Why Is The U.S. Immigration Court So Totally Screwed Up? — Sure, Bad Laws & Inadequate Resources Are Endemic Problems — But, Trying To Run A Due Process Court System As An Agency Of A Political Department Which Is Clueless About Effective Judicial Administration Is The Overriding Reason This System Is “Built To Fail!”

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/06/08/immigration-courts-backlog/

Tory Johnson writes in Immigration Impact:

“Anyone familiar with the immigration system knows that the immigration courts have an enormous backlog which has persisted—and grown—for more than a decade. As of April 2017, the immigration court backlog topped 585,930 cases, more than double the pending cases in fiscal year (FY) 2006 (212,000).

The immigration court backlog means that many people wait years to have their cases resolved. According to a June 2017 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the average time a case remains pending with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)—the office within the Department of Justice that adjudicates immigration cases—has increased. In FY 2006, cases took an average of 198 days to complete; now the average is 650 days.

For years government officials, external stakeholders, and others have attributed the growing backlog to staffing shortages, lack of resources, and changing priorities. GAO’s recent analysis affirms some of these problems, but found that average case completion times increased—from 43 days in FY 2006 to 286 days in FY 2015—even though the number of immigration judges increased by 17 percent in the last decade.

So what’s making cases take longer in immigration court, and contributing to the backlog?

In part, judges are taking more time to complete cases, especially as new hires get up to speed. Respondents to GAO’s investigation most commonly cited a lack of adequate staff as a cause of the backlog, but “immigration judges from five of the six courts [GAO] contacted also stated that they do not have sufficient time to conduct administrative tasks, such as case-related legal research or staying updated on changes to immigration law.”

Indeed, over the 10-year period, judges issued 54 percent more case continuances, or a temporary postponement of case proceedings, on their own volition—due to unplanned leave or insufficient time to complete a hearing, for example. Immigration judges may also grant a continuance to allow respondents time to obtain legal representation— since immigrants do not receive government-provided counsel— which demonstrably shortens the length of a case.

There is concern that the backlog may only worsen under the current administration. In order to carry out President Trump’s directives to ramp up immigration enforcement and deportations, the Justice Department has started relocating immigration judges. But transferring judges—many of whom have been reassigned to detention centers—for the purpose of speeding up immigration cases has alarmed immigration experts, who fear case delays will increase in immigration judges’ usual courts, adding to the backlog.

While the directives were not analyzed in GAO’s review, the report’s focus on systemic issues exacerbating the backlog makes the plans to shuffle judges to new courts all the more concerning.

GAO made 11 recommendations in the following areas that would “better position EOIR to address its case backlog and help improve the agency’s overall effectiveness and efficiency in carrying out its important mission.” The recommendations included implementing better workplace planning and hiring practices; building an electronic filing system with oversight and management mechanisms; video-teleconferencing (VTC) assessments to ensure neutral outcomes; and creating efficient management practices and comprehensive performance measures for all cases.

While some of these issues are being addressed—such as implementing a plan to streamline hiring—GAO found that the efforts EOIR cited do not fully address the concerns outlined in the report. In particular, EOIR is lacking comprehensive technological capabilities, data on VTC hearings, performance assessments, and short- and long-term plans for staffing needs created by the 39 percent of retirement-eligible immigration judges.

The shortcomings further demonstrate the GAO’s conclusion that EOIR is lacking critical management, accountability, and performance evaluation systems. These mechanisms are essential for EOIR and oversight bodies, such as Congress, to accurately assess the immigration courts and ensure that EOIR is achieving its mission, which includes timely adjudication of all cases.

EOIR should take the GAO’s recommendations seriously and work to implement solutions—the fates of hundreds of thousands of people literally depend on it.”

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Sadly, the necessary changes are way beyond the capability of EOIR and the DOJ, particularly in light of current political leadership in the DOJ which seems determined to run the courts into the ground with ill-advised maximum enforcement initiatives and “aimless docket reshuffling.” EOIR has been an agency within the DOJ since 1983. It actually performs measurably worse today than it did in 2000. Expecting a “turnaround” within the DOJ is like expecting the Tooth Fairy to solve this problem.

You can check out my previous blog on the GAO report here:

http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/06/02/gao-report-recommends-improvements-in-u-s-immigration-court-hiring-technology-data-analysis-oversight/

Note that the GAO discusses independent structures for the U.S. Immigration Court, but does not include a particular recommendation on that point.

But, I have one! We need an independent United States Immigration Court now! Otherwise the Immigration Court’s “due process meltdown” is eventually going to paralyze a large segment of the U.S. justice system. Yes, folks, it’s that bad! Maybe even worse, since DOJ and EOIR are “circling the wagons” to avoid public scrutiny and accountability. Tell your legislative representatives that we need an independent court now!

PWS

06-14-17

 

NO MERCY, NO JUDGEMENT, NO SANITY — “Deport ‘Em All — Create Universal Fear” (Paraphrased) Says Acting ICE Chief Homan!

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/jun/13/thomas-homan-ice-chief-says-illegal-immigrants-sho/

Stephen Dinan reports in the Washington Times:

“Illegal immigrants should be living in fear of being deported, the chief of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Tuesday, pushing back against a growing sentiment among Democrats on Capitol Hill and activists across the country who have complained about agents enforcing the laws on the books.
Thomas D. Homan, acting director at ICE, said anyone in the country without authorization can be arrested and those who have been ordered deported by judges must be removed if laws are to have meaning.
His comments marked a major shift for an agency that President Obama forbade from enforcing the law when it came to more than 9 million of the country’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. Unshackled from Mr. Obama’s strictures, agents have dramatically increased the number of arrests.
Advocacy groups are enraged and demand leniency for “traumatized” immigrants.
Mr. Homan makes no apologies.
“If you’re in this country illegally and you committed a crime by being in this country, you should be uncomfortable, you should look over your shoulder. You need to be worried,” Mr. Homan testified to the House Appropriations Committee. “No population is off the table.”

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  1. Homan’s definition of “criminal” (the “Trump definition”) is remarkable. It includes folks who have never been convicted of a crime, but might have committed one. So, by this definition, anyone who has ever driven a car while over the legal limit, left assets off of a Federal or State tax return, or tried marijuana in high school or college when it was against the law is a “criminal.” That probably would include the majority of the U.S. population, and even lots of folks who work for Homan. Fortunately for them, they aren’t subject to Homan’s arbitrary removal policies.
  2. Homan’s over-broad use of “criminal” nevertheless excludes a large portion of the undocumented population who entered the U.S. legally on visas or visa waivers and then overstayed. Recent studies estimate that the visa overstays surpassed illegal entrants as a source of undocumented arrivals in 2008 and might amount to as much as 60% of the “new” undocumented population in recent years. Overstaying is not, in and of itself, a “crime.”
  3. Some of the individuals under “final orders” of removal were ordered removed in absentia. Many of these individuals have a right to file a motion to reopen which automatically stays removal and requires immediate attention by an Immigration Judge. In my experience, because of the “haste makes waste” priorities followed by the last few Administrations, many “Notices To Appear” (NTA’s) had incorrect addresses or were otherwise were defectively served. (Keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of NTAs and Notices of Hearing Date are served by regular U.S. Mail, rather than actual personal service.) Consequently, many of these supposed “scofflaws” might not actually have had their day in court and will be entitled to a reopened individual hearing in the future.
  4. Make no mistake about it, what Homan really is advocating is arbitrary enforcement. We can’t remove millions of individuals, but by arbitrarily removing a limited number, even if they are actually benefitting the US, we can spread fear among millions. And, by sowing fear, we can make these individuals afraid to report crime or cooperate with authorities in solving crime.
  5. It’s not really Homan’s fault. His pride in his largely arbitrary use of the enforcement resources at his disposal is just the logical outcome of years of intentional neglect of needed immigration reforms by Congress and successive Administrations. Arbitrary enforcement is what the Trump Administration asked for, and Homan is giving it to them. Big time! Eventually, it’s likely to crash the entire system. And, that will finally force Congress to do what it hates most: legislate.
  6. It also would be wrong to think of Acting Director Homan as a creation of the Trump Administration. He is a career civil servant who is exceptionally good at doing what he is told to do. So good, in fact, that he received a Presidential Rank SES Award from the Obama Administration for “jacking up” removals. Don’t forget that until Trump and his bombast arrived on the scene, President Obama was known as the “Deporter-in-Chief.” Obama made mistakes, but he did temper some of his counterproductive enforcement efforts with at least some amount of mercy, common sense, and the very beginnings of a rational system of enforcement along the lines of almost every other law enforcement agency in America. With Trump, the age of “full gonzo enforcement” has returned.

PWS

06-14-17

 

Still Not Sure We Need U.S. Immigration Court Reform? Read This Explosive New OIG Report — While “Rome Was Burning” In The Immigration Courts, EOIR Senior Exec Was Busy Fiddling Around Hiring Pals, Soliciting Sexual Favors, Taking Kickbacks On Contracts, Lying To Investigators, & Retaliating Against Honest Employees!

INVESTIGATIVE SUMMARY

Findings Concerning Improper Hiring Practices, Inappropriate Interactions with Subordinates and a Contractor, and False Statements by a Senior Executive with the
Executive Office for Immigration Review

The Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) initiated an investigation of a senior executive with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) based on information it received from DOJ that the official engaged in inappropriate hiring practices, used non‐public information to benefit friends, solicited and accepted gifts from subordinates, maintained inappropriate relationships with subordinates, and participated in an inappropriate quid pro quo scheme with a contract company.

The OIG found that the executive engaged in improper hiring practices when, on seven separate occasions, the executive disregarded merit system principles to hire close friends and associates as DOJ employees or DOJ contract personnel over applicants with superior qualifications for the positions. The OIG also found that the executive initiated and approved the promotion of a friend before the individual was eligible for promotion, nominated a friend for a monetary award without sufficient justification, and promoted a friend who lacked qualifications for the position. The OIG further found that the executive disclosed to friends and acquaintances non‐public information about job opportunities on a pending DOJ contract, and advocated for increasing contractor salaries in support of friends. The OIG found that this conduct violated federal statutes, federal regulations, and DOJ policy.

In addition, the OIG found that the executive maintained an inappropriate personal relationship with a subordinate, and solicited and accepted gifts and donations from subordinates, in violation of federal statutes and regulations, and DOJ policy. The OIG investigation further concluded that the executive engaged in an inappropriate scheme with a DOJ contractor in which the executive sought employment and training from the contractor for personal friends in exchange for the executive actively participating in the creation and awarding of a purchase agreement of substantial monetary value to the contractor, in violation of federal statutes and regulations.

Lastly, the OIG found that the executive lacked candor and provided false statements to the OIG in relation to the executive’s conduct in the above‐described matters, in violation of federal statute and regulation. Prosecution of the executive was declined.

The OIG has completed its investigation and provided this report to EOIR for appropriate action. The OIG also referred to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel its findings that the executive retaliated against employees who refused to hire the executive’s friends.

Posted to oig.justice.gov on June 6, 2017

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The “experiment” with trying to run a major court system as an agency of the USDOJ is over. It has failed! Is Jeff Sessions going to straighten this mess out? No way! In addition to being less than candid under oath during his Senate Confirmation hearing (or perjuring himself in the view of many), the Comey testimony certainly made it appear that Sessions either was under active investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller or soon would be under such investigation.

And, it’s by no means just Sessions. Every Attorney General since Janet Reno has contributed significantly to the downward spiral in the U.S. Immigration Courts (including the BIA). Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who helped push Immigration Court backlogs to incredible new heights with poor hiring practices and politically motivated enforcement priorities, also came out of the Comey hearing looking like someone who put political loyalty before integrity. For the record, she has denied Comey’s charges. But, then so have Trump & Sessions. Not very good company, I’m afraid. And, don’t forget that the whole mess with the announcement on the Hillary Clinton investigation started because Lynch had the incredibly poor judgement to meet with Bill Clinton during the heat of his wife’s Presidential campaign.

This OIG Report comes on the heels of a GAO Report that pointed out a number of chronic management problems in EOIR, including the ridiculous 2-year hiring cycle for U.S. Immigration Judges. The GAO also discussed options for restructuring the Immigration courts as an independent agency, although the report did not make a specific recommendation on that subject. Here’s a link to my blog on the GAO report: http://wp.me/p8eeJm-Uh

 

PWS

06-10-17

AMERICA’S REAL IMMIGRATION CRISIS: THE ATTACK ON DUE PROCESS IN THE UNITED STATES IMMIGRATION COURTS — Read My Keynote Speech FromThe Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center’s “Light Of Liberty Awards” Ceremony Last Night!

AMERICA’S REAL IMMIGRATION CRISIS: THE ATTACK ON DUE PROCESS IN THE UNITED STATES IMMIGRATON COURTS

 

Keynote Address by

 

Paul Wickham Schmidt

 

United States Immigration Judge (Retired)

 

LIGHT OF LIBERTY AWARDS

 

Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center

 

Heritage Hills Golf Resort

 

York, PA

 

JUNE 7, 2016

 

  1. I. INTRODUCTION

 

 

Good evening. Thank you so much for inviting me to speak at this wonderful event. I’m honored to be here. The PIRC is a terrific organization that provides critical legal services to the most vulnerable during one of the most difficult periods in our recent history.

 

The York area has a well-established tradition of humanitarian generosity and support for the most needy that was highlighted during the Golden Venture episode and described in the book Snakehead. I learned today that PIRC was formed to respond to the needs of the Golden Venture detainees. The U.S. Immigration Court in York has one of the highest representation rates for detained individuals in the nation, over 50%.

 

By contrast, the Arlington Immigration Court, where I used to sit, and the Baltimore Immigration Court had detained representation rates of around 20% and 10% respectively. And, it’s even worse in other parts of the country.

 

Back in February, I had the pleasure of working with your amazing Executive Director, Mary Studzinski, at a group session directed at improving training for non-attorney representatives authorized to practice before the U.S. Immigration Courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals. We bonded instantly. That’s “human bonding” rather than “immigration bonding,” of course. Mary’s kinetic energy, practical knowledge, tremendous dedication, and incisive contributions to the group were simply stunning. I must admit, I thought she was the Managing Attorney of the organization until she explained her role to me. You are so fortunate to have of someone who cares so deeply about your mission leading you. Mary is just what America needs right now.

 

Speaking of what America needs, I of course want to be the first to congratulate the five extraordinary individuals and two groups we are honoring tonight with well-deserved “Light of Liberty” Awards. Your energy, knowledge, and willingness to give of yourselves to others is making a much needed positive difference in this community and in our world. Each of you is indeed changing the course of history for the better. And, I’m pleased to announce that I have bestowed on each of tonight’s award recipients the rank of “General” in the “New Due Process Army. “

 

And, of course, thanks again to our great sponsors, mentioned by Mary, for supporting PIRCV and tonight’s awards.

 

II. THE DUE PROCESS CRISIS IN IMMIGRATON COURT

 

As most of you in this room probably recognize, there is no “immigration crisis” in America today. What we have is a series of potentially solvable problems involving immigration that have been allowed to grow and fester by politicians and political officials over many years.

 

But, there is a real crisis involving immigration: the attack on due process in our U.S. Immigration Courts that have brought them to the brink of collapse. I’m going to tell you seven things impeding the delivery of due process in Immigration Court that should be of grave concern to you and to all other Americans who care about our justice system and our value of fundamental fairness.

 

First, political officials in the last three Administrations have hijacked the noble mission of the U.S. Immigration Courts. That vision, which I helped develop in the late 1990s, is to “be the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.”

 

Instead, the Department of Justice’s ever-changing priorities, aimless docket reshuffling, and morbid fascination with increased immigration detention as a means of deterrence have turned the Immigration Court system back into a tool of DHS enforcement. Obviously, it is past time for an independent U.S. Immigration Court to be established outside the Executive Branch.

 

Second, there simply are not enough pro bono and low bono attorneys and authorized representatives available to assist all the individuals who need representation in Immigration Court. As I mentioned, this problem is particularly acute in detention courts. We know that representation makes a huge difference. Represented individuals succeed at rates four to five times greater than unrepresented individuals.

 

There have been a number of studies documenting the substandard conditions in immigration detention, particularly those run by private contractors, which in some cases prove deadly or debilitating. Some of these studies have recommended that immigration detention be sharply reduced and that so-called “family detention” be discontinued immediately.

 

A rational response might have been to develop creative alternatives to detention, and to work closely with and support efforts to insure access to legal representation for all individuals in Removal Proceedings. Instead, the response of the current Administration has been to “double down” on detention, by promising to detain all undocumented arrivals and to create a new “American Gulag” of detention centers, most privately run, along our southern border, where access to attorneys and self-help resources is limited to non-existent.

 

Third, the Immigration Courts have an overwhelming caseload. Largely as a result of “aimless docket reshuffling” by Administrations of both parties, the courts’ backlog has now reached an astounding 600,000 cases, with no end in sight. Since 2009, the number of cases pending before the Immigration Courts has tripled, while court resources have languished.

 

The Administration’s detention priorities and essentially random DHS enforcement program are like running express trains at full throttle into an existing train wreck without any discernable plan for clearing the track!” You can read about it in my article in the latest edition of The Federal Lawyer.

 

Fourth, the immigration system relies far too much on detention. The theory is that detention, particularly under poor conditions with no access to lawyers, family, or friends, will “grind down individuals” so that they abandon their claims and take final orders or depart voluntarily. As they return to their countries and relate their unhappy experiences with the U.S. justice system, that supposedly will “deter” other individuals from coming.

 

Although there has been a downturn in border apprehensions since the Administration took office, there is little empirical evidence that such deterrence strategies will be effective in stopping undocumented migration in the long run. In any event, use of detention, as a primary deterrent for non-criminals who are asserting their statutory right to a hearing and their constitutional right to due process is highly inappropriate. Immigration detention is also expensive, and questions have been raised about the procedures used for awarding some of the contracts.

 

Fifth, we need an appellate court, the Board of Immigration Appeals, that functions like a real court not a high-volume service center. Over the past decade and one-half, the Board has taken an overly restrictive view of asylum law that fails to fulfill the generous requirements of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Cardoza-Fonseca and the Board’s own precedent in Matter of Mogharrabi. The Board has also failed to take a strong stand for respondents’ due process rights in Immigration Court.

 

Largely as a result of the Board’s failure to assert positive leadership, there is a tremendous discrepancy in asylum grant rates – so-called refugee roulette.” Overall grant rates have inexplicably been falling. Some courts such as Atlanta, Charlotte, and some other major non-detained courts have ludicrously low asylum grant rates, thereby suggesting a system skewed, perhaps intentionally, against asylum seekers. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Board has become totally “government-dominated” with no member appointed from the private sector this century.

 

Sixth, the DOJ selection process for Immigration Judges and BIA Members has become both incredibly ponderous and totally one-sided. According to a recent GAO study, it takes on the average nearly two years to fill an Immigration Judge position. No wonder there are scores of vacancies and an unmanageable backlog!

 

And, it’s not that the results of this glacial process produce a representative immigration judiciary. During the Obama Administration, approximately 88% of the Immigration Judge appointments came directly from government backgrounds. In other words, private sector expertise has been almost totally excluded from the 21st Century immigration judiciary.

 

Seventh, 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 night” aura 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.

 

III. ACTION PLAN

 

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 students, 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 Administration’s 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 “move” cases 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.

 

Obviously, the PIRC is a fantastic way to contribute to assertively protecting the due process rights of migrants. Internships and JLC positions at the Immigration Courts are also ways for law students and recent law grads to contribute to due process while learning.

 

As mentioned earlier, Mary and I have been working with groups looking for ways to expand the “accredited representative” program, 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. The “accredited representative” program is also an outstanding opportunity for retired individuals, like professors, teachers, and others who are not lawyers but who can qualify to provide pro bono representation in Immigration Court to needy migrants thorough properly recognized religious and community organizations.

 

Even if you are a lawyer not practicing immigration law, there are many outstanding opportunities to contribute by taking pro bono cases. Indeed, in my experience in Arlington, “big law” firms were some of the major contributors to highly effective pro bono representation. It was also great “hands on” experience 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 consumers” of legal services.

           

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

 

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 reform” is simply wrong. The Immigration Courts can and must be fixed sooner rather than later, regardless of what happens with overall immigration reform. It’s 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 max” policies 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.

IV. CONCLUSION

 

In conclusion, I have shared with you the U.S. Immigration Court’s noble due process vision and the ways it currently is being undermined and disregarded. I have also shared with you some of my ideas for effective court reforms 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. Congratulations again to our award winners and newly commissioned Generals of the New Due Process Army.

 

(06-08-17)

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Congratulations to these Light of Liberty Awards winners and newly commissioned Generals in the New Due Process Army:

ATTORNEY OF THE YEAR:

Rosina Stambaugh, Esquire

LAW FIRM OF THE YEAR

Asylum & Human Rights Clinic, University of Connecticut School of Law

CONTINUING COMMITMENT TO JUSTICE INDIVIDUAL:

Professor Jill Family,

Widener University Delaware Law School

INTERPRETER OF THE YEAR

Rosalyn Groff

COMMUNITY VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR:

Dr. Anne Middaugh

CONTINUING COMMITMENT TO JUSTICE ORGANIZATION:

Philadelphia Bar Foundation

VOICE OF COURAGE:

Josia Nunes

 

Out in the audience was superstar lawyer/social worker Hannah Cartwright, a “Charter Member” of the New Due Process Army, now on the legal staff at the PIRC. Hanna, a distinguished Catholic University Law grad, served as a Legal Intern at the Arlington Immigration Court and a Judicial Law Clerk at the Philadelphia Immigration Court.

Pictures and other news from this wonderful event to follow.

PWS

06-08-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

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

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

 

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?

U.S. IMMIGRATON COURTS: She Must Have Had Writer’s Cramp — EOIR Swears In 14 New Judges Appointed By Former AG Lynch — Almost All From Government Backgrounds!

https://www.justice.gov/eoir/pr/executive-office-immigration-review-swears-14-immigration-judges

“FALLS CHURCH, VA – The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) today announced the investiture of 14 new immigration judges. Chief Immigration Judge MaryBeth Keller presided over the investiture during a ceremony held April 7, 2017, at EOIR headquarters in Falls Church, Va.

After a thorough application process, former Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch appointed Justin F. Adams, Edward M. Barcus, Paula J. Donnolo, Lauren T. Farber, Paul M. Habich, Cara O. Knapp, Maria Lurye, Anthony E. Maingot, Sarah B. Mazzie, Matthew E. Morrissey, An Mai Nguyen, Sean D. Santen, Stuart A. Siegel, and Gwendylan E. Tregerman to their new positions.

“We are happy to welcome these 14 appointees to our growing immigration judge corps,” said Keller. “These new immigration judges will enhance the agency’s ability to process detained cases, our highest priority, while also strengthening the agency’s capacity to address its broader pending caseload.”

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

First, congratulations to all of the new U.S. Immigration Judges. While these days, probably nobody at DOJ or EOIR will tell you, the “Vision” of the U.S. Immigration Court is: “Through teamwork and innovation be the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.” Please don’t forget that, and always let fairness and due process be your guide and inspiration!

Read the new U.S. Immigration Judges’ bios in the full press release at the above link. Interestingly, EOIR seems to have stopped furnishing information on the total number of Immigration Judges on the bench. But, by my “rough count,” it’s around 319. Also, by my “rough count” that would leave around 55 existing judicial vacancies in the U.S. Immigration Courts.

While former AG Lynch had a flurry of last minute appointments, the record will reflect that under her leadership, the DOJ & EOIR did an exceptionally poor job of filling new positions and getting additional Immigration Judges on the bench. The last minute appointments and unfilled judicial positions were from a group of additional positions provided to DOJ/EOIR by Congress some time ago. After years of moaning and groaning about lack of judicial positions, the DOJ/EOIR system was unable to deal with success. To state the obvious: If they can’t fill the ones they have now, why give them more?

Also, without taking anything away from the new judges, this set of appointments continues a two-Administration “tradition” of largely excluding qualified individuals from private practice, academia, and NGOs from the Immigration Judiciary. Although they had ample chance to do so, both former Attorney General Eric Holder and Lynch failed to address, and in fact participated in, this patent unfairness which has a tendency to skew due process in the Immigration Court system at both the trial and appellate levels. Shame on them!

I’ll keep saying it:  We need an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court that operates in much the same manner as the Article III Courts! There is simply no justification for the current sad state of the U.S. Immigration Court system where due process and professional court administration have needlessly deteriorated over Administrations of both parties. Both the public and the individuals who depend on the U.S. Immigration Courts for due process deserve better!

PWS

04/11/17

 

HuffPost: Larry Strauss — Trump, Sessions, & Co. Are On The Wrong Side Of History — “If you are knowingly hurting children, there is something wrong with you, whether or not you have the law on your side.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/deportations-immigration-trump-children_us_58e66103e4b0773c0d3ebbb5?0tr

Larry Strauss, veteran high school teacher and basketball coach; author, “Students First and Other Lies” writes in HuffPost:

“Trump and his supporters have their own moral arguments. They say we must put America and Americans first. Of course these phrases express geographic ignorance, since many of the people they wish to expel are, in fact, Americans (the U.S. being but one country in America). But we know what they mean. Why should citizens of the United States be sympathetic to people from other places when so many of our own people are struggling so mightily? One can argue that undocumented individuals are not actually taking away jobs or other resources from those born here, but it’s a tough sell to someone whose financial fortunes have collapsed in the last five or ten or twenty years. The students in my classroom who were brought here or born to parents who came here will almost uniformly go further than those parents and enjoy prosperity far beyond that of those parents. It is not surprising that they are resented by those Americans (of the U.S. variety) whose prospects are far less than those of their parents and grandparents.

But politics and policies born of resentment cannot be good for the soul of our country. Nor can any law — ANY LAW ANYWHERE — that, for any reason, hurts children. If you are knowingly hurting children, there is something wrong with you, whether or not you have the law on your side.

Every year the school at which I teach enrolls students in my classes and whoever those children are I teach the hell out of their class for them — and so do most of my colleagues.

When you work with kids you don’t decide who deserves to be taught and encouraged. Where they come from and how they got here just doesn’t matter. I once taught the grand-daughter of a Nazi who’d escaped to El Salvador after World War II. The girl owed me no apology or explanation. Just her best effort and her homework on time — most of the time.

So I am not sympathetic to those who wish to punish the children of those who snuck into our country — or those who came on false pretenses.

I wish that Jeff Sessions and his ICE men and women would restrict their deportations to serious criminals — those no country wants. Why are federal agents wasting time and resources on people who’ve committed minor crimes? Are such actions any better than a municipality shutting down a lemonade stand because of a city ordinance?

Here’s an idea: if the crime of an undocumented immigrant does not exceed the crime of Jeff Sessions himself (perjury, that is) then let them stay. And if the harm of the deportation exceeds the harm of the deportee’s crime then let’s have a little collective heart.

We are a nation of laws but if those laws are being used to harm people for political expedience by indulging bigotry and ethnic paranoia, then those laws do not deserve out respect and the politicians exploiting them do not deserve our support.

Those who deported Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the 1930s were within the law — but on the wrong side of history.

Those who interned Japanese Americans in the 1940s were within the law — but on the wrong side of history.

Those who forced Native American children into border schools to assimilate them were within the law — but on the wrong side of history.

Trump and Sessions are within the law — at least they are on immigration enforcement — but their cruelty is dragging us all onto the wrong side of history.”

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

I couldn’t agree more with Strauss’s sentiments, although I’m not willing to say that everything Trump, Sessions, Kelly, and company are proposing is within the law.  In fact, they seem to be heading toward some massive violations of the due process guaranteed by law.

However, “nations that turn their backs on children will be dealt with harshly by history” is the gist of an earlier op-ed that I wrote criticizing the Obama Administration’s inhumane and wrong-headed prioritization of recently arrived women and children for removal. http://wp.me/P8eeJm-1A.

While the “Obama priorities” were rescinded upon the change of Administration, the Trump Administration appears to have an even crueler and more inhumane fate in store for women and children seeking refuge from the Northern Triangle: detention, expedited removal, attempts to deny the fair opportunity to apply for asylum, intentional restriction of access to counsel, criminal prosecution of parents seeking to save their children, and an overall atmosphere of coercion and mistreatment meant to encourage those who have recently arrived to abandon their claims for refuge and to discourage others from coming to seek refuge under our laws. Only time will tell whether the Article III Courts will allow the Administration to get away with it.

I particularly like Strauss’s use of the “Sessions standard” — anybody who has done no more than perjure themselves under oath should be allowed to stay. And, talk about someone who has lived on the “wrong side of history” for his entire life, yet stubbornly refuses to change:  well, that’s the very definition of Jeff Sessions’s depressingly uninspiring career. Given a chance for some redemption late in life, he’s instead choosing to “double down” on his biases and narrow outlook. Jeff had better hope that there’s forgiveness for his sins out there somewhere in the next world.

PWS

04-07-17

 

 

 

ABA JOURNAL: Superstar Reporter Lorelei Laird Exposes The Impending Disaster In The U.S. Immigration Courts! (I Am One Of Her Quoted Sources)

http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/legal_logjam_immigration_court

Lorelei reports:

“In the fall of 2016, the Executive Office for Immigration Review was busy addressing these problems by hiring aggressively, spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly said.

As of March, she said the agency had 301 seated judges and had requested authorization for a total of 399 judgeships. Those new judges are welcomed by legal and immigration groups—including the ABA, which called for more immigration judges with 2010’s Resolution 114B.

But that effort may be overwhelmed by changes under the Trump administration. Trump’s actions since taking office emphasize enforcement; his executive orders call for 10,000 more ICE agents and 5,000 more CBP officers, and they substantially reduce use of prosecutorial discretion. In his first months in office, there were several high-profile deportations of immigrants who had previously benefited from prosecutorial discretion and had little or no criminal record.

Although the DOJ eventually said immigration judges weren’t subject to the hiring freeze, it’s unclear whether immigration courts will be funded enough to handle all the additional cases. If not, Schmidt says, wait times will only worsen.

“If they really put a lot more people in proceedings, then it seems to me the backlog’s going to continue to grow,” he says. “How are they going to take on more work with the number of cases that are already there?”

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

This is just a small sample. Read Lorelei’s much lengthier and complete analysis of all of the problems, including interviews with a number of other experts and a cross-reference to the ABA’s previous work predicting just such a docket disaster at the above link.

In my view, the Trump Administration is aggravating the problem, rather than seeking to improve the delivery of due process. Given the nature of the system, they might get away with it for awhile. But, eventually, one way or another, these chickens are coming home to roost. And, when they do, it won’t be pretty for the Administration, for anyone involved with the U.S. Immigration Court system, and for the American system of justice.

PWS

03/27/17

THE HILL: Nolan Rappaport Says DHS Does Inadequate Job Of Tracking Unaccompanied Children!

http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/immigration/325942-maryland-immigrant-rape-case-shows-failure-of-us-policy-on

Nolan writes:

“CBP is required by the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act to transfer the custody of unaccompanied alien children from Central America to ORR within 72 hours of determining that they are unaccompanied alien children. ORR promptly places them in the least restrictive setting that is in their best interests while they wait for an immigration hearing to be scheduled.

They normally are not held at a secure facility unless they are charged with criminal actions, pose a threat of violence, or are flight risks.

Unaccompanied alien children are not eligible for many forms of relief. Asylum is the most common. The only other possibilities I am aware of are “special immigrant juvenile status,” which requires a finding by a state juvenile court that they have been abused, neglected, or abandoned; and “T nonimmigrant status” for victims of trafficking.

Many of the children who are released from custody abscond instead of returning for their hearings. Between July 18, 2014, and June 28, 2016, removal proceedings were initiated in 69,540 cases. Only 31,091 of them were completed. Of the total completed cases, 12,977 resulted in removal orders, and 11,528 (89 percent) of the removal orders were issued in absentia because the children had absconded.

The post-Trump immigration court handles fewer unaccompanied alien children cases. This will increase the amount of time unaccompanied alien children have to wait for hearings, which is likely to increase the number of children who abscond.

Also, they will have less incentive to return for their hearings. In the more liberal Obama era, immigration judges granted asylum in up to 71 percent of their asylum cases. This is not likely to continue in the post-Trump era.

The fact that many unaccompanied alien children abscond is disturbing. We know very little about them.”

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

Please read Nolan’s complete article over on The Hill at the link.

I have a few thoughts. First, although at the end of my career I was not assigned to the juvenile docket, I handled many juvenile cases over my 13 year career at the Arlington Immigration Court.

Even when I was not responsible for the juvenile docket, “mis-assigned” juvenile cases appeared on my docket on a regular basis, probably a consequence of the “haste makes waste” prioritization of juveniles by the Obama Administration. I never had a significant problem with juveniles “absconding.”

Not surprisingly, this is borne out by the facts. Studies show that represented juveniles appear for their hearings about 95% of the time. That suggests that the real effort should be on working with the pro bono bar to ensure that juvenile cases are scheduled in a manner that promotes maximum representation at the first hearing. Presto, the largely imaginary problem with “absconding” juveniles disappears.

See this link to an American Immigration Council analysis:

Taking Attendance: New Data Finds Majority of Children Appear in Immigration Court | American Immigr

Second, in the small number of cases where juveniles did not appear, the problem was almost always with the Government system, not the juveniles. Indeed, the suggestion that children, some infants, other toddlers, “abscond” is prima facie absurd.

There are a number of reasons why juveniles might not appear: 1) in their haste to move these cases through the system, DHS often incorrectly transmits the U.S. address to the Immigration Court; 2) under pressure to fill “priority” dockets required by the Obama Administration, the Immigration Court, which still operates with a manual data entry system, sometimes sent the notice to a wrong address; and 3) almost all juveniles have to rely on adult “sponsors” to get them to court.  Depending on the degree of understanding and responsibility on the part of the sponsor, this might or might not happen.

When the court appearance requirements are properly communicated and understood by the sponsor, and where the juvenile has realistic access to legal representation, there simply are not many “no show” issues. In Immigration Courts that put due process first, most no-shows are eventually reopened when the juvenile and the sponsor discover the problem and explain the failure to appear. Therefore, large numbers of “in absentia” juvenile cases suggests to me a problem with the system, and, perhaps, with particular Immigration Judges, rather than the juveniles.

Here’s a link to a L.A. Times article on in absentia orders for unaccompanied children.

http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-children-deported-20150306-story.html

Third, Nolan’s reference to the “liberal” Obama administration seems gratuitous. The Obama Administration did little of substance to help juveniles and, to my knowledge, most of the precedents issued by the BIA made it more difficult, rather than easier, for juveniles from the Northern Triangle to get relief.

Nevertheless, juveniles were able to succeed at a fairly high rate where they obtained competent representation, Immigration Judges fairly applied the generous standards for asylum, and also gave the children adequate time to pursue other forms of relief such as those mentioned by Nolan.

The nationwide asylum grant rate in the most recent year was approximately 47%, not 71%.  The latter was just one of the courts with a higher rate. But, there were also courts like Atlanta, with a 2% rate who were not doing a fair job of asylum adjudication.

In any event, there is every reason to believe that most of the juveniles in the system had at least a “respectable” chance of success in remaining.

It’s possible that the Trump Administration will attempt to “game” to system to depress grant rates. Such conduct appears on its face to be both illegal and contrary to the generous standard for asylum established by the U.S. Supreme Court in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca.

To date, I am aware of no such overt attempt by the Administration to interfere with the fair adjudication of asylum claims. However, I do acknowledge that the general tone of the Executive Orders is xenophobic and disparaging to refugees and immigrants. At some point, the Article III Courts will decide whether or not the Administration is complying with the requirements of U.S. law and various international protection agreements.

Finally, I think that Nolan’s suggestion that unaccompanied children be sent to third countries for U.N. processing would be a violation of both the INA and the Wilberforce Act. While there is a provision in the INA for sending individuals who arrived in “safe third countries” back to those countries for asylum adjudication, to date it only applies to Canada and is limited in a way that would make it inapplicable to the Southern Border Central American cases.

The U.S. would do far better to acknowledge the legitimate fears that cause women and children to flee countries in the Northern Triangle. Dealing with the problems at their source, which is likely to be a long-term prospect, while providing at least some type of screening and temporary refuge short of asylum, would, in my view, be a much better and more humane solution to this chronic issue than the enforcement initiatives proposed by the Trump Administration.

PWS

03/27/17

 

 

 

 

REUTERS: U.S. Immigration Court’s “Night Court” Plan Shows Why Due Process Is A Mirage In A “Captive” Court System — Will EOIR Cave To Administration’s Move To Put “Due Process Veneer” On Assembly Line Removals!

http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN16H030

Julia Edwards Ainsley reports:

“The Department of Justice is deploying 50 judges to immigration detention facilities across the United States, according to two sources and a letter seen by Reuters and sent to judges on Thursday.

The department is also considering asking judges to sit from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., split between two rotating shifts, to adjudicate more cases, the sources said. A notice about shift times was not included in the letter.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.”

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

Thanks much to Zoe Tillman over at BuzzFeed News for bringing this article to my attention.

“Judges” working “shifts” on the “removal assembly line!” “Come on, man!” A “real” court would be strongly resisting this mockery of justice and due process.

But, because the U.S. Immigration Court is a “wholly owned subsidiary” of the Administration, EOIR leadership will likely “go along to get along” with a transparent scheme to railroad human beings in real danger back to the “death zone” of the Northern Triangle with “rubber stamp” justice. In other words, the Immigration Courts are considered by the Administration and the DOJ to be part of the “enforcement team,” rather than an independent due-process focused judiciary.

Scheduling early in the AM and late at night is likely to make it more difficult to get pro bono lawyers, witnesses, interpreters, etc. It isn’t just judges.

Also, some folks don’t function very well at those hours. Sounds sort of “gulag like” to me.

And, what about court clerks and other support staff? Additionally, by putting courts in out of the way detention locations and scheduling hearings at odd times, DOJ limits transparency. It’s harder for the press and other “outsiders” to observe.

Moreover, what happens to existing dockets of those IJs who “volunteer?” Reassigning 50 currently sitting Immigration Judges to the Southern Border on a rotating basis for one year would require the rescheduling of nearly 40,000 cases from their “home” dockets. Those cases, many already years old, are likely to be sent to the end of the docket, several years out.  This is classic “aimless docket reshuffling” which increases backlogs and inhibits fairness and due process.

Finally, what’s going to happen to a “volunteer” Immigration Judge who takes due process seriously, slows down the cases so individuals can get lawyers, takes time for full presentation of the cases by both sides, and writes carefully reasoned decisions granting asylum or alternative forms of protection.  Chances are they will be considered “unproductive,” “not with the program,” “not carrying their weight,” or “not committed to carrying out the Attorney General’s priorities” (yes, folks, Immigration Judges actually are given “performance ratings,” and one of the elements has to do with supporting “agency priorities”)?  That’s likely to be “career limiting.”

Final question:  How would you like to have your life determined by a judge working (for the “chief prosecutor”) under these conditions?

PWS

03/10/17

 

 

 

My Message To Cornell Law — “Fight For Due Process” — Join The “New Due Process Army” — Due Process In Peril At The U.S. Immigration Court!

I spoke to an audience of approximately 120 members of the Cornell University community in Ithaca on Wednesday, March 8, 2017, as part of the Berger International Programs Lecture Series at Cornell Law.  Many thanks to Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr for inviting me.

Read my entire speech

“EXISTENTIALISM AND THE MEANING OF LIFE AT THE U.S. IMMIGRATION COURT – CORNELL LAW VERSION”

here:

EXISTENTIALISM — Cornell — AND THE MEANING OF LIFE AT THE U

Here are a few “Highlights:”

“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 exceeding an astounding one half million cases and no clear plan for resolving them in the foreseeable future.”

“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.”

“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 come” messages to asylum seekers, which are highly ineffective in any event, must end. That’s unlikely to happen under the DOJ – as proved by over three decades of history, particularly recent history.”

“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. 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.”

“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.”

“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!”

“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 max” policies 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.”

“Now is the time to take a stand for fundamental fairness! Join the New Due Process Army! Due process forever!”

 

PWS

03/10/17

 

 

 

Zoe Tillman on BuzzFeed: U.S. Immigration Courts Are Overwhelmed — Administration’s New Enforcement Priorities Could Spell Disaster! (I’m Quoted In This Article, Along With Other Current & Former U.S. Immigration Judges)

https://www.buzzfeed.com/zoetillman/backlogged-immigration-courts-pose-problems-for-trumps-plans?utm_term=.pokrzE6BW#.wcMKevdYG

Zoe Tillman reports:

“ARLINGTON, Va. — In a small, windowless courtroom on the second floor of an office building, Judge Rodger Harris heard a string of bond requests on Tuesday morning from immigrants held in jail as they faced deportation.
The detainees appeared by video from detention facilities elsewhere in the state. Harris, an immigration judge since 2007, used a remote control to move the camera around in his courtroom so the detainees could see their lawyers appearing in-person before the judge, if they had one. The lawyers spoke about their clients’ family ties, job history, and forthcoming asylum petitions, and downplayed any previous criminal record.
In cases where Harris agreed to set bond — the amounts ranged from $8,000 to $20,000 — he had the same message for the detainees: if they paid bond and were set free until their next court date, it would mean a delay in their case. Hearings set for March or April would be pushed back until at least the summer, he said.
But a couple of months is nothing compared to timelines that some immigration cases are on now. Judges and lawyers interviewed by BuzzFeed News described hearings scheduled four, five, or even six years out. Already facing a crushing caseload, immigration judges are bracing for more strain as the Trump administration pushes ahead with an aggressive ramp-up of immigration enforcement with no public commitment so far to aid backlogged courts.
Immigration courts, despite their name, are actually an arm of the US Department of Justice. The DOJ seal — with the Latin motto “qui pro domina justitia sequitur,” which roughly translates to, “who prosecutes on behalf of justice” — hung on the wall behind Harris in his courtroom in Virginia. Lawyers from the US Department of Homeland Security prosecute cases. Rulings can be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is also part of the Justice Department, and then to a federal appeals court.
As of the end of January, there were more than 540,000 cases pending in immigration courts. President Trump signed executive orders in late January that expanded immigration enforcement priorities and called for thousands of additional enforcement officers and border patrol officers. But the orders are largely silent on immigration courts, where there are dozens of vacant judgeships. And beyond filling the vacancies, the union of immigration judges says more judges are needed to handle the caseload, as well as more space, technological upgrades, and other resources.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly acknowledged the immigration court backlog in a memorandum released this week that provided new details about how the department would carry out Trump’s orders. Kelly lamented the “unacceptable delay” in immigration court cases that allowed individuals who illegally entered the United States to remain here for years.
The administration hasn’t announced plans to increase the number of immigration judges or to provide more funding and resources. It also isn’t clear yet if immigration judges and court staff are exempt from a government-wide hiring freeze that Trump signed shortly after he took office. There are 73 vacancies in immigration courts, out of 374 judgeships authorized by Congress.
“Everybody’s pretty stressed,” said Paul Schmidt, who retired as an immigration judge in June. “How are you going to throw more cases into a court with 530,000 pending cases? It isn’t going to work.”

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Zoe Tillman provides a well-reaserched and accurate description of the dire situation of justice in the U.S. Immigration Courts and the poorly conceived and uncoordinated enforcement initiatives of the Trump Administration. Sadly, lives and futures of “real life human beings” are at stake here.

Here’s a “shout out” to my good friend and former colleague Judge Rodger Harris who always does a great job of providing due process and justice on the highly stressful Televideo detained docket at the U.S. Immigration Court in Arlington, VA. Thanks for all you do for our system of justice and the cause of due process, Judge Harris.

PWS

02/24/17

AP (Via Washington Times): More Coverage Of “Keller Memo” Eliminating “Rocket Dockets” In Immigration Court — Let Me Know If You Have Seen Changes In Your Local U.S. Immigration Court!

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/feb/1/immigration-courts-to-focus-on-detainees-not-kids-/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS

ALICIA CALDWELL and AMY TAXIN – Associated Press reporting:

“The order to refocus the system’s priorities comes just days after Trump signed an executive order directing immigration agents to focus enforcement efforts on far more immigrants living in the country illegally, including anyone arrested on a criminal charge or with a criminal history.

A second order directed Homeland Security officials to detain immigrants caught crossing the border illegally and hold them until they can be deported or a judge rules on their fate.

“He’s going to keep everybody detained,” said Annaluisa Padilla, an immigration attorney in California. “There is nothing about speeding here or having people have due process in court.”

Trump’s call to detain more border crossers comes with a need for more jail space. The government has enough money to jail 34,000 people at any given time, though thousands more people have been held in recent months.

The government is looking for more jail beds, acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Thomas Homan said Tuesday.

A message left for the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday was not immediately returned.

Padilla said she worries the change means unaccompanied children with strong cases might get stuck in the backlog.

Immigration attorney Meeth Soni said she believed immigration authorities want the court to move quicker on detention cases to free up more jail space.

“In anticipation of more increased detention, and those proceedings, they’re going to have to basically make that a priority for the court,” said Soni, an attorney at the Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles.”

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Please send me a comment if you have noticed that the “Keller Memo” has affected your local U.S. Immigration Court.

Also, seems to me that attorneys for children and families can’t have it both ways.  Ever since the beginning of the “rocket docket” they have been complaining about its adverse effect on recently arrived families and children.  Finally, Chief Judge Keller (who was recently appointed and not involved in the former Attorney General’s ill-advised decision to institute “rocket dockets” back in 2014) has been able to eliminate the “rocket docket.”  Barring very unusual circumstances, attorneys representing the “former priority cases” will just have to get in line with everyone else who has been waiting. While given the length of the wait in some Immigration Courts that’s certainly not ideal; but, it does seem fair under the circumstances.

PWS

02/03/17

 

U.S. Immigration Court: The End Of The Ill-Advised “Rocket Docket” — “Smart Leadership” By Chief U.S. Immigration Judge MaryBeth Keller Helps Restore Due Process, Equity, And Order To Immigration Court’s Daunting Docket — A “Breath Of Fresh Air” That Should Help New Administration And Individuals Who Depend On The Immigration Courts For Justice!

Trump’s Admin Ends Child Rocket Docket

Read Chief U.S. Immigration Judge MaryBeth Keller’s memorandum dated January 31, 2017, to all U.S. Immigration Judges at the link. Many thanks to Pilar Marrero over at impremedia.com for forwarding this to me.

This memorandum effectively ends the Immigration Court’s so-called “rocket docket” for recently arrived children, women, and families from the Northern Triangle of Central America, and returns the Immigration Court to a rational “single priority” for various types of detained cases.

Additionally, this returns control of Immigration Court dockets to the local U.S. Immigration Judges who are in the best position to determine how to fairly reorganize their dockets to achieve due process, fairness, and maximum efficiency. Chief Judge Keller also emphasizes that even priority cases must be scheduled, heard, and decided in accordance with due process — the overriding mission of the Immigration Courts.

This should be good news for overwhelmed pro bono organizations which have been valiantly attempting to get all of the former “priority” cases representation for Individual Hearings, most involving applications for asylum and other potentially complicated forms of protection. It should now be possible for Court Administrators and Immigration Judges to set cases in a manner that better matches the available pool of pro bono attorneys. For example, under the former system of priorities, Court Administrators were forced to set expedited Master Calendar hearings even though they knew that the local bar was already completely occupied and could not reasonably be expected to take on additional “fast track” cases.

It should also be good news for parties with long-pending cases ready for trial that were sent to the “end of the line,” often years in the future, to accommodate newer cases that actually were not yet “ready for prime time.”  The ill-advised priorities imposed by the Obama Administration have helped push the Immigration Court backlog to record heights — more than 530,000 cases and still growing. At the same time, the past priorities impaired fairness and due process at both ends of the docket.

What is not clear to me, from my “informed outsider” vantage point, is whether this policy change is driven by the Trump Administration or is something that was “in the pipeline” under the Obama Administration and has just surfaced now.  Normally, EOIR would not take such a bold move without the “go ahead” from the new Administration. If so, this would be a sensible, practical action by the Trump Administration. With increased enforcement and detention in the offing, “de-prioritizing” non-detained cases and returning control of the dockets to local Immigration Judges is most likely to set the stage for fair, timely consideration of cases, both detained and non-detained, instituted by the new Administration.  Importantly, by allowing Immigration Judges across the country to control their dockets, rather than having them manipulated by Washington, the Administration would be recognizing the advantages of having important administrative decisions made by those who are “on the scene” and have to live with the results.

By no means will this solve all of the many problems facing the Immigration Court.  But, it’s a promising development.

PWS

02/02/17