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

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

Tory Johnson writes in Immigration Impact:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PWS

06-14-17

 

IMMIGRATION IMPACT: More Commentary On How The U.S. Immigration Court In Atlanta Mocks The Due Process Mission of EOIR

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/03/10/atlanta-immigration-court/

Hilda Bonilla writes:

“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.”

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“[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?

PWS

03/13/17

IMMIGRATION IMPACT: Katie Shepard Explains How New USCIS Lesson Plans Are Likely To Harm Asylum Seekers!

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/02/28/changes-may-keep-asylum-seekers-getting-day-court/

“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.”

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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.

http://wp.me/p8eeJm-qx

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.

 

PWS

03/03/17

 

Michele Waslin, Immigration Impact: Trump Administration Ditches “Common Sense Priorities” In Adopting a Max Enforcement Program!

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/02/15/trump-immigration-enforcement-policies/

“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.”

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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.

PWS

02/19/17

Quartz: President Trump’s Claim Of High Correlation Between Undocumented Migrants And Crime Appears Bogus

https://qz.com/895624/how-much-crime-is-committed-by-immigrants/

Annalisa Merelli writes in Quartz:

“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.”

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PWS

01/26/17