending Cases Have Been Waiting in Immigration Courts as of April 2017, http://trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/court_backlog/apprep_backlog.php/.

ii Id. and Human Rights First, Reducing the Immigration Court Backlog and Delays, http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/sites/default/files/HRF-Backgrounder-Immigration-Courts.pdf

3

iii

iv

v

Supra note i.

Supra note i.
See Presidential Memorandum For the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, June 2, 2014,

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/02/presidential-memorandum-response-influx-unaccompanied-alien-

children-acr and David Rogers, Senate Democrats Double Funding for Child Migrants, POLITICO, June 10, 2014,http://www.politico.com/story/2014/06/child-migrants-immigration-senate-democrats-107665.html

vi TRAC, http://trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/juvenile/

vii PBS News Hour, Last year’s child migrant crisis is this year’s immigration court backlog, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Last-years-child-migrant-crisis-is-this-years-immigration-court- backlog.mp3, June 18, 2015

viii Increase in US Immigration Enforcement Likely to Mean Jump in Deportations, VOA, February 3, 2017, https://www.voanews.come/a/increased-us-immigration-enforcement-to-mean-jump-in-deportations/3705604.html

ix Priscilla Alvarez, Trump’s Immigration Crackdown Is Overwhelming a Strained System, THE ATLANTIC, April 21, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/04/trump-immigration-court-ice/523557

x Caitlin Dickerson, Immigration Arrests Rise Sharply as a Trump Mandate is Carried Out, THE NEW YORK TIMES, May 17, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/17/us/immigration-enforcement-ice-arrests.html?_r=0

xi See Press Release, Dep’t of Justice, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales Outlines Reforms for Immigration Courts and Board of Immigration Appeals (Aug. 9, 2006), available at http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2006/August/06_ag_520.html , and TRAC, Improving the Immigration Courts: Efforts to Hire More Judges Fall Short, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/189/ .

xii Approximately 20 Immigration Judges are now serving in exclusively or primarily managerial positions with little or no pending caseload. See EOIR Immigration Court Listings, http://www.justice.gov/eoir/sibpages/ICadr.htm. Moreover, it is extremely difficult to precisely calculate the number of IJs at any given point due to the rapid rate of retirements. See Homeland Security Newswire, U.S. Govt. the Largest Employer of Undocumented Immigrants, May 30, 2014, http:www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com/dr20140530-u-s-govt-the-largest-employer-of-undocumented-immigrants

xiii GAO, Immigration Courts – Actions Needed to Reduce Case Backlog and Address Long-Standing Management and Operational Challenges, GAO-17-438 (June, 2017).

xiv Supra note xiv; https://www.justice.gov/eoir/eoir-immigration-court-listing
xv See, supra, Human Rights First, Reducing the Immigration Court Backlog and Delays,

http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/sites/default/files/HRF-Backgrounder-Immigration-Courts.pdf

xvi American Bar Association, Reforming the Immigration Court System (2010), Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), “Immigration Removal Adjudication, Committee on Adjudication, Proposed Recommendation,” June 14 – 14, 2012; Georgetown University, Institute for the Study of International Migration, Refugee, Asylum and Other Humanitarian Policies: Challenges for Reform, report on expert’s roundtable held on October 29, 2014, available at https://isim.georgetown.edu/sites/isim/files/files/upload/Asylum%20%26%20Refugee%20Meeting%20Report.pdf

  1. xvii  Supra note xiv.
  2. xviii  See, Marc R. Rosenblum and Doris Meissner, The Deportation Dilemma, Reconciling Tough and Humane Enforcement,

MIGRATION POLICY INSTITUTE, April, 2014, http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/deportation-dilemma-reconciling-tough- humane-enforcement

xix Erica Werner, Spending Leaves Out Immigration Courts, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Sept. 18, 2014, http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_CONGRESS_IMMIGRATION_OVERLOAD?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE- DEFAULT&CTIME=2014-08-18-16-57-40

4

xx Elizabeth Summers, Weeks-Long Computer Crash Sends U.S. Immigration Courts Back to Pencils and Paper, PBS NEWSHOUR, May 23, 2014, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/weeks-long-computer-crash-sends-u-s-immigration-courts-back- pencils-paper/.

xxi Laura Wides-Munoz, Nearly Half Of Immigration Judges Eligible For Retirement Next Year, Huffington Post, Dec. 22, 2013, available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/22/immigration- judges_n_4489446.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref&comm_crv.

xxii Stuart L. Lustig et al., Inside the Judges’ Chambers: Narrative Responses from the National Association of Immigration Judges Stress and Burnout Survey, 23 GEO. IMMIGR. L.J. 57 (2009).

xxiii COMM’N ON IMMIGRATION & REFUGEE POLICY, U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICY AND THE NATIONAL INTEREST: FINAL REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE SELECT COMMISSION ON IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE POLICY WITH SUPPLEMENTAL VIEWS BY THE COMMISSIONERS (1981).

xxiv Prestigious legal organizations such as the American Bar Association, Federal Bar Association, and American Judicature Society wholeheartedly endorse this reform. While not as certain as to the exact form of change desired, reorganization has also been endorsed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and increased independence by the National Association of Women Judges.

xxv Supra, note ii.”

5

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PROGRAM NOTE:

I am a retired member of the National Association of Immigration Judges (“NAIJ”).

 

BETH FERTIG AT NPR: “ADR” Moves Into High Gear, Devastating U.S. Immigration Courts, As Half Of NY Immigration Court “Goes Dark” — U.S. Immigration Judges Become Adjuncts Of DHS Border Enforcement Program — Dockets At Interior Courts “Orbited Into Never-Never Land!”

ADR = “Aimless Docket Reshuffling”

http://www.wnyc.org/story/even-more-immigration-judges-are-reassigned-trumps-crackdown-border/

Beth reports for WNYC/NPR:

“In its crackdown on illegal immigration, the Trump administration is moving an increasing number of immigration judges closer to the border with Mexico. The practice is so widespread that half of New York City’s 30 immigration judges have been temporarily reassigned for two-to-four weeks at a time between early April and July.

The judges have been sent to hear deportation cases in Louisiana, California, New Mexico and Texas, along with Elizabeth, New Jersey, where there’s a detention center. In June, WNYC reported that at least eight of New York City’s immigration judges have been temporarily moved to Texas and Louisiana since March. New information obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request revealed the number to be much higher.

All this reshuffling causes cases to get delayed for months. And New York City’s immigration court already has a backlog of more than 80,000 cases. People wait an average of more than two years go to court to fight against deportation. Some might welcome a prolonged wait. But immigration lawyer Edain Butterfield said her clients get anxious because they’re ready to make their case, when they suddenly learn their judge has had to postpone.

“They don’t know if their judge is going to stay on their case,” she said. “They sometimes have to get new documents, ask for another day off from work, ask their family to take another day off from work.”

David Wilkins, an attorney with Central American Legal Assistance in Brooklyn, said he’s representing a woman seeking asylum whose hearing was recently postponed almost a year — until the summer of 2018. He said she left her children in her home country back in 2012 because of domestic abuse. “It’s extremely difficult for her,” he said. “She’s been separated from her family for so long to sort of live with the constant uncertainty of not knowing what’s going to happen with her immigration proceeding.”

Judges from New York City aren’t the only ones being moved. According to the latest data obtained by WNYC, 128 of the nation’s approximately 325 immigration judges have been shuffled to other locations between early April and the middle of July. Many of those judges come from Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. These assignments, known as details, last for two or four weeks. Some judges have been shifted around multiple times.

The data does not include all judges assigned to hear cases in other locations by video teleconference. A couple of judges in New York City were seeing cases by video at a Texas detention center in May and June.

The reassignments are expected to continue until early 2018, but the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the immigration courts, would not reveal the schedule beyond July.

In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that all adults crossing the Mexican border would be sent to detention. To support the mission, he said, the Department of Justice had “already surged 25 immigration judges to detention centers along the border.”

Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said her union remains very concerned about the situation.

“The temporary assignment of judges to border courts creates increasing backlogs in the dockets they leave behind in their home courts and may not be conducive to the overall reduction of our burgeoning caseload.”

Nationally, the backlog has surged to more than 600,000 cases and observers believe that number is growing partly because of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Moving judges south might sound counterintuitive because illegal border crossings have actually dropped since President Trump took office. But Bryan Johnson, an immigration lawyer on Long Island, has a theory about why more judges are needed down south.

“The people that are deported will be deported in less time,” he explained. “And that is the message they want to send people in the home countries from where the migrants come from.”

There is no guaranteed right to counsel in immigration court, and experts said there are few low-cost immigration attorneys near the border — making it even easier to swiftly deport someone because they are not likely to have representation.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review did not respond to a request for comment. However, the agency has said it is hiring more judges.”

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

Get the accompanying audio/video report at the link.

David Wilkins from the Central American Legal Defense Center in Brooklyn, quoted in Beth’s article, is one of my former Georgetown Law Refugee Law & Policy students, a former CALS Asylum Clinic participant, and a former Legal Intern at the Arlington Immigration Court. David was also an Immigrant Justice Crops fellow. He is a “charter member” of the “New Due Process Army.” Congratulations David, we’re all proud of what you are doing!

Attorney Bryan Johnson simply restates the obvious. Under A.G. Jeff “Gonzo Apocalypto” Sessions, the U.S. Immigration Courts are once again being used as an arm of DHS Enforcement rather than a protector and dispenser of constitutional due process. Nobody in their right mind seriously thinks that Sessions is “surging” Immigration Judges to the border to grant more bonds, reverse more “credible fear” and “reasonable fear” denials, or grant more asylum, withholding of removal, or relief under the CAT.

No, the “surge” program is clearly all about detention, coercion, denial, deportation and sending a “don’t come, we don’t want you” message to folks living in fear and danger in countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America. In other words, you might as well cooperate with, support, and/or join the gangs and narco-traffickers — the U.S. has absolutely no intention of saving your life! Nice message!

Don’t be too surprised when multinational gangs and narco-traffickers eventually seize political power in Central America (they have already infiltrated or compromised many government functions). And, we will have sent away the very folks who might have helped us stem the tide. At the same time, we are destroying the last vestiges of due process in the U.S. Immigration Courts, leaving hundreds of thousands of cases and lives “up in the air” and our justice system without a fair and effective mechanism for deciding and reviewing immigration cases. At some point, somebody is going to have to fix this mess. But, you can be sure it won’t be the Trump (“We Don’t Take Responsibility For Nothin'”) Administration.

PWS

07-24-17

 

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

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

MY LIFE

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

AMERICA’S REAL IMMIGRATION CRISIS

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, thanks to Jason for his incisive analysis!

PWS

07-20-17

 

 

NEWSDAY: Judge Dana Leigh Marks Says Independence Is Only Solution For Beleaguered U.S. Immigration Courts! — Years of Political Interference and Mismanagement By Justice Department Have Taken A Toll On Due Process!

2017-7-17-Newsday-DLM-Immigration-Courts-Need-Independence

Judge Marks writes:

“Immigration courts nationwide have a backlog of more than 598,900 cases. In some of our nation’s busiest courts, such cases remain pending more than 500 days. Just more than 300 immigration judges nationwide grapple with this backlog, which increased by 100,000 in the last year alone.

Even more troubling, as the caseload rises, the rate of completing cases has been dropping. And while there are several reasons for this, our courts have been left in the lurch by ineffective management that has failed to provide adequate support staff and strategic planning.

In the past five years, immigration judges have decided more than 1,329,950 cases, but we can do even better. The key is assuring judicial independence and protection from political influences. Removing the immigration courts from the Department of Justice, where the courts are run by politically appointed law enforcement managers subject to the pressures of politics, and placing them in an independent court structure, would insulate them from those pressures and allow them to concentrate on completing cases in a fair way.

When cases are conducted fairly, there is less likelihood of appeal or political attack. More skilled court management, provided by experienced court administrators, rather than a law enforcement agency with priorities other than fairness and efficiency, would greatly enhance our ability to complete the tasks. For example, cases would not be docketed to make political statements or serve as a show of force by our government. Rather, they would be on the calendar based on due process needs. Judges need to be allowed to apply their expertise to make their dockets run smoothly and fairly.

Restructuring immigration courts would be a win-win, a solution that would ease the pressures on an overwhelmed system and facilitate timely and fair decisions. Structural reform would go a long way toward assuring we are able to answer the challenges that surely will continue.

Dana Leigh Marks is an immigration judge in San Francisco and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. The views expressed here are solely those of the author in consultation with the NAIJ.”

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Read Judge Marks’s full, article, which has an excellent succinct description of the important work performed by U.S. Immigration Judges, at the above link.

I agree totally with my good friend and former colleague Dana that an independent Immigration Court is a “win-win.” Pouring more Immigration Judges (particularly with little or no training) into an already dysfunctional system has actually resulted in fewer completions and is almost certain to increase the already disturbing discrepancies in asylum grant rates, etc.

But, getting officials in today’s highly politicized Department of Justice to support such a move is difficult. As I pointed out in an earlier post/article, http://immigrationcourtside.com/we-need-an-article-i-united-states-immigration-court-now/ one of the two reasons that Government officials sometimes fail to act in their own and the country’s best interests is “uncompromising philosophy.”

Jeff Sessions’s extreme anti-immigrant philosophy has led him to eschew “smart” immigration enforcement in favor of a “gonzo” policy of indiscriminate prosecution, jailing, detaining, deporting, and using the Immigration Courts as an adjunct of DHS enforcement, while trying to avoid the Immigration Court system entirely through a policy of increased “expedited removal.” Ultimately, this program, which lacks both credibility and due process, is very likely to fail and lead to a logjam in the Article III Courts. This, in turn, will result in almost nobody getting removed and Article III Judges making decisions about how the Immigration Court system should be run.

I don’t share Dana’s optimism that Sessions could be persuaded to cede his total control over the staffing and functioning of the U.S. Immigration Courts to an independent authority who would run it in accordance with due process. Although that would be in his best interests, I see no evidence that he is reflective enough to get beyond his long history of immigrant bashing and furthering a white nationalist agenda. I’d like to be proved wrong on this, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

As I have pointed out several times before, when a system with over 600,000 pending cases finally “crashes and burns,” it’s going to take a big chunk of the American justice system with it. Maybe, just maybe, at that point legislators will finally have to do their jobs, step in, and create an independent Immigration Court, with or without the support of the Administration and the DOJ.

PWS

07-19-17