Musings on Events in U.S. Immigration Court, Immigration Law, Sports, and Other Random Topics by Retired United States Immigration Judge (Arlington, Virginia) and former Chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals Paul Wickham Schmidt. To see my complete professional bio, just click on the link below.
“The government cannot lock people up without giving them access to prompt bond hearings and an opportunity to show that they should be released for the months or years that it takes to adjudicate their removal cases. This lawsuit challenges the actions of immigration judges in Charlotte, North Carolina who have done just that: refused to conduct bond hearings for people who properly file bond motions with the Charlotte Immigration Court. The case was filed as a class action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina by the American Immigration Council, the CAIR Coalition, and Cauley Forsythe Law Group.”
Go on over to LexisNexis Immigration Community at the link for the complete story.
Check out paragraph 6 of the Complaint which contrasts the conduct of Judge Harris, who holds bond hearing in accordance with the law and established procedures, and the alleged conduct of his judicial colleagues in Charlotte.
Not surprising to me! Judge Harris was my colleague for years at the U.S. Immigration Court in Arlington Virginia where he had a reputation for scrupulously following the law and providing full due process to all who came before him. Just like a U.S. Immigration Judge is supposed to do.
On the other hand, prior to Judge Harris’s arrival, the Charlotte Immigration Court had a reputation among the private bar, commentators, and the press as a place where due process was often given short shrift, particularly in asylum cases.
Of course, these are merely allegations at this time. We’ll see what happens as the case progresses in Federal District Court.
While Sessions, McHenry, and the “Falls Church Crew” are screwing around with imaginary “goals and timetables’ — untethered to reality in a system with a 660,000 backlog and no real plan for resolving it — these are the real due process problems that are festering in the U.S. Immigration Courts and denying individuals their legal right to due process on a regular basis.Where’s the concern from “on high” with a court system that’s failing in its mission to provide due process to individuals under our Constitution?Obviously, the problem starts with a “Scofflaw Attorney General” who cares more about expediting removals and a White Nationalist immigration enforcement agenda than he does about the Constitution, Due Process, and the integrity of the U.S. Immigration Court system.
We need an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court now!
About one in five inmates in federal prison are foreign-born, and more than 90 percent of those are in the United States illegally, according to a report released on Thursday by the Trump administration, which has sought to highlight the dangers it says unauthorized immigrants pose to public safety.
Officials at the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security quickly framed the statistics as evidence that the country needed stricter anti-immigration measures, particularly the wall President Trump has pushed to erect across the southern border.
The report arrives as the White House and Republicans in Congress insist that any legislative deal to restore legal protections for young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children must include more restrictions on legal and illegal immigration.
. . . .
Administration officials have repeatedly emphasized what it says are links between unauthorized immigrants and crime, even opening an office to advocate for the victims of crimes committed by immigrants. But a large body of research has suggested that immigrants are no more likely, and often less likely, to commit serious crimes than native-born Americans.
The proportion of unauthorized immigrants in federal prison may be explained partly by the fact that immigration offenses now account for about half of all federal prosecutions, including those for smuggling people into the United States, illegally entering the country and illegally re-entering the country after being deported.”
Predictably, Attorney General Jeff Sessions seized upon the report to re-iterate his oft-made claim that we’re in the middle of an “alien crime wave:”
“At the border and in communities across America, our citizens are being victimized by illegal aliens who commit crimes,” the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, said in a statement on Thursday, calling on Congress to pass Mr. Trump’s immigration agenda. “The simple fact is that any offense committed by a criminal alien is ultimately preventable.”
Also predictably, Sessions’s claim was vigorously rejected by pro-immigrant advocacy groups:
“The report proves one thing only: The administration will take any opportunity possible to twist facts to demonize immigrants,” said Tom Jawetz, the vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “The vast majority of immigrants in federal prison are there for crimes that only immigrants can be charged with — illegal entry and illegal entry after removal. When you cook the books you shouldn’t pretend to be surprised by the results.”
The Administration’s conclusions were also rejected in a report filed by Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank:
“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) today released a report that found that about 94 percent of foreign-born inmates in Federal prisons are illegal immigrants. That is not surprising, as illegal immigrants convicted of an immigration offense are incarcerated in federal prison and account 7.3 percent of all inmates. Likewise, drug traffickers who cross international borders are also in federal prison and account 46.3 percent of all prisoners. Thus, illegal immigrants are overrepresented in federal prison because the federal government enforces immigration laws and many drug trafficking laws but only a small fraction of all those incarcerated for all crimes committed in the U.S. are in federal prisons.
The authors of this DHS/DOJ report do deserve credit for highlighting its shortcomings. On the first page, it states:
This report does not include data on the foreign-born or alien populations in state prisons and local jails because state and local facilities do not routinely provide DHS or DOJ with comprehensive information about their inmates and detainees. This limitation is noteworthy because state and local facilities account for approximately 90 percent of the total U.S. incarcerated population.
The federal prison population is not representative of incarcerated populations on the state and local level, so excluding them from the report means that it sheds little light on nationwide incarcerations by nativity, legal status, or type of crime. On the last point, it is shocking how unrepresentative federal prison is regarding the types of crimes its inmates are convicted of. In 2016, 67,742 people were sentenced to federal prison. Almost 30 percent of them were for immigration offenses. Those immigration convictions comprised 100 percent of the convictions for immigration crimes in the United States in 2016. By contrast, there were only 85 federal convictions for murder out of a nationwide total of 17,785 murder convictions that year, comprising less than 0.5 percent of all murders.
If Garcia Zarate had actually been convicted of murdering Kate Steinle, then he would have been incarcerated in California state prison and he would not show up as an illegal immigrant murderer in this DHS/DOJ report. What good is a federal report on illegal immigrant incarceration rates if it would have excluded Kate Steinle’s killer had he been convicted?
The DHS/DOJ report also explained why they did not include an estimate of illegal immigrants incarcerated on the state and local level:
DHS and DOJ are working to develop a reliable methodology for estimating the status of state and local incarcerated populations in future reports.
A March 2017 Cato Institute Immigration Research and Policy Brief employed a commonly used residual statistical methodology to analyze the incarcerated population in the U.S. Census for 2014. We found that illegal immigrants were about 44 percent less likely to be incarcerated than native-born Americans. I look forward to reviewing any methodology that the federal government comes up with but illegal immigrant criminals would have to be severely undercounted in prisons to give them an incarceration rate that even approaches native-born Americans.
The broad finding among criminologists and economists who study this topic is that immigrants are less crime-prone than natives whether measured by the areas where they live or their incarceration rates. Although there is less research on illegal immigrant criminals, the general finding is that they are less crime-prone or about as criminally inclined as native-born Americans. The DHS/DOJ report reveals no new information about incarcerations on the federal level, does not provide evidence for a higher nation-wide illegal immigrant incarceration rate, nor does it support the administration’s plea for more border security.”
Meanwhile, over at the American Immigration Council (“AIC”), another pro-immigrant group, Walter Ewing, although not mentioning the DOJ report specifically, asserts that here is no basis for the “nativists” claim that crimes by migrants are a crisis:
First, in the nativist mindset, since undocumented immigrants have broken a law by coming to or staying in the United States without authorization, they are all “criminals”—and criminals are dangerous. Therefore, according to this line of reasoning, undocumented immigrants must be dangerous criminals.
Second, since some undocumented immigrants are in fact serious criminals, nativists argue that we would have fewer criminals in the United States if we had fewer undocumented immigrants. Yet the same reasoning applies to any social group. If we had fewer white people, or short people, or blonds in this country, then there would be fewer serious criminals as well since some criminals are white, and some are short, and some are blond. Missing from this argument is the fact that immigrants commit crimes at a much lower rate than the native-born.
An example of the nativist line of reasoning comes from a story on Frontpage Magazine by retired Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agent Michael Cutler. The story throws together a collection of disembodied incarceration statistics with inflammatory political rhetoric. Cutler also argues, without citing a primary source, that undocumented immigrants are responsible for nearly a third of all murders in the country.
While Cutler can’t credibly back up his claims, there is no shortage of credible researchers who have demonstrated the absence of any relationship between high rates of immigration and high crime rates. In just the past three years, three compelling studies have been added to the pile of evidence which has been growing for decades concerning the lack of any connection between immigration and crime.
Another recent study found no relationship between undocumented immigration and rates of violent crime. The authors note that their findings undermine what they call the “Trump Hypothesis,” a notion which holds that undocumented immigration is fueling “violent and drug-related crime in the United States” as declared by President Trump’s 2015 presidential campaign announcement.
Finally, a 2014 study found that “immigrants to the United States are less likely to engage in violent or nonviolent antisocial behaviors than native-born Americans.” Notably, native-born Americans were approximately four times more likely to report violent behavior than Asian and African immigrants and three times more likely than immigrants from Latin America.”
Cutler’s piece ignores this evidence and resorts to simplistic rhetoric; labeling any immigrant in prison for any offense a “criminal alien” and accusing them of terrorizing the American people. But it is immigrants—particularly the undocumented—who risk being terrorized by nativists in their zeal to stereotype and scapegoat immigrants as the source of every ill that afflicts the United States.
The former INS agent characterizes the statistics in his story as “the stunning numbers the Left cannot refute.” However, it is Cutler who seemingly can’t refute the body of research which thoroughly discredits his arguments.”
Suffice it to say that the grandiose claims about the DOJ report’s findings made by Sessions and others in the Administration appear problematic, at best.
The United States has been created by successive waves of immigration over the course of centuries. Each wave of immigrants from different parts of the world has helped to build the U.S. economy and enrich U.S. society. And each wave of immigrants has provoked a chorus of dire warnings from nativists worried that the presence of too many immigrants will somehow dilute the American sense of identity.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) is one of the groups that routinely issue such warnings. One of the more subtle ways in which they do this is to present immigration statistics in as dramatic a way as possible, with the implication being that native-born Americans are in danger of being over-run by foreigners. In a recent report, for instance, CIS takes advantage of newly released Census data to sound the alarm over the size of the immigrant population in the United States.
Of course, CIS offers no context for this data; no discussion of the historical, economic, political, and social environment within which immigration occurs. Just panicked pronouncements that the immigrant population hit a “record” 43.7 million in 2016—or one out of every eight people in the country.
In fact, immigrants now make up 13.5 percent of the U.S. population, which is less than the 14.7 percent share in 1910. For good measure, CIS also throws in an estimate of how large the foreign-born population might be by 2060 (at which point 78 million immigrants may account for 18.8 percent of the population).
However, the real story is not the number of immigrants; it’s what immigrants do once they’re here. Specifically, the contributions they make to the U.S. economy and the degree to which they integrate into U.S. society.
For instance, based on data from 2015 and 2014, we know that nearly half of all immigrants are naturalized U.S. citizens and that seven out of ten speak English reasonably well. More than one-quarter have a college degree.
And immigrant business owners generate tens of billions of dollars in business income.
This is the kind of context that CIS fails to offer in its run-down of Census numbers. The not-so-subtle implication of the CIS report is that native-born Americans are drowning is a sea of foreigners.
But when you actually start to enumerate the many ways that immigrants (and their children) add value to the U.S. economy as workers, entrepreneurs, consumers, and taxpayers—and integrate into U.S. society while enriching U.S. culture—the numbers represent good news.
You can bet that the CIS false narrative about the “Alien Invasion” and the threat to our culture and our society will be picked up in speeches by Trump, Sessions, Miller, Bannon, and other restrictionists to justify cuts in legal immigration, reducing family immigration, removing undocumented Latino and African workers, cutting rights of asylum seekers (particularly those from Central America and predominantly Muslim countries), and “shutting out” so-called “unskilled immigrants” in favor of guys with college degrees who show up speaking English.
The whole “Immigration Is A Threat To America” that therefore must be reduced, artificially limited, and punished is bogus! It stands in the way of serious discussions of how to reform and re-design our legal immigration system to channel more of the historical flow of needed workers and refugees into legal channels, prevent exploitation of immigrant workers by unscrupulous employers, and thereby reduce the incentives and the flow of “extralegal” migration to levels that can be controlled by non-draconian immigration enforcement working with market forces rather than in opposition to them.
“Immigrants facing deportation fare far better if they have a competent attorney representing them. For example, studies show that for asylum seekers, representation generally doubles the likelihood of being granted asylum.
For many, the ability to secure competent representation in immigration court is truly a matter of life and death. Yet fewer than 30 percent of detained individuals and only two thirds of non-detained individuals are represented in their removal case.
Meanwhile, the government is represented by an attorney in every single case.
While immigrants have a right to counsel in deportation proceedings if they can afford one, they do not have a right to counsel at the government’s expense.
New data released this week by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) confirms that a noncitizen’s ability to obtain a lawyer—and the opportunity to meaningfully defend him or herself against deportation—is determined primarily by nationality and whether or not he or she is detained.
The data analysis reflects what detained immigrants, their family members, and the very small number of attorneys who do detained work already know too well—detained immigrants who attempt to retain an attorney face substantial obstacles.
Because they are detained, they are unable to travel to meet with an attorney in person and must rely on telephones in the facility to call potential attorneys. Phone calls can be prohibitively expensive and phones are often not easily accessible.
Attorney visitation rules vary by facility—many of which are located in rural areas, hours from the attorney’s office. Further, many detained immigrants are simply unable to afford a competent attorney.
. . .
The TRAC data also shows that Mexican immigrants are disproportionately disadvantaged in immigration court. They have the highest detention rate (78 percent), yet the lowest representation rate of all nationalities—only 33 percent according to the report.
More than anything, the recent TRAC numbers emphasize the dire need for increased access to counsel for all immigrants facing deportation, particularly those who are detained.”
Read the complete article at the link.
The policies being followed by Sessions and the DHS — which encourage more detention in out of the way locations — are specifically designed to diminish representation, increase removals, and deny due process to the most vulnerable among us.
“The Department of Justice (DOJ) is reportedly intending to implement numerical quotas on Immigration Judges as a way of evaluating their performance. This move would undermine judicial independence, threaten the integrity of the immigration court system, and cause massive due process violations.
As it currently stands, Immigration Judges are not rated based on the number of cases they complete within a certain time frame. The DOJ – currently in settlement negotiations with the union for immigration judges, the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) – is now trying to remove those safeguards, declaring a need to accelerate deportations to reduce the court’s case backlog and ensure more individuals are deported.
This move is unprecedented, as immigration judges have been exempt from performance evaluations tied to case completion rates for over two decades. According to the NAIJ, the basis for the exemption was “rooted in the notion that ratings created an inherent risk of actual or perceived influence by supervisors on the work of judges, with the potential of improperly affecting the outcome of cases.”
If case completion quotas are imposed, Immigration Judges will be pressured to adjudicate cases more quickly, unfairly fast-tracking the deportation of those with valid claims for relief. Asylum seekers may need more time to obtain evidence that will strengthen their case or find an attorney to represent them. Only 37 percent of all immigrants (and merely 14 percent of detained immigrants) are able to secure legal counsel in their removal cases, even though immigrants with attorneys fare much better at every stage of the court process.
If judges feel compelled to dispose of cases quickly decreasing the chances that immigrants will be able to get an attorney, immigrants will pay the price, at incredible risk to their livelihood.
The Justice Department has expressed concern in recent weeks about the enormous backlog of 600,000 cases pending before the immigration courts and may see numerical quotas as an easy fix. Just this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called on Congress to tighten up rules for people seeking to “game” the system by exploiting loopholes in a “broken” and extremely backlogged process. However, punishing immigration judges with mandatory quotas is not the solution.
The announcement, however, has sparked condemnation by immigration judges and attorneys alike; in fact, the national IJ Union maintains that such a move means “trying to turn immigration judges into assembly-line workers.”
Tying the number of cases completed to the evaluation of an individual immigration judge’s performance represents the administration’s latest move to accelerate deportations at the expense of due process. Judges may be forced to violate their duty to be fair and impartial in deciding their cases.”
The backlog problems in U.S. Immigration Court have nothing to do with “low productivity” by U.S. Immigration Judges.
It’s a result of a fundamentally flawed system created by Congress, years of inattention and ineffective oversight by Congress, political interference by the DOJ with court dockets and scheduling, years of “ADR,” and glaringly incompetent so-called judicial management by DOJ. There are “too many chefs stirring the pot” and too few “real cooks” out there doing the job.
The DOJ’s inappropriate “Vatican style” bureaucracy has produced a bloated and detached central administrative staff trying unsuccessfully to micromanage a minimalist, starving court system in a manner that keeps enforcement-driven politicos happy and, therefore, their jobs intact.
How could a court system set up in this absurd manner possibly “guarantee fairness and due process for all?” It can’t, and has stopped even pretending to be focused on that overriding mission! And what competence would Jeff Sessions (who was turned down for a Federal judgeship by members of his own party because of his record of bias) and administrators at EOIR HQ in Falls Church, who don’t actually handle Immigration Court dockets on a regular basis, have to establish “quotas” for those who do? No, it’s very obvious that the “quotas” will be directed at only one goal: maximizing removals while minimizing due process
When EOIR was established during the Reagan Administration the DOJ recognized that case completion quotas would interfere with judicial independence. What’s changed in the intervening 34 years?
Two things have changed: 1) the overtly political climate within the DOJ which now sees the Immigration Courts as part of the immigration enforcement apparatus (as it was before EOIR was created); and 2) the huge backlogs resulting from years of ADR, “inbreeding,” and incompetent management by the DOJ. This, in turn, requires the DOJ to find “scapegoats” like Immigration Judges, asylum applicants, unaccompanied children, and private attorneys to shift the blame for their own inappropriate behavior and incompetent administration of the Immigration Courts.
In U.S. Government parlance, there’s a term for that: fraud, waste, and abuse!
“U.S. immigration officials have a long history of overstepping the boundaries of their legal authority and violating the constitutional and other legal rights of migrants at the Southwest border. Allegations of abuse throughout the apprehension, detention, and deportation process are not new; immigrant rights organizations and media outlets have reported on those violations for years.
Deportations in the Dark: Lack of Process and Information in the Removal of Mexican Migrants, a new report released by the American Immigration Council, is the most recent effort to document such violations. The report shows the extent to which U.S. immigration officials prevent migrants in their custody from accessing critical information and processes, which in many cases jeopardizes their chances to access various forms of immigration relief. Specifically, the report examines whether U.S. immigration agents properly inform migrants of their rights, actively obstruct their ability to exercise these rights, coerce or intimidate migrants in their custody, or neglect to provide removal documents to migrants at the time of repatriation.
The study is the result of a collaboration between the Council and the Mexico-based Binational Defense and Advocacy Program (in Spanish, Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional, or PDIB), a Mexican human rights initiative established in 2010 to document abuses perpetrated against repatriated Mexican immigrants during their time in the United States. With staff currently located in three different sites—Nogales, Sonora; Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas; and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua—PDIB interviews migrants upon deportation to Mexico on an ongoing basis.
Based on new survey data (600 interviews) collected by PDIB between August 2016 and April 2017 and testimonies gathered between August 2016 and May 2017, the study found that migrants are frequently deprived of legally required information, told they cannot contact their consulates, compelled to sign documents they cannot read or understand, threatened with protracted detention, and blocked from applying for asylum and other legal claims.
For example, half of the respondents who signed repatriation documents reported that they were not allowed to read the documents before they signed them; 57.6 percent did not receive their repatriation documents; 43.5 percent were not advised of their right to contact their consulate; more than half (55.7 percent) were not asked if they feared returning home.
This report is perhaps the first attempt to systematically analyze the prevalence of denied access to critical information among migrants in U.S. custody. Some of the issues highlighted here, however, have been raised by advocates and been subject to litigation in the past. One concrete example is the case of immigration agents misleading migrants into waiving their right to a removal hearing by signing for voluntary return.
When immigration authorities deprive migrants of critical information regarding their rights or the opportunity to exercise them, migrants may face unjust deportation and lose the ability to ever seek legal admission or apply for asylum in the future. As the U.S. government promises to institute a new level of immigration enforcement, the behavioral patterns of U.S. immigration authorities highlighted in this report are a source of concern.“
This is what Jeff “Gonzo Apocalypto” Sessions’s disingenuous claims about the “Rule of Law” really mean. And, for EOIR to post on its website DOJ propaganda about how ramming through more final orders of removal, many without full due process because individuals were given not given legally sufficient notice of their hearings, were effectively denied their right to counsel, were denied the opportunity to gather documentation necessary for their cases, or were coerced into withdrawing claims or waiving appeals, has something to do with the Imigration Courts’ mission is simply more proof that the current system has become a disgraceful mockery of justice.
America needs an independent Article I Immigration Court, now!
“Despite being among some of the most vulnerable, children seeking asylum in the United States often fare the worst. Upon entering the United States, children are often detained for extended periods in violation of a long-standing agreement known as the Flores settlement.
The Flores agreement essentially acts as a contract between the government and children held in immigration custody. On Tuesday, a federal district court judge ruled once again that the government is failing to meet its obligations to children held in immigration custody.
The court found a number of violations, including holding children too long in detention, in substandard conditions, and in non-licensed facilities. In addition, the court ruled that the government is required to look at each child’s case individually to determine whether release from custody is appropriate—the government may not rely on any blanket standard to avoid the responsibility of assessing each case individually.
The Flores agreement is a nationwide settlement reached in 1997. In this settlement, the government agreed that children taken into immigration custody would be placed in the “least restrictive setting appropriate to [their] age and special needs” and would be released “without unnecessary delay,” preferably to a parent. The settlement also requires that if a child is not released to a parent, adult relative, or an appropriate guardian, children must be placed in non-secure facilities licensed for the care of dependent children within five days of apprehension.
Two years ago, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CHRCL), on behalf of immigrant children, brought suit to enforce the Flores settlement. In July and August of 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee said the government must apply the settlement to all minors, including those detained with family members. Tuesday’s order from Judge Gee outlines the particular ways in which the government is in breach of the Flores settlement and how the court seeks to ensure compliance going forward.”
Read the complete article at the link.
While AG Jeff Sessions is out whipping up xenophobic frenzy and promoting the need for an “American Gulag” to support his “Gonzo Apocalypto” immigration enforcement agenda, he ignores his real legal and constitutional duties: Get General Kelly and the rest of the folks over at DHS to obey the law and stop mistreating kids!
That someone like Sessions with such totally warped values and lack of any sense of justice or decency should be in charge of our supposedly due process providing U.S. Immigration Court system is a continuing travesty of justice.
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.
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.”
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:
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!
“Observers found that the immigration judges made prejudicial statements, demonstrated a lack of courtesy and professionalism and expressed significant disinterest toward respondents. In one hearing, an attorney argued that his client should be released from detention because he was neither a threat to society nor a flight risk. In rejecting the client’s bond request, the immigration judge reportedly compared an immigrant to a “person coming to your home in a Halloween mask, waving a knife dripping with blood” and asked the attorney if he would let him in.
When the attorney disagreed with this comparison, the immigration judge responded that the “individuals before [him] were economic migrants and that they do not pay taxes.” Another immigration judge reportedly “leaned back in his chair, placed his head in his hands, and closed his eyes” for 23 minutes while the respondent described the murder of her parents and siblings during an asylum hearing.
Other critical problems include disregard for legal arguments, frequent cancellation of hearings at the last minute, lack of individualized consideration of bond requests, and inadequate interpretation services for respondents who do not speak English. The observers also reported that immigration judges often refer to detention centers as “jails” and detainees as “prisoners,” undermining their dignity and humanity and suggesting that the IJs perceive detained immigrants as criminals. Compounding this problem, detained immigrants who appear in immigration court in Atlanta are required to wear jumpsuits and shackles.
Many of these practices stand in stark contrast with the Executive Office of Immigration Reviews’ Ethics and Professionalism Guide for Immigration Judges, which state, among other things, that “an immigration judge… should not, in the performance of official duties, by word or conduct, manifest improper bias or prejudice” and that immigration judge should be “patient, dignified, and courteous, and should act in a professional manner towards all litigants, witnesses, lawyers, and other with whom the immigration judge deals in his or her capacity.”
“[P]atient, dignified, courteous, . . . professional,” unfortunately does not describe the judges of the U.S. Immigration Court in Atlanta as portrayed in this study and numerous articles from various sources. As I have pointed out before, although the BIA finally did “call out” one Immigration Judge in Atlanta for his outrageous disregard of due process and appropriate judicial conduct in 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), the BIA has let this problem fester for far, far too long. Indeed, the indefensible 2% asylum grant rate suggests that the BIA has been derelict in its duty to insure due process, fairness, and compliance with the appropriate, generous legal standards in asylum cases for some time.
Without a more effective effort by the BIA, this problem is unlikely to be solved any time in the near future. While administrative judges at EOIR Headquarters in Falls Church, VA may investigate complaints and correct instances of unprofessional conduct and rudeness, they (quite properly) lack authority to change the decisions in particular cases. Only the BIA, the Attorney General, the Court of Appeals (in this case the 11th Circuit), or the Supreme Court can correct legal errors.
The conduct of the Immigration Judges in Atlanta and some other locations diminishes the efforts of the vast majority of U.S. Immigration Judges, such as my former colleagues in the Arlington Immigration Court, who strive extremely hard to provide due process and impartial judging under extraordinarily difficult circumstances in a system that its not necessarily designed and operated with due process in mind. But, unfair as as the wayward judges might be to their colleagues elsewhere, the real victims of their unprofessional conduct are the individuals who do not receive the fair, courteous, impartial, professional due process adjudications to which they are entitled under our Constitution. And, one has to ask what purpose is served by a “court” which consistently fails to deliver on its one and only mission: guaranteeing fairness and due process for all?
“Effective February 27, 2017, new changes to the asylum screening process could lead to an increased number of deportations of asylum-seekers who fear persecution upon return to their home country.
On February 13, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) revised its Asylum Division Officer Training Course (ADOTC) lesson plans on how to assess an asylum seeker’s credible and reasonable fear of persecution or torture. The lesson plans were revised to be consistent with the January 25, 2017 Executive Order on border security and immigration enforcement and provide guidelines to the asylum officers when conducting credible fear interviews (for those at the border or port of entry who were never previously deported) and reasonable fear interviews (for those who were previously order deported but who later seek asylum).
The changes to the lesson plans are significant and may cause the denial rate to skyrocket, in which case thousands of asylum seekers would be wrongfully denied a meaningful day in court . Not only does the new guidance provide asylum officers with greater discretion to deny an applicant for reasons which may be out of the applicant’s control, but the applicant will essentially be forced to undergo a full asylum hearing with none of the safeguards in place to ensure a meaningful opportunity to present a claim for relief.”
Read Katie’s complete analysis at the link. You should also look at Dree Collopy’s short video on the changes which I previously posted.
If this carries over into Immigration Court where unsuccessful applicants can seek “expedited review,” it would mean that “credible fear reviews” could become more time consuming.
I was usually able to complete them in a few minutes using the Asylum Officer’s notes and asking a few questions. I found that the overwhelming number of those denied had “credible fear,” and probably at least half of those cases eventually resulted in relief. However, over the last year of my career I was primarily on the non-detained docket, so I only did “credible fears” when I was on detail to a detention center or the system was backed up.
As an Immigration Judge, I did not use the USCIS lesson plans. But, I did rely on the Asylum Officer’s notes for a basic understanding of the claim. I then usually asked a few questions to verify that the notes accurately reflected the claim and that nothing relevant had been omitted.
“The Trump administration is quickly unraveling the last administration’s efforts to prioritize those for deportation who pose a serious threat over those who don’t. The new administration is ignoring priorities that were put into place by the Obama Administration as a way to manage limited law enforcement resources. The priorities recognized that there is a finite budget available for immigration enforcement, thus making prioritization important. The approach now being pursued by the Trump Administration casts a wide net and will result in an aggressive and unforgiving approach to immigration enforcement moving forward.
The most significant indications of this shift came through the “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the U.S.” executive order, issued January 25, 2017, which prioritizes for deportation those noncitizens who:
Have been convicted of any criminal offense;
Have been charged with any criminal offense;
Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a government agency;
Have abused any program related to the receipt of public benefits;
Are subject to a final order of removal but have not departed;
Otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.
In addition, unauthorized immigrants with no criminal history will likely fit under the third bullet because entering without inspection is a chargeable criminal offense (illegal entry or re-entry). And since the executive order states that many immigrants without immigration status or who overstayed their visas are a risk to public safety and national security, it appears the final bullet is a catch-all category for many others. In other words, the president has “prioritized” everyone, which means in reality he’s prioritized no one, making everyone a target for enforcement. Furthermore, legal immigrants—even green card holders–who are convicted of aggravated felonies or crimes of moral turpitude could also be subject to deportation.
Yet despite the more aggressive approach, it is still unclear from where the resources to identify, arrest, detain, and deport all of these individuals will come. For example, the U.S. is already over-capacity in detention, and immigration courts are seriously backlogged.
In the past, the government has stated that budget realities make it impossible to remove everyone who is in the country without authorization or who is otherwise deportable. This meant the agency had to set priorities and focus on a subset of deportable immigrants.
The Obama administration released a series of memos designed to prioritize those who pose a threat to public safety and national security and other categories of individuals.”
The Obama Administration made a total mess out of the already stressed U.S. Immigration Court dockets by unwisely and unnecessarily “prioritizing” cases of recently arrived unaccompanied children, women, and families fleeing violence and corruption in the Northern Triangle.
Nevertheless, thorough programs such as DACA, stateside processing, closing cases with possible relief pending before USCIS, and frequent wise use of prosecutorial discretion (“PD”) in “clean” cases with difficult legal issues but strong humanitarian factors, the Obama Administration was the first Administration I have seen make progress on developing a system that could eventually have helped “rationalize” Immigration Court dockets. If freed from politicized and unrealistic “priorities” from above, this eventually could have allowed the courts to focus on cases that really needed to be litigated, as is the case with almost all other high-volume court systems.
By contrast, the Trump Administration seems intent on “torquing” the Immigration Court system until it breaks apart. Even the Obama Administration used an overly broad concept of “criminal alien.” They included too many individuals who, while technically removable under the law, were doing useful things in the community and presented no real threat to the safety or security of the U.S.
Certainly the Trump Administration could have focused on those whose removals should be prioritized by “fine tuning” the Obama enforcement priorities. Instead, they have embarked on an expensive and ill-planned “mission impossible” to make everybody a priority (and, hence, nobody a priority) without any regard to the capacity or the best uses of court time and resources within our judicial system.
Additionally, the Trump Administration seems to be going out of its way to “disempower” those who are closest to the problem and are actually in the best position to determine which cases should be prosecuted: the local Offices of Chief Counsel of the DHS (the “immigration equivalent” of the U.S. Attorney). In Arlington, the Office of Chief Counsel was well-respected by all and had an excellent grasp of how to make the justice system work for all involved. Their main problem, like that of the Immigration Courts, was unrealistic priorities and directives imposed on them by political officials “up the chain.”
Sadly, the Trump Administration seems determined not to build on those things that have been successful in the past and instead to embark on a new “blunderbuss” approach to immigration enforcement that is almost guaranteed to get tied up with both legal challenges and practical impossibilities.
“In his Jan. 25 executive order titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” [P]resident Donald Trump announced that the Secretary of Homeland Security will publish, among other things, a weekly list of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.
This might suggest that people in the US illegally commit an unusually large number of crimes. There isn’t a register of crimes committed by this group of people, so it’s hard to show whether or not that’s the case. However, two data points suggest this group commits fewer crimes than people in the country legally. They are pointed out in a 2015 special report from the American Immigration Council.”