POLITICO HIGHLIGHTS LACK OF DUE PROCESS, CULTURAL AWARENESS, PROPER JUDICIAL TRAINING IN U.S. IMMIGRATION COURT’S HANDLING OF VIETNAMESE DEPORTATION CASE!

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/14/trump-immigration-crackdown-vietnam-241564

“Trump’s immigration crackdown hits Vietnam
Inside the case of one man who feared torture because of his Montagnard roots, but was deported last month.
By DAVID ROGERS 08/14/2017 05:39 AM EDT
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President Donald Trump’s “get tough” approach to immigration is now impacting — of all people — the Montagnard hill tribesmen who fought alongside the Green Berets in the Vietnam War.

The son of one such Montagnard veteran was deported back to Vietnam in July, a stunning move for many in the refugee community because of their history in the war and the continued evidence of political and economic mistreatment of Montagnards in Vietnam.

. . . .

The case captures all the twists and turns in the U.S. immigration system, compounded by pressure from the White House for quick results. No one emerges looking all good or all bad, but the outcome shows a remarkable blindness to history.

Nothing reveals this better, perhaps, than the exchanges between judge and defendant during a brief immigration court proceeding in June 2016, when Chuh was first ordered deported.

At that time, Chuh was being held at an ICE detention facility in Irwin County, Georgia. He had completed a state prison term for a first-time felony conviction in North Carolina related to trafficking in the synthetic drug MDMA, commonly called “ecstasy.” He remained without legal counsel and had to speak back-and forth by video conference with U.S. Immigration Court Judge William A. Cassidy of Atlanta, about 180 miles away.

POLITICO obtained a digital audiotape of the proceeding from the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act. The entire hearing ran just 5 minutes, 2 seconds, and the two men, Cassidy and Chuh, might have been ships passing in the night.

Chuh told Cassidy that he feared torture if he were sent back to Vietnam. But following the misguided advice of fellow detainees, he hurt his own cause by rejecting the judge’s offers to give him more time to find an attorney and seek protection.

On the other side, Cassidy, a former prosecutor, did not probe why Chuh feared torture. In fact, the judge showed no sign of knowing he was dealing with a Montagnard defendant and not the typical Vietnamese national.

Time and again, Cassidy incorrectly addressed Chuh as “A. Chuh” — not realizing that the A is Chuh’s single-letter last name and a telltale sign of his Montagnard heritage. The process was so rushed that Cassidy inadvertently told Chuh “Buenos dias” before correcting himself at the end.

Most striking, the word Montagnard is never heard in the entire tape. Its origins are French, a remnant of Vietnam’s colonial past and meaning, roughly, “people of the mountain.”

Over the years, the Montagnard label has been applied broadly to several indigenous ethnic groups concentrated in the Central Highlands and with their own distinct languages and customs. They share a hunger for greater autonomy in Vietnam and have been willing to side with outsiders, like the French and later Americans, to try to get it. At the same time, Vietnam’s dominant ethnic Kinh population has long treated the hill tribes as second-class citizens. Regardless of who has ruled Vietnam, the record is often one of suspicion and mistreatment toward the Montagnards.

The Montagnards’ strategic location in the Highlands, however, has long made them an asset in times of war. And beginning early in the 1960s, the Central Intelligence Agency and Green Berets recruited tribesmen to collect intelligence and disrupt enemy supply lines.

Chuh’s 71-year-old father, Tony Ngiu, assisted in this U.S. effort, but paid dearly later when he was sentenced to nine years in reeducation camps and hard labor by the victorious North. He was able to come to the U.S. in 1998 with much of his family, including Chuh, then a boy of about 13.

Like many Montagnards, he settled in North Carolina, which is also home to military installations used by the Green Berets, more formally known as U.S. Army Special Forces. But because Chuh was 18 by the time his father became a full citizen, he did not derive automatic citizenship himself.

“I am very, very sad,” Ngiu said. “I want them to send my son home so he can take care of his children.”

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Read Rogers’s much longer full article at the link.

It’s not surprising that this case arose in the oft-criticized Atlanta Immigration Court where due process is routinely subordinated to achieving high levels of rapid removals. Unfortunately, as Jason Dzubow pointed out in a blog on The Asylumist that I previously featured, “We are all in Atlanta now!”

http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/07/20/in-immigration-circles-the-atlanta-court-is-known-as-where-due-process-goes-to-die-will-it-be-the-new-norm-the-asylumist-jason-dzubow-says-were-all-in-atlanta-now/

Additionally, the SPLC has documented that notwithstanding earlier complaints, EOIR has done little or nothing to stop the unprofessional conduct and anti-migrant bias demonstrated by some of the U.S. Immigration Judges at the Stewart, GA Immigration Court.

http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/08/10/normalizing-the-absurd-while-eoir-touts-its-performance-as-part-of-trumps-removal-machine-disingenuously-equating-removals-with-rule-of-law-the-ongoing-assault-on-due-process-in-us-immig/

Indeed, it appears that the Trump-Sessions group actually likes the focus on assembly-line removals without much regard for fairness or due process that they have seen coming out of the Atlanta Court. After all, it produces high numbers of final orders of removal which, according to the latest EOIR press release, has replaced guaranteeing fairness and due process as the objective of the U.S. Immigration Courts. As Jason Dzubow noted in the above-linked blog, the Administration has rewarded those who have learned how due process is denied in Atlanta with key positions at DHS and EOIR.

And, training and continuing legal education for Immigration Judges was one of the earliest casualties of the “Sessions era” at the DOJ. If the message from on high is “move ’em all out asap” — preferably by in absentia hearings without any due process or in hearings conducted in detention with the migrants unrepresented — why would any judge need training in the law, due process, or preparing carefully constructed judicial opinions?

Harken back to the days of the Bush II Administration. After Ashcroft’s “purge of the BIA” and following 9-11, some Immigration Judges and Board Members assumed that it was “open season” on migrants. How many removal orders were being churned out and how fast they were being completed became more important that what was being done (or more properly, what corners were being cut) to produce the final orders.

As the work of the BIA and the Immigration Courts deteriorated and became sloppier and sloppier, and as the incidents of Immigration Judges’ being rude, belligerent, and generally unprofessional to the individuals and private attorneys coming before them mounted, the Article III Federal Courts pushed back. Published opinions began “blistering” the performance of individual Immigration Judges and BIA Members by name, some prominent Federal Judges on both the conservative and liberal sides of the equation began speaking out in the media, and the media and the internet featured almost daily stories of the breakdown of professionalism in the U.S. Immigration Courts. The Courts of Appeals also remanded BIA final orders, many of which summarily affirmed problematic Immigration Court rulings, by the droves, effectively bringing the Bush Administration’s “deportation express” to a grinding halt as the BIA was forced to further remand the cases to the Immigration Courts for “do-overs.”

Finally, it became too much for then Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Although Gonzalez will hardly go down in history as a notable champion of due process, he finally issued what was basically a “cease and desist order” to the BIA and the Immigration Judges. Unfortunately, rather than admitting the primary role of the DOJ and the Administration in the disaster, and changing some of the DOJ policies and procedures that contributed to the problem, Gonzalez effectively chose to blame the whole debacle on the Immigration Judges, including those who didn’t participate in the “round ’em up and move ’em out” spectacle spawned by Administration policies. Gonzalez ordered some reforms in professionalism, discipline, and training which had some shot term effects in improving due process, and particularly the results for asylum seekers, in Immigration Court.

But, by the present time, EOIR has basically returned to the “numbers over quality and due process” emphasis. The recent EOIR press release touting increased removals (not surprisingly grants of relief to migrants decreased at the same time) in response to the President’s immigration enforcement initiatives clearly shows this changed emphasis.

Also, as Rogers notes in his article, the BIA and some Immigration Judges often apply an “ahistorical” approach under which the lessons of history are routinely ignored. Minor, often cosmetic, changes such as meaningless or ineffective reforms in statutes and constitutions, appointment of ombudsmen, peace treaties, cease fires, and pledges to clean up corruption and human rights abuses (often issued largely to placate Western Governments and NGOs to keep the foreign aid money flowing) are viewed by the BIA and Immigration Judges as making immediate “material improvements” in country conditions in asylum cases, although the lessons of history and common sense say otherwise.

Sadly, the past appears to be prologue in the U.S. Immigration Courts. It’s past time for Congress to create and independent, Article I U.S. Immigration Court.

PWS

08-14-17

 

 

 

“NORMALIZING” THE ABSURD: While EOIR Touts Its Performance As Part Of Trump’s Removal Machine, Disingenuously Equating Removals With “Rule of Law,” The Ongoing Assault On Due Process In U.S. Immigration Courts Continues Unabated — Read The Latest SPLC Complaint About The Judges In The Stewart Detention Facility!

What if the U.S. Supreme Court proudly announced that as part of President Trump’s initiative to deregulate it had struck down 30% more regulations since Trump took office? What if the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit announced that as part of the Administrations’s War on Drugs they had reassigned more U.S. District Judges to pretrial detention facilities and had produced 30% more convictions and 40% longer sentences for drug offenders than under the previous Administration. Might raise some eyebrows! Might show a lack of independence and due process in the Courts and lead one to believe that at least some U.S. Judges were betraying their duties to act impartially and their oaths to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

But yesterday, in truly remarkable press release, America’s largest court system, the United States Immigration Court proudly announced that they had joined the President’s xenophobic crusade against foreign nationals by assigning more Immigration Judges to railroad out of the country individuals detained, mostly without counsel, in remote locations along the Southern Border. EOIR touted that over 90% of the individuals in detention facilities lost their cases and were ordered removed from the U.S. (although as anyone familiar with the system knows, many of these individuals are refugees who have succeeded at rates of 43% to 56% on their claims over the past five fiscal years). To add insult to injury, EOIR had the audacity to caption its press release “Return to Rule of Law in Trump Administration!”

Don’t believe me? Check out the full press release here:

“Department of Justice

Office of Public Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Return to Rule of Law in Trump Administration Marked by Increase in Key Immigration Statistics

The Executive Office of Immigration Review today released data on orders of removal, voluntary departures, and final decisions for the first six months of the Trump Administration.

 

The data released for Feb. 1, 2017 – July 31, 2017 is as follows:

 

  • Total Orders of Removal [1]: 49,983
    • Up 27.8 percent over the same time period in 2016 (39,113)

 

  • Total Orders of Removal and Voluntary Departures [2]: 57,069
    • Up 30.9 percent over the same time period in 2016 (43,595)

 

  • Total Final Decisions [3]: 73,127
    • Up 14.5 percent over the same time period in 2016 (63,850)

 

Pursuant to President Trump’s Jan. 25 Executive Order, “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” the Department of Justice mobilized over one hundred existing Immigration Judges to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detention facilities across the country. Over 90 percent of these cases have resulted in orders requiring aliens to depart or be removed from the United States. The Justice Department has also hired 54 additional Immigration Judges since President Trump took office, and continues to hire new Immigration Judges each month.

 

In addition to carrying out the President’s Executive Order, the Justice Department is also reviewing internal practices, procedures, and technology in order to identify ways in which it can further enhance Immigration Judges’ productivity without compromising due process.

 

[1] An “order of removal” by an Immigration Judge results in the removal of an illegal alien from the United States by the Department of Homeland Security.

[2] Under an order of “voluntary departure”, an illegal alien agrees to voluntarily depart the United States by a certain date. If the illegal alien does not depart, the order automatically converts to an order of removal.

[3] A “final decision” is one that ends the proceeding at the Immigration Judge level such that the case is no longer pending.

 

 

 

Topic(s):

Immigration

Component(s):

Executive Office for Immigration Review

Press Release Number:

17-889″

 

Yet, the absurdity of something that once purported to be a “court system” dedicated to guaranteeing “fairness and due process for all,” becoming part of the Administration’s border enforcement machine, stomping on the due process rights of those it was supposed to protect, went largely unnoticed in the media.

But, wait a minute, it gets worse! Recently, the widely respected journalist Julia Preston, now writing for the Marshall Project, told us how U.S. Immigration Judges in Charlotte, NC mock due process and fairness for asylum seekers.

http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/07/31/u-s-immigration-courts-apear-stacked-against-central-american-asylum-applicants-charlotte-nc-approval-rates-far-below-those-elsewhere-in-4th-circuit-is-precedent-being-misapplied/

Now, the Southern Poverty Law Center (“SPLC”) details how, notwithstanding previous complaints, eyewitnesses have documented the attack on fundamental fairness and due process by U.S. Immigration Judges at the DHS Stewart Detention Facility (why would “real judges” be operating out of a DHS Detention Facility?). Here’s a summary of the report from SPLC:

SPLC DEMANDS DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE TAKE ACTION AGAINST IMMIGRATION JUDGES VIOLATING DETAINEES’ CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS

Some judges at the Stewart Immigration Court in Georgia routinely break the rules of professional conduct and continue to violate the constitutional rights of detainees – failures that require action, including the possible removal of one judge from the bench, according to a complaint the SPLC lodged with the U.S. Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) today.

The complaint, which comes almost a year after the SPLC and Human Rights First notified the agency about the judges, describes how they fail to explain basic legal information to immigrants, or even demonstrate the necessary dignity and courtesy the rules of conduct require.

The complaint notes that after one man told a judge that he had grown up in the United States, the judge said that if he were truly an American, he “should be speaking English, not Spanish.” The findings come after the SPLC spent a month observing the hearings of 436 people.

The federal agency has claimed that it initiated discussions with the judges after the initial complaint was filed in late August 2016, but the SPLC’s courtroom observers and its experience representing detainees continue to uncover issues at the court, which is inside the privately operated Stewart Detention Center in rural Lumpkin, Georgia.

“The people appearing before this court are already being held at the Stewart Detention Center, often far from their family and friends,” said Dan Werner, director of the SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, which represents immigrants detained at Stewart. “They are scared and unsure of their rights when they go before judges whose behavior gives no assurance that they’ll receive a fair hearing. In fact, their behavior makes a mockery of the legal system.”

The SPLC’s courtroom observers found a number of issues, including judges failing to provide interpretation services for the entire court proceeding. They also failed to provide rationales for their decisions, provide written notification about future proceedings to the detainees, or grant routine procedural motions.

The complaint describes how Judge Saundra Arrington stands out for her lack of professionalism and hostility toward immigrant detainees – behavior warranting reprimand, suspension or even removal from the bench, according to the complaint.

Arrington, who goes by the last name Dempsey but is referred to as Arrington in EOIR records, began hearings with one immigrant by prejudicially noting he had a “huge criminal history,” comprised of nine convictions for driving without a license over 15 years. It was Arrington who told a detainee that he should speak English if he grew up in the United States and believed he was American.

She also refused to allow two attorneys appear on behalf of an immigrant, stating that there may be “one lawyer per case” despite attorneys explaining they had filed the necessary paperwork. Two attorneys, however, were allowed to appear on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Chief Counsel.

Judge Dan Trimble, according to the complaint, denied bond for a detainee without looking at the bond motion. He also rarely refers detainees to the detention center’s “Legal Orientation Program,” which provides information about court proceedings and offers assistance.

“The Department of Justice must take action to stop this behavior that is undermining the legal system,” said Laura Rivera, SPLC staff attorney. “Every day that this behavior is allowed to continue is a day dozens of people have their rights denied.”

The SPLC launched the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) at the detention center earlier this year to provide free legal representation to immigrants who have been detained and are facing deportation proceedings.

A recent national study found that between 2007 and 2012, only 6 percent of detainees at the Stewart Detention Center were represented by counsel – far below the national representation rate of 37 percent, according to the SPLC complaint. Immigrants with counsel are approximately 20 times more likely to succeed in their cases.

Beginning this month, SIFI will expand to other detention centers throughout the Southeast. When fully implemented, it will be the largest detention center-based deportation defense project in the country.

And, here’s a link to the complete shocking report.

eoircomplaintletter

Folks, all of the abuses detailed in this post are being carried out by U.S. government officials at EOIR charged with protecting the due process rights of vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers. In other words, under pressure from the Trump Administration and the Sessions DOJ, some EOIR employees have disregarded their duty to the U.S. Constitution to provide due process for vulnerable migrants in Removal Proceedings. How long will the pathetic mockery of justice masquerading as “judicial proceedings” that is occurring in some (certainly not all) parts of the U.S. Immigration Court system be allowed to continue?

PWS

08-10-17

 

 

 

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

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

MY LIFE

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

AMERICA’S REAL IMMIGRATION CRISIS

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, thanks to Jason for his incisive analysis!

PWS

07-20-17

 

 

DOJ’s Location Of U.S. Immigration Courts At Obscure Detention Locations Helps DHS To Deny Due Process, Punish Lawyers!

https://www.propublica.org/article/immigrants-in-detention-centers-are-often-hundreds-of-miles-from-legal-help

Patrick G. Lee writes in ProPublica:

“One morning in February, lawyer Marty Rosenbluth set off from his Hillsborough, North Carolina, home to represent two anxious clients in court. He drove about eight hours southwest, spent the night in a hotel and then got up around 6 a.m. to make the final 40-minute push to his destination: a federal immigration court and detention center in the tiny rural Georgia town of Lumpkin.

During two brief hearings over two days, Rosenbluth said, he convinced an immigration judge to grant both of his new clients more time to assess their legal options to stay in the United States. Then he got in his car and drove the 513 miles back home.

“Without an attorney, it’s almost impossible to win your case in the immigration courts. You don’t even really know what to say or what the standards are,” said Rosenbluth, who works for a private law firm and took on the cases for a fee. “You may have a really, really good case. But you simply can’t package it in a way that the court can understand.”

His clients that day were lucky. Only 6 percent of the men held at the Lumpkin complex — a 2,001-bed detention center and immigration court — have legal representation, according to a 2015 study in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. Nationwide, it’s not much better, the study of data from October 2006 to September 2012 found: Just 14 percent of detainees have lawyers.

That percentage is likely to get even smaller under the Trump administration, which has identified 21,000 potential new detention beds to add to the approximately 40,000 currently in use. In January, President Trump signed an executive order telling the secretary of homeland security, who oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, to “immediately” start signing contracts for detention centers and building new ones.

If history is any guide, many of those facilities will end up in places like Lumpkin, population 2,741. The city’s small downtown has a courthouse, the police department, a couple of restaurants and a Dollar General. There’s no hotel and many of the nearest immigration lawyers are based 140 miles away in Atlanta.

“It’s been a strategic move by ICE to construct detention centers in rural areas,” said Amy Fischer, policy director for RAICES, a San Antonio-based nonprofit that supports on-site legal aid programs at two Texas facilities for detained families. “Even if the money is there, it’s very difficult to set up a pro bono network when you’re geographically three hours away from a big city.”
ICE currently oversees a network of about 200 facilities, jails, processing centers and former prisons where immigrants can be held, according to a government list from February.

Unlike criminal defendants, most immigrants in deportation proceedings are not entitled to government-appointed lawyers because their cases are deemed civil matters. Far from free legal help and with scant financial resources, the majority of detainees take their chances solo, facing off against federal lawyers before judges saddled with full dockets of cases. Frequently they must use interpreters.

An ICE spokesman denied that detention facilities are purposely opened in remote locations to limit attorney access. “Any kind of detention center, due to zoning and other factors, they are typically placed in the outskirts of a downtown area,” said spokesman Bryan Cox. “ICE is very supportive and very accommodating in terms of individuals who wish to have representation and ensuring that they have the adequate ability to do so.” At Lumpkin’s Stewart Detention Center, for instance, lawyers can schedule hourlong video teleconferences with detainees, Cox said.

But a ProPublica review found that access to free or low-cost legal counsel was limited at many centers. Government-funded orientation programs, which exist at a few dozen detention locations, typically include self-help workshops, group presentations on the immigration court process, brief one-on-one consultations and pro bono referrals, but they stop short of providing direct legal representation. And a list of pro bono legal service providers distributed by the courts includes many who don’t take the cases of detainees at all. Those that do can often only take a limited number — perhaps five to 10 cases at a time.

The legal help makes a difference. Across the country, 21 percent of detained immigrants who had lawyers won their deportation cases, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review study found, compared to just 2 percent of detainees without a lawyer. The study also found that 48 percent of detainees who had lawyers were released from detention while their cases were pending, compared to 7 percent of those who lacked lawyers.

Legal counsel can also speed up the process for those detainees with no viable claims to stay in the country, experts said. A discussion with a lawyer might prompt the detainee to cut his losses and opt for voluntary departure, avoiding a pointless legal fight and the taxpayer-funded costs of detention.

Lawmakers in some states, such as New York and California, have stepped in to help, pledging taxpayer money toward providing lawyers for immigrants who can’t afford their own. But such help only aids those detainees whose deportation cases are assigned to courts in those areas.

“What brings good results is access to family and access to counsel and access to evidence, and when you’re in a far off location without those things, the likelihood of ICE winning and the person being denied due process increase dramatically,” said Conor Gleason, an immigration attorney at The Bronx Defenders in New York.”

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Read the complete article at the above link.

Lumpkin is “at the outskirts” of what “downtown area?” Don’t all major metro areas have “metropolitan correctional centers,” city jails, county jails, or some equivalent located near the courts and hub of legal activities for criminal defendants awaiting trial? Why are civil detainees allowed to be treated this way?

For far too long, under AGs from both parties, the DOJ has participated in this disingenuous charade designed to promote removals over due process. Because cases often have to be continued for lawyers, even where none is likely to be found, the procedure actually adds to detention costs in many cases.  Why not house only those with final orders awaiting removal or with pending appeals at places like Lumpkin? Why don’t the BIA and Courts of Appeals rule that intentionally detaining individuals where they cannot realistically exercise their “right to be represented by counsel of their own choosing” is a denial of due process?

Look for the situation to get much worse under Sessions, who envisions an “American Gulag” where detention rules as part of his program to demonize migrants by treating them all as “dangerous criminals.”

Meanwhile, as I pointed in a recent panel discussion at AYUDA, the only part of the immigration system over which the private sector has any control or influence these days is promoting due process by providing more pro bono lawyers for migrants. Eventually, if those efforts are persistent enough, the Government might be forced to change its approach.

PWS

05-18-17

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

 

In Case You Missed It: It’s A Rainy Night In Georgia, Particularly If You Are An Asylum Applicant!

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/12/12/america-s-toughest-immigration-court?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter&utm_source=opening-statement&utm_term=newsletter-20161212-654#.bKZwzlP91

Some of you have seen this before.  But, my good friend and former Georgetown Law colleague Heidi Altman of the National Immigrant Justice Center sent me this article by Christie Thompson of The Marshall Project which describes the dismal atmosphere for asylum applicants and their attorneys at the U.S. Immigration Court located at the Stewart County Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia.  Christie interviewed me for the article.  Here an excerpt:

“‘When people aren’t represented, how can you do a fair job?’ says Paul Wickham Schmidt, a former immigration judge and former chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals. Isolating a few judges to see only detained cases, Schmidt says, also creates a culture where granting relief is the exception, not the rule. Locating detention centers in rural areas ‘seems more or less designed to discourage people from getting meaningful representation and fighting to stay in the U.S.’”

More on the tough situation for asylum seekers in the U.S. Immigration Courts located in Georgia in the preceding post.

“‘Rainy Night in Georgia’ is a song written by Tony Joe White in 1967 and popularized by R&B vocalist Brook Benton in 1970.”  See Wikipedia link below:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainy_Night_in_Georgia

PWS

12/29/16