LA TIMES: Retired U.S. Immigration Judge Bruce J. Einhorn Speaks Out For Due Process — Challenges City Of L.A. To Provide Lawyers For Those Facing Removal!

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-einhorn-immigration-lawyers-deportation-ice-20170327-story.html

Like many of us, Bruce has witnessed first-hand the patent unfairness of requiring individuals to represent themselves in U.S. Immigration Court. In this L.A. Times op-ed he urges Los Angeles to follow the City of New York’s fine example in providing effective pro bono legal representation to those whose lives and futures are on the line in Immigration Court:

“In December, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the creation of a $10 million fund to provide lawyers to immigrants facing deportation. But the parameters of the program are still being determined. In order to be effective, the program needs to be implemented soon and expanded quickly.
For defendants in deportation proceedings, the stakes can be life or death, since some face torture or worse upon returning to their home countries. This is why a fellow immigration judge, Dana Marks, once said that deportation cases are “death penalty cases heard in traffic court settings.” Many other defendants face permanent separation from their families.

Yet immigrants who cannot afford a lawyer must argue against government prosecutors. More often than not, this includes immigrants who are detained — that is, jailed — while their cases move through the courts. Detention almost always means loss of income, while lawyers cost more than the majority of immigrants can afford. A person who speaks little or no English must gather information from police officers or medical experts, submit written declarations in English or find evidence to support their asylum claims, all without access to the Internet or to affordable phone calls. There are an estimated 3,700 immigrants in detention across the greater L.A. area, according to the mayor’s office.

With one side at such a great disadvantage, it becomes much harder for judges to apply the law in a just manner, increasing the risk of flawed decisions. Especially in cases where defendants are detained, a day in court without a lawyer isn’t a day in court at all. A recent study found that detained immigrants who are represented by an attorney are five times more likely to win their cases than immigrants without representation.

A court system without lawyers is not merely unjust — it is also inefficient and wasteful. Without adequate legal representation for immigrants, judges can’t spend their time making decisions. Instead, they must constantly explain the legal process, reschedule cases and answer questions. In some instances, judges issue decisions only to cover the same ground again if the defendant is lucky enough to find a lawyer and get the case re-heard.

All this waste results in a heavily backlogged immigration court system, and nowhere more so than in California, where almost 100,000 cases are waiting to be decided. In San Francisco, for instance, an immigrant in court today will have his next hearing over two years from now.

. . . .

After 17 years on the bench, I’m troubled to see a wave of new raids that are sure to clog the dockets for years to come. But I also see an opportunity for local leaders to take a stand and provide immigrant communities with the fair and responsive representation they deserve.”

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Bruce makes an important point that many outside observers miss. In addition to being inherently unfair, hearings involving unrepresented individuals are tremendously inefficient. That is, if the Immigration Judge takes to time to provide at least some semblance of due process.

Aspects of the hearing system that lawyers understand have to be explained in detail, in simplified language, through an interpreter to the unrepresented respondent.

Because there is no lawyer to question the respondent, and it would be inappropriate to rely on the DHS lawyer to present the respondent’s case, the Immigration Judge effectively becomes the respondent’s “substitute attorney” — an impossible conflict of interest. I usually conducted the examination of an unrepresented respondent using a format similar to that I used for client intake interviews in private practice. It takes time to do a fair and thorough job.

Dictating a decision in an unrepresented detained case is a long, painstaking process. Where an attorney is involved, and the interpreter is with me in court, which is the norm, the attorney normally “waives” a verbatim contemporaneous interpretation in favor of a short summary and a promise to fully explain my ruling to the client afterwards.

But, with no attorney, I must stop every few sentences for the interpreter to do a “serial interpretation” to the respondent on televideo. The “simultaneous interpretation” system is not currently designed to work with the televideo system.

Appeals by the losing side are fairly common in detained unrepresented cases. When both sides have attorneys, I just say a few words reminding them about how strictly the BIA enforces filing deadlines.

But, when an unrepresented respondent is involved, I have to give a short “how to seminar” in the art of filing an appeal with a fee waiver in a timely manner. Occasionally, the detention center doesn’t even have the correct appeal and waiver forms available, so I have to note that “officer promised to serve forms” while attaching an “insurance copy” to my “minute order” (which itself might not actually get to the detained respondent until weeks after the hearing — halfway through the 30 day appeal period).

Also, Bruce accurately points out that if the respondent finally is able to find a pro bono lawyer during the appeal process, the chances of a remand for further development of the record before the Immigration Judge are significant.

Although claiming to be supportive of the role of pro bono counsel in Immigration Court, and providing some support to some programs, overall the U.S. Immigration Court is “user unfriendly” to the pro bono community. In all Administrations, artificial political prioritization of cases driven by the Department of Justice and decisions to “kowtow” to DHS enforcement by placing so-called “courts”‘ within out of the way detention centers (rather than insisting, as true independent court system would, that detention centers be located in the vicinity of already established courts, where there is an established immigration bar and family support is often available) actively undermine both access to, and effective participation by, pro bono attorneys.

It’s sad but clear that the current Administration has “no time” for due process for migrants. They appear to have every intention of taking an already out of control, user unfriendly court system and making it even worse.

Only the Article IIII Courts stand between this Administration and their apparent goal of a  “deportation express” with “no station stops” for due process. And, the only way that vulnerable migrants are going to be able to get into, and draw the attention of, the Article III Courts is by being well-represented by attorneys every step of the way.

That’s why it is critically important for Los Angeles and other cities who value their immigrant communities to heed Bruce’s call for the establishment of pro bono programs. Otherwise, the due process travesty being planned by this Administration will go forward unabated and become an indelible stain on American legal, political, and Constitutional history.

Other than that, I have no strong views on the subject.

PWS

03/31/17

WashPost PROFILE: Elena Albamonte, Due Process Heroine — As DHS Prosecutor She Saw The Problems — After Retirement, She’s Fixing Them One Tough Case At a Time — And, She’s Doing It At The Stewart (Detention Facility) Immigration Court In Lumpkin, GA, One Of America’s Least Hospitable Environments For Asylum Seekers!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/she-helped-deport-hundreds-of-undocumented-immigrants-now-shes-fighting-for-them/2017/03/27/9dc59cc6-04e7-11e7-b9fa-ed727b644a0b_story.html

Steve Hendrix writes:

“STEWART DETENTION CENTER, LUMPKIN, Ga. — In a tiny hearing room at one of the country’s most remote and unforgiving immigration courts, Elena Albamonte walked right past the table she had used for years as the government’s highest-ranking prosecutor here. Instead, she put her briefcase on the other table, taking a seat next to an Armenian man in prison garb who had illegally crossed into the United States.

After a three-decade career overseeing deportations as a government immigration lawyer, ­Albamonte has switched sides.

“Ready, your honor,” Albamonte said to immigration court Judge Dan Trimble after tidying a thick file of legal documents.

She knew her chances of persuading Trimble to grant her client political asylum were awful. Even before President Trump’s crackdown on the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, the judges at Stewart had been deporting detainees at startlingly high rates. Trimble had turned down 95 percent of those seeking asylum from fiscal 2011 to 2016, according to a study of immigration judges by Syracuse University.

But for 40 minutes, Albamonte gamely made the case for Geregin Abrahamyan, a 33-year-old who said he was repeatedly beaten and threatened because of his political activity in Armenia.

Abrahamyan had been in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since the day he and his pregnant partner and their 3-year-old daughter crossed from Mexico seven months earlier and turned themselves in at a Border Patrol office. Mother and daughter were quickly granted parole and live with Abrahamyan’s parents in California. But Abrahamyan was shipped across the country and had yet to meet his son, who was born in August.
Albamonte, 60, argued that he was eligible for asylum despite being turned down once before and that he had suffered additional beatings in Armenia that the court should know about.”

. . . .

She doesn’t apologize for prosecuting hundreds of asylum cases that ended in deportation.

“Not everyone has a right to asylum under the law as it is written,” she said. “But everybody does deserve competent, fair representation. That’s how the system is supposed to work.”

And that is how she wound up staying here, far from her home in the Washington suburbs, living in a tiny Southern town and working on the opposite side of the issue that defined her career.

“I never expected any of this,” she said.

. . . .

She doesn’t apologize for prosecuting hundreds of asylum cases that ended in deportation.

“Not everyone has a right to asylum under the law as it is written,” she said. “But everybody does deserve competent, fair representation. That’s how the system is supposed to work.”

And that is how she wound up staying here, far from her home in the Washington suburbs, living in a tiny Southern town and working on the opposite side of the issue that defined her career.

“I never expected any of this,” she said.”

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Hendrix’s full-page, in depth profile of Elena and her amazing career is a “must read” for anyone seeking to understand the challenges of providing due process in today’s U.S. Immigration Court system. And, Elena is a truly inspiring role model for young lawyers seeking to enter the immigration field. Elena’s career demonstrates the importance of combining knowledge with flexibility and interpersonal skills and caring. As pictured in this article, Elena treats everyone she comes in contact with clients, staff, court personnel, opponents, and Immigration Judges with respect, conviviality, and genuine humanity. She recognizes an essential truth — the law is complex and often difficult, but it is the people who will make or break you in practicing law.

I’m proud to say that Elena once worked for me during my tenure as Chair of the BIA. Our paths later crossed when she was detailed to the Arlington Immigration Court as an Assistant Chief Counsel several years before my retirement. I think I told her at that time that a number of my colleagues had remarked on how much we appreciated her skills as a trial lawyer and enjoyed having her appear before us. Obviously, she’s taken those skills with her into private practice.

I’ve also commented previously about the inherent unfairness of the U.S. Immigration Court agreeing to locate “captive courts” within detention centers where effective representation is often unavailable, public access (and therefore transparency) is limited, and the atmosphere is not conducive to the impartial delivery of justice.  Clearly, this Administration intends to double down on this unfortunate practice rather than seeking to end or phase it out.

Don’t think that representation by someone like Elena makes a difference for a respondent? Well, by my count, she’s succeeded in six of her seven cases where decisions have been rendered by the Immigration Judge. That’s a success rate of about 85% in a location where the average asylum grant rate is 5% — an astounding 1,700% difference.

Thanks, Elena, for all you have accomplished for the cause of justice during your career and for your continuing commitment to providing due process for the most needy and vulnerable among us! You are truly an inspiration to all of us!

PWS

03/29/17

 

EAST BAY EXPRESS: Are U.S. Immigration Court Hearings For Unrepresented Individuals Unconstitutional? Darwin BondGrahm Seems To Think So — Perhaps Darwin Is Right!

http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/inside-immigration-court-are-deportation-hearings-in-the-bay-area-unconstitutional/Content?oid=5642504

Darwin BondGraham reports in a profile of justice at the U.S. Immigration Court in San Francisco, CA:

“Ilyce Shugall can rattle off a similarly long list of due-process problems. The directing attorney of Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, Shugall is one of a couple dozen pro-bono lawyers who try to provide counsel to a fraction of the people facing deportation in San Francisco.

“Procedural protections don’t really exist, despite the consequences of banishment,” she said at a recent legal symposium held by the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice in Berkeley. “There’s no right to an attorney, but the government is represented in every case by an ICE attorney.”

As Shugall sees it, the ICE attorney also has a kind of home-field advantage: Being in the same courtrooms day-in, day-out, allows an attorney to establish better rapport with judges.

And the judges and ICE attorneys all have the same boss: The President of the United States.

The immigration judges are employees of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which is overseen by the attorney general — they’re not members of the independent judicial branch of government. The ICE attorneys work for the Department of Homeland Security.

Over her career practicing immigration law, Shugall said she’s seen ICE attorneys frequently miss filing deadlines without consequences; file motions on the day of a hearing, preventing review by the defense; and withhold records in a case from the person being targeted for deportation, thereby forcing them to file a burdensome Freedom of Information Act request to get the documents.

She’s also seen extended detention result, countless times, in what Mr. Gonzales apparently did in Judge Murry’s courtroom this past December: Give up on his case and beg to be deported, just to get escape the misery of jail.”

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The full article, which I found through ImmigrationProf Blog, is well worth a read.

I think that the Administration’s ill-advised “pedal to the metal” detention and removal plans, combined with elimination of funding for various Government sponsored outreach, information, and self-help programs is very likely to bring the due process weaknesses of the current U.S. Immigration Court system to a head.

I would not be surprised if a U.S. District Judge somewhere issues a TRO preventing the Government from proceeding in certain types of cases unless the individual is represented. After all, the Government was recently blocked in the 9th Circuit from proceeding against incompetent individuals without establishing some viable system for determining competency and representing those determined to be incompetent.

I also predict that the Administration’s ill-conceived plan to “jack up” detention, particularly by using private facilities which have been determined to have a greater incidence of problematic conditions, is likely to result in major “conditions of detention” litigation and, perhaps, further intervention by the Article III Courts.

Rather than studying the situation and looking for ways to fix our broken immigration justice system so that individuals receive the due process to which they are entitled, the Trump Administration seems determined to make matters worse by turning up the volume. That’s likely to have unhappy consequences not only for the individuals, but also for the Administration.

PWS

03/13/17

 

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

USG Bid To Max Criminal Deportation Law May Be On The Rocks Before The Supremes!

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-supreme-court-deport-burglars-20170117-story.html

David G. Savage writes in the L.A. Times:

“The law in this area is not entirely clear. Beginning in 1988, Congress ordered deportation for noncitizens who are convicted of an “aggravated felony,” and it cited specific examples such as murder and rape. Later the law was expanded to include a general category of “crimes of violence.” This was defined to include offenses that involve a use of physical force or a “substantial risk” that force would be used.

Judges have been divided as to what crimes call for deportation. Looming over Tuesday’s argument was an opinion written two years ago by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. He spoke for an 8-to-1 majority in striking down part of a federal law known as the Armed Career Criminal Act. It called for extra years in prison for people convicted of more than one violent felony.

In that case, the extra prison term was triggered by the defendant’s possession of a shotgun. In frustration, Scalia and his colleagues said the law was unconstitutionally vague because they could not decide whether gun possession is itself evidence of a violent crime.

“You could say the exact same thing about burglary,” Justice Elena Kagan said Tuesday. A midday burglary of a home could result in violence, she said, but perhaps not if it were an empty garage or an abandoned house. “So it seems like we’re replicating the same kind of confusion,” she said.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer said judges have no way to decide which crimes typically or usually involve violence. “We’re just left guessing,” he said, suggesting a better approach would be “look at what the person did.”

But Deputy Solicitor Gen. Edwin Kneedler said a home burglary poses a risk of violence. And he said the court should defer to the government on matters of immigration. The law, he said, calls for a “broad delegation” of authority to executive officials.

This is the argument government lawyers made in defense of President Obama’s use of executive authority to try to shield millions of immigrants from deportation. It is also the argument that would call for upholding an aggressive deportation policy if pursued by the Trump administration.”

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Interesting juxtaposition here!  The key opinion relied on by the immigrant is an 8-1 decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), written by conservative judicial icon Justice Antonin Scalia in which he ripped apart on constitutional vagueness grounds a provision of the Armed Career Criminal Act that is virtually identical to the deportation statute.

The Obama Administration reacted by vigorously reasserting in the lower courts and the Immigration Courts its right to ignore Justice Scalia’s reasoning in the civil deportation context and continue to deport individuals convicted of residential burglary.

But, liberal judicial icon Judge Stephen Reinhardt and one of his colleagues on the Ninth Court of Appeals seized on Scalia’s opinion and applied it to the immigration law to block such deportations.  The Seventh Circuit followed suit, but the Fifth Circuit did not, thereby setting up a “circuit split” — something that often convinces the Supreme Court to exercise its discretionary authority to intervene by granting a “writ of certiorari.”

The case is Lynch v. Dimaya, No. 15-1498 which, as pointed out by David Savage, will soon morph into Sessions v. Dimaya.  Stay tuned for the results!

Did you know that:  The Government’s lawyer in Dimaya, career Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler, a friend and an outstanding public servant, has argued more than 125 U.S. Supreme Court cases during his distinguished Government career, more than any other living lawyer!  

Wow!  Most lawyers would feel lucky and privileged to argue a single case before the Supreme Court.  I know I sure would.  Just think of the hours of preparation spent in preparing to argue well over 100 cases!  

When I was Deputy General Counsel and Acting General Counsel of the Legacy INS, I used to help the Solicitor General’s Office prepare for oral arguments in immigration cases.  So, I know how intensive the preparation process is.  

At least once, I was asked to sit with the Deputy SG arguing the case at counsel table in the Court.  That was as close as I ever got to appearing before the Court.  

I remember one case that I observed — I can’t remember if I was at counsel table or in the audience — was the immigration classic INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987) establishing the generous “well-founded fear = reasonable likelihood” standard for asylum, which I ended up having to apply thousands of times as a trial and appellate judge in the Immigration Courts.  That day, however, we were on the “losing” side of the argument, having presented the case for a more stringent standard.  Nevertheless, I think the Court got it completely right.  

The “winning” lawyer before the Court that day was a young immigration attorney from San Francisco, Dana Marks Keener, now known as Judge Dana Leigh Marks of the San Francisco Immigration Court and the President of the National Association of Immigration Judges.  Since then, of course, Dana and I have become judicial colleagues and great friends.  I often refer to her as “the founding mother of modern U.S. asylum law.”

Small world.

PWS

01/18/17