Here is the text of the OPPM:
- There are lots areas where U.S. Immigration Judges, particularly new ones, could use training. Applying the asylum standards of proof set forth in Cardoza-Fonseca and Mogharrabi, properly applying the presumption based on past persecution in 8 CFR 1208.13, adjudicating “other serious harm” claims, insuring that requests for corroboration are “reasonable,” making credibility determinations on the basis of the record as a whole and all relevant factors, and understanding and properly applying the complex concepts of “divisibility,” categorical approach,” and “modified categorical approach” in criminal-related cases immediately come to mind. Adjudicating motions to continue doesn’t jump out at me as an area where guidance is particularly necessary. In fact, I never really met an Immigration Judge who didn’t have a pretty good sense of what the criteria were for continuances.
- The OPPM blows by the real reason why the dockets are a mess: politically motivated “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” (“ADR”) caused by ever changing political priorities in Immigration Court. Shifting Immigration Judges from previously-scheduled “Merits Hearings” to “Master Calendars” for recently arrived aliens, detainees who needn’t be in detention, and juveniles, has resulted in perhaps hundreds of thousands of “ready for trial” cases being “orbited” to largely imaginary merits hearing dates years from now.
- The OPPM falsely suggests that Immigration Judges have control over their dockets. But, individual Immigration Judges were stripped of any real semblance of docket control years ago. That’s the major problem causing backlogs. It’s not uncommon for Immigration Judges to find themselves detailed to other courts or shifted to other priorities without any meaningful input and sometimes with minimal advance notice. Ask the many private attorneys in New York, Chicago, and other major locations who arrive at long-ago-scheduled merits hearing, witnesses in tow, only to find out the Immigration Judge has been “reassigned” without advance notice, and that their cases are likely to go back to Master Calendar again for assignment of yet another Merits Hearing date with another judge years in the future. And, given the documented inconsistencies in adjudication results, particularly in asylum cases, among U.S. Immigration Judges, don’t think that re-assignment to a “new” Immigration Judge is a “neutral” occurrence. In all too many cases, it’s “outcome determinative.”
- The OPPM falsely suggests that continuances are largely a “scheme” by private attorneys to “game the system.” Undoubtedly, respondents sometimes do benefit by delays — many of which are actually caused not by them but by the internal procedures of EOIR and DOJ. They just take advantage of that which the system at the administrative/political level of DOJ/EOIR offers them. But, there are probably just as many private attorneys who have been trying for years to get their clients’ cases to trial, only to be “stiffed” by the politicos ultimately in charge of the system. Individual Immigration Judges are more often than not merely the “bearers of bad news” over which they have no personal control (but do get some of the flack).
- The OPPM appears to be directed at overburdened, overworked, under-appreciated NGOs who have been “hosed around” by the politicos at DOJ and EOIR Headquarters. They have been forced to race to cover “new priority” cases at the border, in detention, or on accelerated dockets while back at the “home court” their non-detained “ready for trial” cases are being “orbited” to dockets years in the future. Moreover, it is well-known the there is a high rate of turnover among NGO and pro bono group attorneys. Therefore the DOJ/EOIR tactics are designed to “wear down” pro bono representatives, thus forcing individuals to abandon representation or go unrepresented. This, in turn, all but guarantees failure of their claims. Indeed, the recent NWIRP litigation has made it clear that DOJ and EOIR are willing to bend the existing regulations to threaten or penalize those trying to provide pro bono assistance. http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/07/29/eoir-pro-bono-representation-u-s-district-judge-richard-m-jones-rips-eoirs-violation-of-1st-amendment-common-sense-nwirp-v-sessions-wd-wa/.
- The OPPM also falsely suggests that DHS only rarely asks for continuances. Not true! DHS has a steady stream of reasons for requesting continuances including such “administratively fixable” things as: lost or missing files, sick attorneys, shortage of staff, missing fingerprints, changing priorities, ongoing investigations, new charges of removability, training, details, need to review exhibits lost in the mail, etc. Moreover, as recently documented by TRAC, the Trump Administration’s abandonment of a sensible use of “prosecutorial discretion” to get low priority cases off the Immigration Court docket is compounding the backlog issue. Additionally, the reported DHS unwillingness to stipulate to issues and grants of relief has caused many cases that could have been completed at Master Calendar or on “short docket” to be set for 3-4 hour merits hearing blocks instead.
- Oh, and lets not forget that docket problems are also aggravated by the byzantine, glacial, yet one-sided hiring process for Immigration Judges developed and administered by DOJ largely in response to political abuse of the hiring system by the Bush-era DOJ. Additionally, DOJ & EOIR have failed to anticipate problems caused by predictable loss of experienced judges to retirement, and they have failed to fill the additional positions allocated by Congress in a timely fashion.
- NOTE TO REPORTERS IN THE AUDIENCE: Don’t be fooled or “taken in” by this smokescreen. Faced with exposure of chronic problems, it’s a “bureaucratic norm” within DOJ and EOIR, as well as a specialty of the Trump Administration, to attempt to shift attention and blame elsewhere. Don’t fall for it! The “real story” here is in the absolute mess that political meddling at the DOJ has made, and continues to make, out of sound docket management and due process in the U.S. Immigration Courts and the unwillingness and inability of the politicos to fix the problems they have created or aggravated. No OPPM or series of “administrative band aids” is going to fix this broken system. We need an Article I U.S. Immigration Court now!
- Other than that, I loved the OPPM.