U.S. IMMIGRATION COURTS: LATEST JUDICIAL APPOINTMENTS SHOW MORE DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS — MORE SUPERVISORY JUDGES ASSIGNED TO LOCAL COURTS!

In what should be a positive development for all who care about the future of our U.S. Immigration Courts, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s latest group of nine new U.S. Immigaration Judge appointees includes seven new judges with “outside” experience in either defending migrants or judging in other systems, or both.

Judge Katherine L. Hansen, Bloomington, MN, most recently served as a senior staff attorney at Iowa Legal Aid and also spent 12 years as a Michigan State District Court Judge.

Judge Jose A. Sanchez, Boston, spent the last 22 years as an Associate Justice for the Trial Court of Massachusetts.

Judge Christopher R. Seppanen, Cleveland, was a Supervisory Administrative Law Judge in Michigan for the past 15 years.

Judge Charlotte D. Brown, Harlingen, most recently spent seven years as a North Carolina State District Court Judge.

Judge Charles R. Conway, New York City, spent the last two years as a Supervising Attorney in the Immigration Unit of the Legal Aid Society in New York. Prior to that, he had his own immigration law practice and also was an Immigration Staff Attorney at Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem.

Judge Maria E. Navarro, New York City, had been an attorney with the  Legal Aid Society in New York for 21 years, the last nine years as a Supervising Attorney and ultimately Acting Attorney-in-Charge.

Judge Charles M. McCullough, San Antonio, served as the Senior Assistant Chief Industrial Appeals Judge in Washington State for the past 15 years.

Judge Patrick O’Brien, San Francisco, was an Assistant Chief Counsel for ICE in San Francisco for the past eight years.

Judge Joseph Y. Park, San Francisco, was the Deputy Chief Counsel for ICE in San Francisco for the past six years.

Additionally, EOIR announced that Judge Daniel Weiss has been appointed Assistant Chief Immigration Judge (“ACIJ”) in Dallas and Judge Clay Martin has been appointed ACIJ in San Antonio.

I have been a frequent critic of Sessions, his “over the top” rhetoric and actions on immigration enforcement, his undermining of important civil rights protections, and his previous record of appointing Immigration Judges solely from the ranks of government attorneys, almost all former prosecutors.

But, I have to say that this is one of the most diverse and well-balanced group of appointments that I have seen coming from an Attorney General in many years, including, for the most part, the Obama Administration.

I believe that having judges who have served in other systems and who have both defended and prosecuted migrants in the mix should generate some new perspectives and, hopefully, some practical, realistic solutions to the many problems facing the Immigration Courts on a daily basis.

I know that as a judge I always appreciated getting insights from my colleagues who came from different backgrounds and had different experiences and often different views on how to approach an issue. Sometimes, I tried out several approaches before finding the one that worked best in my courtroom.

My colleagues also frequently consulted me behind the scenes. I was happy to share perspectives I had gained as an appellate judge, private practitioner, Senior Executive, and professor. Indeed discussing legal and administrative issues “in chambers” with my colleagues and often our wonderful JLCs and legal interns was one of the highlights of the job, and certainly helped relieve the otherwise unrelenting stress of having people’s lives and futures in your hands continually.  (We tried, not always successfully, to steer our daily lunch discussions away from “work” to topics like sports, politics, history, theology, family, travel, etc.)

I also applaud the decision to place more ACIJs in the local courts rather than at HQ in Falls Church. Hopefully, they will handle at least partial dockets to have a better idea of the reality facing their colleagues.

A continuous complaint from sitting Immigration Judges and Court Administrators has been OCIJ’s attempt to micromanage and solve problems “from afar.” Many times we thought or said to ourselves “if they were here doing cases they wouldn’t have to ask that question.” Over many years in many different legal positions, I have found that “working supervisors” who are actively involved in the substantive work of the office, and accessible to their colleagues, do far better in solving problems, and achieving respect and cooperation from their colleagues than those who remain “above the fray.” A leader, particularly among judges, is more likely to develop a timely and effective solution to a problem if she or he faces that very problem on a daily basis and gets constant input from colleagues.

Of course, as with most things, “the devil is in the details.” It depends on what the local ACIJ’s mission is. If he or she is there to work collectively with colleagues, staff, the local bar, and ICE to solve problems, improve due process, and serve as a resource for other courts and for OCIJ in developing sound nationwide policies that support and improve due process, that would be a very positive development. On the other hand, if the ACIJ is an “emissary from on high” sent to crack the whip and enforce unrealistic or inappropriate policies developed at the DOJ or OCCIJ without appropriate input from Immigration Judges and local stakeholders, that’s going to be a nasty failure that will actually make an already bad situation even worse.

The latest appointments list could well be a fluke. Some have suggested that it is just the function of most of the “outside” appointments in the “pipeline” being tied up with (unnecessarily) long background clearances which finally came through in group. If so, the appointments could return to the “insiders only” practice.

But, for the reasons I have outlined above, more diverse and balanced selections for the Immigration Judiciary would well-serve the courts, due process, and the public interest in fair and efficient hearings in U.S. Immigration Court.

By no means am I suggesting that a few outside appointments and local ACIJs can solve the dysfunction now gripping the U.S. Immigration Court system. Only an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court can do that. But, more diverse judicial appointments and constructive local court management involving sitting judges would be small steps in the right direction.

I am republishing below the complete EOIR press release on the new appointments, giving more detailed information on their backgrounds and qualifications. Congratulations to each of the new U.S. Immigration Judges. Due Process Forever!

PWS

08-16-17

U.S. Department of Justice

Executive Office for Immigration Review

Office of the Director
5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 2600 Falls Church, Virginia 22041

Contact: Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs

Phone: 703-305-0289 Fax: 703-605-0365 PAO.EOIR@usdoj.gov @DOJ_EOIR

www.justice.gov/eoir

Aug. 14, 2017

Executive Office for Immigration Review Swears in Nine Immigration Judges

FALLS CHURCH, VA – The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has invested nine immigration judges to fill positions in Bloomington, Minn.; Boston; Cleveland; Harlingen, Texas; New York; San Antonio; and San Francisco.

The nine new immigration judges were selected from all qualified U.S. citizen applicants. Each must demonstrate appropriate temperament to serve as an immigration judge, and three of the following: knowledge of immigration laws and procedures, substantial litigation experience, experience handling complex legal issues, experience conducting administrative hearings, and knowledge of judicial practices and procedures.

Last Friday’s investiture brings the size of the immigration corps to 334. EOIR is continuing to employ its newly streamlined hiring process to reach its fully authorized level of 384 immigration judges. As the agency increases the number of immigration judges hearing cases, it is also expanding the number of supervisory immigration judges in the field. On Aug. 20, Daniel Weiss and Clay Martin will begin work as assistant chief immigration judges in Dallas and San Antonio, respectively.

Immigration judges preside over formal, quasi-judicial immigration court hearings and make decisions regarding the removability of aliens whom the Department of Homeland Security charges with violations of U.S. immigration law.

Biographical information follows.

Katherine L. Hansen, Immigration Judge, Bloomington Immigration Court

Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Katherine L. Hansen to begin hearing cases in August 2017. Judge Hansen earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1986 from Morningside College, a Juris Doctor in 1991 from Drake University School of Law, and a Master of Laws degree in 1997 from Wayne State University School of Law. From 2016 to 2017, she served as a senior staff attorney for Iowa Legal Aid. From 2004 to 2016, she served as a district court judge for Michigan’s 36th District Court, in Detroit, Mich. From 2000 to 2004, she served as an

Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs

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EOIR Swears in Nine Immigration Judges Page 2

assistant attorney general for the State of Michigan. From 1993 to 1999, she served as a member of the Michigan Employment Security Board of Review for the State of Michigan, in Lansing, Mich. Judge Hansen is a member of the Iowa and Michigan State Bars.

Jose A. Sanchez, Immigration Judge, Boston Immigration Court

Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Jose A. Sanchez to begin hearing cases in August 2017. Judge Sanchez earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1984 from Fordham University at Lincoln Center and a Juris Doctor in 1987 from Northeastern University School of Law. From 1995 to 2017, he served as an associate justice of the trial court for the Trial Court of Massachusetts, in Lawrence, Mass. From 1987 to 1995, he served as a trial attorney for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, in Cambridge, Mass. From 1976 to 1981, he served as an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration, in New York, N.Y. Judge Sanchez is a member of the Massachusetts State Bar.

Christopher R. Seppanen, Immigration Judge, Cleveland Immigration Court

Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Christopher R. Seppanen to begin hearing cases in August 2017. Judge Seppanen earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1990 from Alma College and a Juris Doctor in 1993 from the University of Kentucky College of Law. From 2002 to 2017, he worked for the State of Michigan, in Lansing, Mich., serving as a supervisory administrative law judge, 2002 to 2012; a deputy chief administrative law judge, 2012 to 2014; and a chief administrative law judge, 2014 to 2017. From 1997 to 2002, he served as an administrative law judge for the State of Michigan, in Manistee, Mich. From 1996 to 1997, he served as a trial attorney for the Office of Public Advocacy, in Alpena, Mich. Judge Seppanen is a member of the Michigan State Bar.

Charlotte D. Brown, Immigration Judge, Harlingen Immigration Court

Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Charlotte D. Brown to begin hearing cases in August 2017. Judge Brown earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1979 from The City University of New York, York College, a Juris Doctor in 1990 from St. John’s University School of Law, and a Master of Divinity in 2001 from Hood Theological Seminary. From 2009 to 2016, she served as a district court judge for North Carolina’s 26th District Court, in Charlotte, N.C. From 2001 to 2008 and previously 1994 to 1997, she was an attorney at Charlotte D. Brown, in Rockingham, N.C. From 1998 to 2001, she was an executive assistant to the president and general counsel at Livingston College, in Salisbury, N.C. From 1991 to 1992, she served as a public defender at the Public Defender’s Office, in Fayetteville, N.C. From 1990 to 1991, she was an associate attorney at Stroock, Stroock & Lavan, in New York, N.Y. Judge Brown is a member of the Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina State Bars.

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Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs

EOIR Swears in Nine Immigration Judges Page 3

Charles R. Conroy, Immigration Judge, New York City Immigration Court

Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Charles R. Conroy to begin hearing cases in August 2017. Judge Conroy earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1993 from St. Michael’s College and a Juris Doctor in 1999 from Vermont Law School. From 2016 to 2017 he was a supervising attorney in the Immigration Law Unit of The Legal Aid Society, in New York, N.Y. From 2013 to 2016, he was an immigration attorney at the Law Offices of Charles R. Conroy, PLLC, in New York. From 2012 to 2013, he was an immigration staff attorney at the Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem, also in New York. From 2006 to 2012, he was an immigration staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association Inc., in Orlando, Fla. From 2005 to 2006, he was a securities attorney in the Corporate Law Department of AEGON USA Inc., in St. Petersburg, Fla. In 2004, he was an associate attorney at Tabas Freedman, in Miami, Fla. From 2001 to 2004, he was a securities enforcement attorney at Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, in Montpelier, Vt. From 2000 to 2001, he was an associate attorney at Wick and Maddocks P.C., in Burlington, Vt. From 2008 to 2011, he was an adjunct professor of law at the Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law, Barry University, in Orlando. Judge Conroy is a member of the Florida, New York, and Vermont State Bars, and the District of Columbia Bar.

Maria E. Navarro, Immigration Judge, New York City Immigration Court

Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Maria E. Navarro to begin hearing cases in August 2017. Judge Navarro earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1985 from Fordham University and a Juris Doctor in 1992 from New York University School of Law. From 1996 to 2017, she worked at The Legal Aid Society, in New York, N.Y., serving as a staff attorney, 1996 to 2008; a supervising attorney, 2008 to 2016; and an acting attorney-in-charge, 2016 to 2017. From 2008 to 2016, she was a supervising attorney at The Legal Aid Society. From 1994 to 1996, she was a staff attorney at Brooklyn Legal Services, Corporation B, in Brooklyn, N.Y. From 1992 to 1994, she was a tax associate at Coopers & Lybrand, in New York, N.Y. From 1996 to 2016, she was an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School. Judge Navarro is a member of the New York State Bar.

Charles M. McCullough, Immigration Judge, San Antonio Immigration Court

Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Charles M. McCullough to begin hearing cases in August 2017. Judge McCullough earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1982 from the College of the Holy Cross and a Juris Doctor in 1985 from the Gonzaga University School of Law. From 1991 to 2017 he worked for the Washington State Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, in Olympia, Wash., serving as a hearings industrial appeal judge, 1991 to 1992; a mediation and review judge, 1992 to 1998; a review assistant chief industrial appeals judge, 1998 to 2002; and a senior assistant chief industrial appeals judge, 2002 to 2017. From 1988 to 1991, he served as an assistant attorney general for the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, in Tacoma, Wash. Judge McCullough is a member of the Washington State Bar.

Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs

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EOIR Swears in Nine Immigration Judges Page 4

Patrick S. O’Brien, Immigration Judge, San Francisco Immigration Court

Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Patrick S. O’Brien to begin hearing cases in August 2017. Judge O’Brien earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1995 from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and a Juris Doctor in 2000 from University of California, Hastings College of the Law. From 2009 to 2017, he served as an assistant chief counsel for the Office of Chief Counsel, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security, in San Francisco. From 2001 to 2017, he worked for the U.S. Army Judge

Advocate General’s Corp, entering as a student in 2001; serving as a legal assistance attorney in Korea, 2002 to 2003; trial counsel in Fort Lewis, Wash., and Iraq, 2003 to 2004; as trial defense counsel in Fort Lewis and Afghanistan, 2004 to 2007; special assistant U.S. attorney in Fort Lewis, 2007 to 2008; senior defense counsel, U.S. Army Reserve, 2009 to 2014; a brigade judge advocate, U.S. Army Reserve, 2014 to 2016; and currently as an adjunct professor of international and operational law. Judge O’Brien is a member of the California State Bar.

Joseph Y. Park, Immigration Judge, San Francisco Immigration Court

Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Joseph Y. Park to begin hearing cases in August 2017. Judge Park earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1994 from Amherst College and a Juris Doctor in 2002 from the University of Washington School of Law. From 2003 to 2017, he worked for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security, in San Francisco, serving as an assistant chief counsel, 2003 to 2007; a senior attorney, 2007 to 2011; and a deputy chief counsel, Office of Chief Counsel, 2011 to 2017. From 2002 to 2003, he served as an assistant district counsel for the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, Department of Justice, in San Francisco, entering on duty through the Attorney General’s Honors Program. Judge Park is a member of the California State Bar.

— EOIR —

Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs

NEW JUDICIAL APPOINTMENT: JUDGE JAMES M. McCARTHY JOINS U.S. IMMIGRATION COURT IN NEW YORK

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, July 13, 2017

Executive Office for Immigration Review Swears in Immigration Judge

FALLS CHURCH, VA – The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) today announced the investiture of a new immigration judge. Chief Immigration Judge MaryBeth Keller presided over the investiture during a ceremony held this afternoon at EOIR headquarters in Falls Church, Va.

After a thorough application process, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed James M. McCarthy to his new position.

“We welcome Judge McCarthy to the ranks of immigration judges at EOIR,” said Acting Director James McHenry. “EOIR is committed to reducing its significant pending caseload, and Judge McCarthy’s presence augments our ability to do that in one of our highest-volume courts.”

Biographical information follows.

James M. McCarthy, Immigration Judge, New York City Immigration Court

Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed James M. McCarthy to begin hearing cases in July 2017. Judge McCarthy earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1983 from St. John’s University and a Juris Doctor in 1995 from Brooklyn Law School. From 2014 to 2017, he served as a senior attorney for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in New York, N.Y. From 2011 to 2014, he served as a deputy chief counsel for the Office of Chief Counsel, ICE, DHS, also in New York. From 2009 to 2011, he served as a senior attorney for ICE, DHS, in Eloy, Ariz. From 2004 to 2009, he served as an assistant chief counsel for ICE, DHS, in Eloy and Florence, Ariz. From 2000 to 2004, he served as an examining attorney for the Mayoral Commission to Combat Police Corruption, New York City Department of Investigations. From 1995 to 2000, he served as an assistant district attorney, and later as a senior assistant district attorney, at the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Judge McCarthy is a member of the New York State Bar.

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Congratulations and good luck to Judge McCarthy.

PWS

08-04-17

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.”

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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

 

BREAKING: NPR’s Beth Fertig Exposes Administration’s Immigration Court Due Process Disaster — Taxpayers Billed For Sending Judges To Hustle Detainees Through Court Without Lawyers, Leaving More Represented Cases At Home To Rot! — Backlogs Mushroom As Administration Plays Games With Human Lives!

http://www.wnyc.org/story/missing-new-york-immigration-judges/

Fertig reports:

“In the middle of May, paper notices were posted on the walls of the federal building in lower Manhattan announcing the absence of several immigration judges. Some were out for a week or two, while others were away for six weeks. The flyers said their cases would be rescheduled.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the immigration courts, would not comment on the judges’ whereabouts. It cited the confidentiality of personnel matters. But after WNYC asked about these missing judges, many of the paper notices were taken off the walls of the 12th and 14th floors, where hearings are held in small courtrooms.

It’s no secret that President Donald Trump’s administration has been redeploying judges to detention centers near the southern border to speed up the processing of cases. After contacting numerous immigration attorneys down south, as well as retired judges and others, WNYC was able to crowdsource the judges’ locations. At least eight of New York City’s 29 immigration judges had been sent to Texas and Louisiana since March to conduct hearings in person or by video. Six judges were out for different parts of the month of May, alone.

“NYC

The federal building is home to the nation’s busiest immigration court, with a backlog of 80,000 cases. By redeploying so many judges in such a short period of time, immigration lawyers fear the delays will grow even longer. Meanwhile, attorneys near the border question whether these extra judges are even necessary.

Among other matters, judges at detention courts are supposed to hear cases involving people who crossed the border illegally. Yet those numbers have declined since Trump took office. That’s why local attorneys are cynical about the surge.

“I don’t really think that they need all these judges,” said Ken Mayeaux, an immigration lawyer in Baton Rouge.

Mayeaux said what’s really needed there are more immigration attorneys. As federal agents arrest an increasing number of immigrants who are already in the U.S. without legal status, they’re sending them to southern detention centers that are pretty isolated. The ones in Oakdale and Jena, Louisiana, are hours west of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, where the vast majority of the state’s immigration advocates are concentrated, said Mayreaux.

“To ramp things up in one of the places that has the lowest representation rates in the United States, that’s a due process disaster,” he said.

Data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University confirms that immigrants may only wait a couple of months for their deportation case to be completed in these detention centers near the border. But in New York, the wait to see an immigration judge is 2.4 years.

So why move judges from a clogged and busy court system in New York to the border region, where immigration cases are already moving swiftly?

“In this particular instance, it’s a virtuous circle from the perspective of the administration,” explained Andrew Arthur, a former immigration judge.

Arthur is a resident fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies. It’s a think tank that wants to limit immigration, though it’s been branded a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. During the Obama administration, Arthur said too many immigrants were let out of detention and waited years for their cases to be heard. He said moving more judges to the border will prevent that from happening.

“Because the quicker that you hear the cases the less likely that an individual is to be released,” Arthur said. “Therefore the less likely another group of individuals are to attempt to make the journey to the United States.”

Another former immigration judge, Paul Wickham Schmidt, said the Obama administration tried something similar by fast-tracking the cases of Central American migrants in 2014. But he said it wound up scrambling the judges’ dockets and was counterproductive. He was redeployed from his home court in Virginia and estimates he had to reschedule a hundred cases in a week.

“Nobody cares what’s happening on the home docket,” he said. “It’s all about showing presence on the border.”

Not all judges assigned to the border are physically present. Mana Yegani, an immigration lawyer in Houston, said she’s seen several judges — including a few from New York — at a detention center where cases are done by video teleconference.

“We never see the prosecutor’s face, it’s just a voice in the background,” she explained. “It’s just not a fair process for our clients and I don’t think the judges can be efficient the way they’re supposed to. They take an oath to be fair and to uphold the Constitution and due process, and I think the way the system is set up it really hinders that.”

A new audit of the immigration courts by the Government Accountability Office questioned whether video teleconferences have an impact on outcomes and said more data should be collected.

Some attorneys believe the reassignments are temporary to see if border crossings continue to ebb. The Executive Officer for Immigration Review won’t comment on that, but spokesman John Martin said the agency will hire 50 new judges and “plans to continue to advertise and fill positions nationwide for immigration judges and supporting staff.”

In the meantime, there’s no question that shifting judges away from New York is having an impact on real people.”

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Read Beth’s entire article, including the story of one “real” asylum applicant waiting patiently for a hearing that almost didn’t happen.

The due process farce continues, at taxpayer expense, while the U.S. Immigration Courts are being treated as an enforcement arm of the DHS. Aimless Docket Reshuffling (“ADR”) denies due process at both the “sending courts” and “receiving courts.” When, if ever, will Congress or the Federal Courts step in and put an end to this travesty of justice and mockery of our constitutional requirement for due process! In the meantime, what’s happening in the Immigration Courts is a continuing national disgrace.

PWS

06-06-17

 

“AIMLESS DOCKET RESHUFFLING” (“ADR”) IN NEW YORK — NPR’s Beth Fertig Exposes Due Process/Management Abuses By Obama & Trump Administrations!

http://www.wnyc.org/story/why-new-yorks-immigration-court-even-busier-fewer-judges-under-trump/

Fertig reports:

“There are 29 immigration judges assigned to court rooms in the Federal Building in Lower Manhattan. But as the number of pending cases grew from about 70,000 in January to nearly 80,000 this spring, more and more people have been coming to court only to discover they don’t have judges.

On a Tuesday morning in May, Alin Guifarro expected to attend a hearing with his 18-year-old son, Jose David Rodriguez. The teen came from Honduras last year to join his father and is trying to get legal status in the U.S.

But when they went to the 12th floor and scanned the long list of names with appearances scheduled that day, Guifarro saw his son’s case wasn’t assigned to a judge. Confused, he went to the clerk’s office and was told he would eventually get a letter in the mail about a new court date.

Guifarro was frustrated. “I came over here driving 2 ½ hours for nothing,” he said, referring to his journey from his home in Mastic, Long Island.

This father and son aren’t the only ones whose immigration cases have been postponed lately.

“In the last two months this has happened every week,” said Bryan Johnson, an immigration lawyer based on Long Island. Many of his clients are seeking asylum, and he said some have already been waiting a couple of years. With extra delays, he said, “if they have children who are abroad, that will delay family unification or spousal unification if their spouse is abroad.”

On a single day in May, when almost 400 hearings were scheduled to take place in immigration court, WNYC counted 60 people who didn’t have judges.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review runs the nation’s immigration courts. It says staffers typically mail a notice if a judge is out or a case is delayed, but they don’t always go out in time. As for why people are coming to court without judges, the agency explained that they are technically assigned to ”visiting judges.” But it acknowledged these judges don’t actually exist.

“The concept of ‘visiting judges’ is for internal case management,” said E.O.I.R. spokesman John Martin. “When judges retire, or temporarily stop hearing cases due to illness, the New York City Immigration Court will assign these dockets to a ‘visiting judge’ in order to maintain continuity of these cases. As new immigration judges are hired and officially placed at their respective immigration court locations, these ‘visiting judge’ dockets in those locations are reassigned to them.”

Even after a recent hire, New York City has only 29 immigration judges, compared to 31 at this time last year.

The backlog in immigration courts isn’t new. There are almost 600,000 pending cases, nationally. The problem started well before President Donald Trump took office.”

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Read Beth’s complete article at the link.

A recent GAO report highlighted and quantified endemic management issues with the DOJ’s stewardship over the U.S. Immigration Courts, particularly in hiring new Immigration Judges which takes an astounding average of 742 days. http://wp.me/p8eeJm-Uh

Then, there are the retirements. It’s hardly rocket science that an aging workforce in high-stress jobs might retire in large numbers. I ran “Immigration Judge retirements” into my search engine and got 9 articles, right off the bat. Try it yourself.

Additionally, there is the practice of both Administrations of mindlessly jamming more new cases in the front of the system without a rational plan for completing the ones already in it. That’s followed by reassigning Immigration Judges (like they were assembly line workers) from existing dockets of cases scheduled for final hearings to new dockets of Not Quite Ready For Prime Time (“NQRFPT”) cases. And to cap it off, Secretary Kelly, egged on by Jeff Sessions, has told DHS agents to arrest anyone the feel like arresting without any regard for reasonable priorities or space on already overcrowded court dockets!

And, while we’re at it, let’s stuff more non-criminals into dangerous, expensive, and unneeded immigration detention, thereby turning them into self-created emergency situations, rather than thinking creatively about cheaper, more humane, and more effective methods of getting non-dangerous folks through the system in a reasonable manner.

And you gotta love imaginary “visiting judges.”  Visiting from where, “The Twilight Zone?” Almost as good as “warehousing” tens of thousands of cases on a single day in November 2019. No wonder that once in extreme frustration I referred to this administrative morass as “Clown Court!”🤡

No, it’s not all the fault of EOIR bureaucrats, most of whom mean well and are simply caught up in a “built for failure” system. But, it is the fault of the DOJ whose politicized management of the Immigration Courts has been a disaster since the beginning of this century. And, even if you removed politics from the equation, the DOJ obviously lacks the basic administrative competence to run a complicated, high volume court system. Ultimately, Congress must assume the responsibility for allowing this travesty to continue to exist. An independent Immigration Court outside the Executive Branch is long overdue.

But, other than that, it’s a great system!

Stay tuned! Tomorrow, Beth will tell us what judges pulled off their existing dockets find when they get to their “detail courts.” I can’t wait to hear what she found out!

PWS

06-05-17

 

 

The Gibson Report For June 5, 2017! — More “ADR” On Tap For The New York Immigration Court?

Get it here:

Gibson Report 06-05-17

One thing that caught my eye in Elizabeth’s report is the first item:

“Update from Regina Rau, Acting Court Administrator-NYC:

Effective 7/3/17 Judge Tsankov will be assigned to the Varick Street Court.  Until further notice, any case on her NYC docket from 7/3/17 on will not be going forward.

Judge Chew will be retiring at the end of June. However his future cases will be heard by another Immigration Judge so all of your hearing dates will remain the same.”

In the case of Judge Tsankov’s docket, sure sounds like more “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” (“ADR”) to me.  And, based on my experience and what I’ve been hearing from folks in and dealing with the Immigration Courts, I wouldn’t “bet the farm” on all of Judge Chew’s cases being heard on schedule either.

PWS

06-05-17

 

 

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

LIFE AT EOIR – PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE

By

Paul Wickham Schmidt

Retired U.S. Immigration Judge

Keynote Address

2017 Immigration Law Conference

Denver, CO

May 12, 2017

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAREER SUMMARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE DUE PROCESS VISION

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE ROLE OF THE IMMIGRATION JUDGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MY JUDICIAL PHILOSOPHY

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

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

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

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

RECLAIMING THE VISION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GETTING INVOLVED 

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

So, do we abandon all hope? No, of course not!   Because there are hundreds of newer lawyers out there who are former Arlington JLCs, interns, my former student, and those who have practiced before the Arlington Immigration Court.       

They form what I call the New Due Process Army!And, while my time on the battlefield is winding down, they are just beginning the fight! They will keep at it for years, decades, or generations — whatever it takes to force the U.S. immigration judicial system to live up to its promise of guaranteeing fairness and due process for all!        

What can you do to get involved now? The overriding due process need is for competent representation of individuals claiming asylum and/or facing removal from the United States. Currently, there are not nearly enough pro bono lawyers to insure that everyone in Immigration Court gets represented.     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

 

 

(05/12/17)

        

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[14] See 8 C.F.R. § 1208.13(b)(1).

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

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

IMMIGRATIONPROF BLOG: Three Cheers For NY! — State Becomes First To Guarantee Representation For All Detained Immigrants!

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/immigration/2017/04/new-york-state-becomes-first-in-the-nation-to-provide-lawyers-for-all-immigrants-detained-and-facing.html

Dean Kevin Johnson writes:

“The Vera Institute of Justice and partner organizations today announced that detained New Yorkers in all upstate immigration courts will now be eligible to receive legal counsel during deportation proceedings. The 2018 New York State budget included a grant of $4 million to significantly expand the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), a groundbreaking public defense program for immigrants facing deportation that was launched in New York City in 2013.

New York has become the first state to ensure that no immigrant will be detained and permanently separated from his or her family solely because of the inability to afford a lawyer. Without counsel, a study shows, only 3% of detained, unrepresented immigrants avoid deportation, but providing public defenders can improve an immigrant’s chance of winning and remaining in the United States by as much as 1000%.

NYIFUP has been operating in two of the four affected upstate immigration courts on a limited basis since 2014 with funding from the New York State Assembly and the IDC. In the just-ended fiscal year, the funding was sufficient to meet less than 20% of the need upstate. In New York City, NYIFUP has been representing all financially eligible, otherwise unrepresented detained immigrants since 2014 with funding from the City Council.

Research has shown that keeping immigrant families together saves money for the state’s taxpayers in increased tax revenues and less need for families left behind to draw on the social safety net. New York State employers also receive significant economic benefits from avoiding the loss of productivity when their employees are detained and deported, and the consequent need to identify and train replacement workers.

The first public defender program in the country for immigrants facing deportation, the NYIFUP Coalition includes Vera, the Immigration Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law School, the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, Make the Road New York, and The Center for Popular Democracy. The Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project is a NYIFUP Coalition partner upstate. Brooklyn Defender Services, the Legal Aid Society, and The Bronx Defenders are Coalition partners in New York City.

Several cities and states, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and California have recently begun efforts to design similar programs.”

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Good for New York! I hope that other states follow suit.

Representation is the most important contribution that those “outside the system” can make to improving due process in the U.S. Immigration Courts. And, nowhere is it needed more than in often out of the way detention centers. As noted in the article, there is no doubt that representation makes a difference in outcome — a huge difference.

In fact, the statistical difference is so great that one might think that those officials responsible for the U.S. Immigration Court system would long ago have determined that no case could proceed in accordance with due process unless and until the respondent had a lawyer. But, that would be some other place, some other time.

In the meantime, let’s all be thankful for the outstanding example that New York has set!

PWS

04/10/17

 

In Memoriam: U.S. Immigration Judge Philip L. Morace — Scholar, Outstanding Jurist, Beloved Colleague, And Kind Compassionate Human Being

I am sad to announce the death on Friday, January 20, 2017, of one of the most admired and respected U.S. Immigration Judges, Hon. Philip L. Morace of the U.S. Immigration Court in New York, New York.  Judge Morace was widely known by his colleagues, the government, the private bar, and the immigrant community as a gentleman, a scholar, an amazing colleague, and the very embodiment of the Immigration Court’s ideal of “through teamwork and innovation . . . guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.”

Judge Morace was educated at Fordham University and the Brooklyn Law School and served in private practice and with the U.S. Marine Corps before being appointed to the bench in September 1995.  He was a member of the New York Bar.

Please join me in offering sympathy to Judge Morace’s family, his colleagues, and the New York immigration community on this great loss.  Judge Morace’s inspiring example will be long remembered and emulated.

PWS

01/22/17

Sunny Thoughts On A Dreary Day In DC — Read More From WNYC/NPR Reporter Beth Fertig — The “New Due Process Army” Takes the Field — Bronx Defenders and Courtney M. Lee (Former Arlington Immigration Court Intern And Star Georgetown CALS Asylum Clinic & RLP Student) Work To Save Lives & Insure Due Process In Our Immigration Courts Every Day!

https://www.wnyc.org/story/free-lawyers-provided-city-help-more-immigrants-detention-win-cases/

Beth Fertig writes:

“Arturo had his most recent hearing in December, in front of Judge Patricia Buchanan. He wore an orange jumpsuit with the initials of the Hudson County Department of Correction on the back, and his hands were shackled. The 31-year-old is five-foot-three and slim, and appeared very nervous. He sat with his team from Bronx Defenders, [Supervisory Attorney Sarah Deri] Oshiro and Law Graduate Courtney Lee, and a court-appointed translator. There was also an attorney from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, James McCarthy.

Arturo’s case is very complicated and his team has a few different claims. They are asking the court to withhold his deportation on the grounds that he’ll be persecuted or tortured if he goes back to Mexico.

“His stepfather subjected him to — during his entire childhood and adolescence — to really severe constant and consistent sexual, physical and psychological abuse,” Lee explained.

In court, she asked Arturo to recall some of the beatings and how his mother and siblings are still living in terror. He said the abuse continued even after he arrived in New York and sent his mother money to leave the man. He described in Spanish how he feared his stepfather would kill him if he moved back to Mexico, because he was the one who helped his mother escape. And he said he had no other place to live except for the town in which they reside. But Judge Buchanan appeared skeptical. She asked if he had any family in New York when he first arrived in 2004, and he said no.

Arturo’s legal team is also seeking to halt his deportation by arguing his two young children would be harmed. Immigrants who have lived in the U.S. illegally for at least 10 years can apply for a cancellation of removal if an American citizen would suffer “exceptional and unusual hardship.”

It’s a tough bar to meet, and it doesn’t help Arturo’s case that he has a few convictions for misdemeanors, including breaking a store window when he was drunk and possession of marijuana. But his advocates argued that these are minor and were related to the traumas he suffered as a child. He told the court he stopped using marijuana and alcohol after his children were born, to set a “good example.” His advocates said he also has an employer who believes in him, and wants to hire him back.

Because Arturo is the primary breadwinner, they argued deporting him would put the children at risk of homelessness. His partner, the children’s mother, is already fighting eviction proceedings. And Arturo said the stress from his detention has caused his seven year-old son to wet the bed and barely eat. But McCarthy, of I.C.E., argued that the children seem healthy and are not experiencing “exceptional and unusual hardship.”

The judge had to stop the proceedings at noon because she had too many other cases that day. She scheduled Arturo’s next hearing in February, almost a year after he was sent to detention.”

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Go to Beth’s full article at the link for a fantastic picture of Courtney and her Supervisory Attorney Sarah Deri Oshiro.  Way to go, Courtney and Sarah!

These days, in retirement, in addition to writing, I attend many events, give lots of speeches, and guest lecture at law schools and colleges, all largely directed at pointing out why refugees and other migrants make America great, the sad state of our United States Immigration Court System, the overwhelming importance of working to force our Immigration Courts to live up to their unfulfilled promise to “guarantee fairness and due process for all,” and the compelling need for reforms to make the Immigration Courts independent from the Executive Branch.

Almost everywhere I go, I run into great attorneys who once were Judicial Law Clerks or interns for the U.S. Immigration Court in Arlington, appeared in Immigration Court under clinical practice programs sponsored by local law schools (like Georgetown’s famous CALS Asylum Clinic), or are former students who took my Refugee Law and Policy (“RLP”) course at Georgetown Law in 2012-14.  There are all, without exception, doing absolutely wonderful things to advance the cause of fairness and due process for migrants.

They are all over:  projects like Bronx Defenders, NGOs, pro bono organizations, big law, small law, public interest law, courts, government agencies, Capitol Hill, academia, journalism, management, and administrative positions.  I call them the “New Due Process Army” and they are going to keep fighting the “good fight” to force the Immigration Courts and the rest of our justice system to live up to the promise of “fairness and due process for all” whether that takes two years, ten years, twenty years, or one hundred years.  If we all keep at it and support one another it will eventually happen!

Last night, I was at a very moving retirement ceremony for Shelly Pitterman, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Regional Representative for the United States and the Caribbean.  Fortunately, Shelly is going to remain in the human rights field, joining Mark Hetfield and the other wonderful folks over at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (“HIAS”).  I wish I had gotten to know Shelly better.  He was repeatedly described as a dynamic leader who inspired everyone around him to perform at a higher level (just like Aaron Rodgers of the Pack), apparently even on the softball field!

In attendance were two of our “total superstar” former Arlington Immigration Court legal interns, Katie Tobin and Lindsay Jenkins, both Assistant Protection Officers (one of the most coveted jobs) with the UNHCR.  Accomplished attorneys,  dynamic leaders, and terrific role models in they own rights, Katie and Lindsay are using their education and experience to live out their deeply held values every day and to help make the world a fairer, more humane, and better place for all of us.  Both of them represent the true values of the real America:  fairness, scholarship, respect, teamwork, and industriousness (not to mention a sense of humor).

To Courtney, Katie, Lindsay, and all the other “soldiers” of the “New Due Process Army” thanks for what you are doing for all of us every day!  It is an honor to know you and to have played a role, however modest, in your quest to make the world an even greater place.

PWS

01/20/17

 

Why The U.S. Immigration Court In NYC Is Overwhelmed: Listen & Read WNYC/NPR Senior Reporter Beth Fertig’s Report (Quoting Me) Here! Without Reforms, Due Process Is In Peril! Why Not “Give Due Process A Chance?”

http://www.wnyc.org/story/why-new-yorks-immigration-courts-are-so-busy/

“This is why experts say it’s hard to imagine Donald Trump deporting more criminal immigrants than Obama. “I think this administration already takes a fairly broad view of who is a criminal,” said Paul Wickham Schmidt, who was an immigration judge in Arlington, Virginia for 13 years.

Trump has claimed there are two to three million undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions. The government has said that number is actually just below 2 million and includes non-citizens who are in the country legally (like Bilanicz), as well as undocumented immigrants.

The government has put more resources into immigration enforcement. But Schmidt said it hasn’t done enough to help the court system meet the growing demand. There were fewer than 300 immigration judges for the whole country last year, and they were hearing more than 220,000 cases. Schmidt said even 100 additional judges would barely keep up with incoming cases, let alone the backlog.

“If you start doing the half million cases that are pending then you’re going to fall behind on the incoming cases,” he said.

. . . .

Judges have also complained that the government fast-tracked unaccompanied minors and families from Central America and Mexico who crossed the border in a “surge” a couple of years ago. These recent arrivals got priority over immigrants who had been waiting years for their hearings or trials, leading to bigger backlogs.

. . . .

The whole [Master Calendar] process took about five minutes for each case, and [Judge Amiena] Khan was scheduling future court appearances as late as August of 2018. This isn’t so bad given, that Schmidt said he was scheduling hearings for 2021 before retiring last summer. But one lawyer in court that morning, Shihao Bao, agreed the system couldn’t possibly handle more cases unless Trump wanted to “take away due process.”

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To paraphrase Chief Justice John Robert’s spot-on observation in the immigration case Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 421 (2009), providing due process in an individual case takes time: “[S]ometimes a little; sometimes a lot.”  As I have said numerous times on this blog, the “just peddle faster approach” to due process in the U.S. Immigration Courts, unsuccessfully tried by past Administrations, isn’t going to “cut it” for due process.

And, cutting corners is sure to be more expensive to the taxpayers in the long run when Article III U.S. Courts of Appeals inevitably intervene and use their independent authority to stop the “assembly line” approach to justice and force the return of numerous cases to the Immigration Courts for “redos,” sometimes before different Immigration Judges.

I’m relatively certain that some of the Ashcroft-era cases “bounced back” by the Courts of Appeals are still kicking around the Immigration Courts somewhere without any final resolutions.  With the help of the local immigration bar and the ICE Office of Chief Counsel I finished up a fair number of these “oldies” myself during my time at the Arlington Immigration Court.  By the time the cases finally got to my Individual Hearing calendar, most of the individuals involved had qualified for relief from removal or, alternatively, had established lengthy records of good behavior, tax payment, contributions to the community, and U.S. family ties that made them “low priorities” for enforcement and resulted in an offer of “prosecutorial discretion” from the Assistant Chief Counsel.

In the Arlington Immigration Court, the Office of Chief Counsel had a strong sense of justice and practicality and was a huge force in helping to get “low priority” cases off the docket whenever possible consistent with the needs and policies of their DHS client.  But, I know that the Offices of Chief Counsel in other areas did not perform at the same consistently high level.

Rather than having enforcement efforts stymied and having to redo cases time and time again to get them right, why not invest in providing really great fairness and due process at the “retail level” of our justice system:  the United States Immigration Courts?  Getting it right in the Immigration Courts would not only save time and money in the long run by reducing appeals, petitions for review, and actions for injunctions directed to higher courts, but would also produce a due process oriented Immigration Court system we could all be proud of, that would have great credibility,  and that would serve as an inspiring example of “best practices” to other courts and even to immigration systems in other countries.  After all, the “vision” of the U.S. Immigration Courts is supposed to be:  “Through teamwork and innovation be the world’s best tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.”  Why not “give due process a chance?”

PWS

01/17/17