ANTH 375 @ BELOIT COLLEGE: Professor Jennifer Esperanza & Her Students Blaze Path To Understanding Migration In The Liberal Arts Context — Every College In America Should Be Teaching These Essential Skills!

Back in 1973, when I graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School and  joined the staff of the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) at the U.S. Department of Justice, nary a law school in the U.S. taught a course in immigration law. The handful of law school courses on the subject were taught almost entirely by Adjunct Professors. Indeed, shortly after I joined the Board, they sent me to what was then the premier law school immigration course at Georgetown Law taught by none other than Charles Gordon, the legendary General Counsel of the “Legacy” INS.

Today, thanks to a great extent to the efforts of such noted “scholar/public servants” as Professor David Martin of the University of Virginia Law School, Professor Alex Aleinikoff, former Dean of Georgetown Law, and Professor Stephen Legomsky of Washington University Law School, some form of immigration law or immigration clinic is offered at most major U.S. Law Schools.

But, a serious void remains at the most critical level of education: undergraduate institutions. However, at Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin, Professor Jennifer Esperanza is blazing the way for the future. Her “ANTH 375: Migrants, Immigrants, and Refugees” Summer Session class is jumping head-on into creating constructive dialogue, understanding, and action on the most important issue facing America today: migration.

I had the pleasure of working with Professor Esperanza and her fourteen “super students” as a “Guest Professor” during three days in late May. The students hailed from different backgrounds and entered the class with varying levels of immigration experience and interest.

Some were there because of their own backgrounds or prior work with migrants; others were there . . . well, just because they were there. But, funny thing, by the end of my three days I couldn’t tell the difference. Everyone pitched in as a team, demonstrated sharp analytical skills, asked incisive questions, showed creativity and originality, and made spectacular group presentations on some very tough subjects. In other words, it was all the things I love: fairness, scholarship, timeliness, respect, and teamwork!

Among our exercises: we watched and discussed the documentary “Credible Fear;” broke the group into two teams which designed and presented their own refugee systems based on competing “Mother Hen” and “Dick’s Last Resort” principles; and read, analyzed, and discussed two cases I had been involved in: the BIA’s landmark precedent Matter of Kasinga, 21 I&N Dec. 357 (BIA 1996) recognizing for the first time “female genital mutilation” (“FGM”) as a basis for asylum in the United States, and another decision (which was published on the internet) from my time at the Arlington Immigration Court where I granted “particular social group” asylum to a family from El Salvador.

I teach as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law, one of the top law schools in the country. To my pleasant surprise, I found that Esperanza’s Beloit students were able to discuss the issues in a manner very similar to the class dialogue produced by some really great second-year, third-year, and graduate law students. Amazing!

I’m reproducing the results of the “Create Your Own Refugee System” exercise below, along with a class picture and some other pictures of my stay at Beloit (where my son-in-law, Daniel Barolsky, is a Professor of Musicology).

I also note that Professor Esperanza’s system and “real-world-oriented” approach to undergraduate education produces results, as in jobs in the real world! As featured in the Fall 2015 issue of Beloit College Magazine, Esperanza’s students were making an immediate difference: Jessica Slattery ’12, as a paralegal for the New York Legal Assistance Group in the Bronx, NY;  Dan Weyl ’10, with the Heartland Alliance, an international human rights organization that provides resources for LGBT refugees resettling in the United States (as a footnote, following retirement I have been helping out the Heartland Alliance Washington, DC, office with various projects); Jane Choi ’14, working on the political team at the British High Commission in Cape Town, South Africa; Key Ishii ’12, working with African refugees in Israel; Angela Martellaro ’10, a licensed real estate agent at Chief Properties in Kansas City, MO, specializing in helping refugee families from Myanmar buy their first home; and Nikki Tourigny ’10, working for Hot Bread Kitchen, a wholesale nonprofit bakery in NYC that trains immigrant and minority women to work in the restaurant industry.  Impressive!

On a personal note, I graduated in 1970 from Lawrence University, just up the road from Beloit in Appleton, WI. Like Beloit, Lawrence is a member of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest.

I majored in History, minored in German, and spent a semester abroad in Germany. I found that a broad research and writing intensive, liberal arts eduction that promoted critical analysis and effective dialogue was the best possible preparation for all that followed: U.W. Law School, government attorney, private practice of immigration law, and several Senior Executive Service positions with the U.S. government, as well as Adjunct Professor positions. I spent the last 21 hears of my career as a U.S. Immigration Judge at the appellate and trial levels and served as Chairman of the BIA for six years. I can’t imagine a better preparation for the global perspective, analytical ability, and research and writing skills needed for judicial work than what I received at Lawrence. I just wish that someone like Professor Esperanza had been teaching her innovative approach to cultural anthropology when I was an undergrad!

Finally, I might add that Professor Esperanza and her husband Paul, who works in Administration at the College, are part of a a group of talented young professionals, which includes my daughter Anna, who teaches middle school English in the Beloit Public Schools, her husband Daniel, and their children, who have chosen to make their homes in Beloit, near the College. They enjoy and actively participate the in Beloit community and are big supporters of the “Beloit Proud” movement.

Here’s the pictorial version of my “tenure” at Beloit.

ANTH 375: Migrants, Immigrants, and Refugees” – Professor Jenn Esperanza — May 2017 — Beloit College, Beloit WI

Back Row:

Dan Arkes, Me, Joe Enes, “The Talking Statue,” Mark Hauptfleisch, Cynthia Escobedo, Yoon Ja Na, Rosa Ennison, Keila Perez, Gabe Perry

Front Row:

Jamie Manchen, Professor Jennifer Esperanza, Leanna Miller, Terra Allen, Abby Segal, Matt Tarpinian

Here are the results of the “Create Your Own Refugee System” Exercise. Click on the links for some really “great stuff:”

For “Dick’s Last Resort:”

The GreatHermetic Principles

For the “Mother Hens:”

ANTH 375- Mother Hen Refugee Program

And, here’s what the class looked like “in action,” as well as a picture of our dog Luna in front of the historic “Middle College Building” at Beloit.

 

PWS

06-04-17

Here’s My Keynote Address From Today’s FBA Immigration Law Conference In Denver, CO!

LIFE AT EOIR – PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE

By

Paul Wickham Schmidt

Retired U.S. Immigration Judge

Keynote Address

2017 Immigration Law Conference

Denver, CO

May 12, 2017

INTRODUCTION

Good afternoon. Thank you so much for inviting me. Its an honor to appear before you.

Funny thing happened to me on the way to this conference. When I arrived at the airport yesterday afternoon, my good friend Judge Lory Rosenberg rushed up to me at baggage claim and said “Oh, I see we’re having you for lunch!” I said “What?” She said “You’re our keynote speaker at lunch tomorrow.” I scoffed at the idea, saying I might be on the after lunch panel with her, but that was it. However, when I actually took the time to look at the program I saw that certainly not for the first time, Lory was right. Unbeknownst to me I was, in fact, listed as the keynote speaker.

I’ve composed this speech on my I-pad, which I’m using as a teleprompter. As you know, those of us who worked at EOIR aren’t used to this new-fangled technology. So, please bear with me.

As we get started, I’d like all of you to join me in recognizing my friend and former colleague Judge Larry Burman for his tireless efforts to make the ILS the best section in the FBA. In the later years, I tried very hard to avoid being at court at nights, weekends, and holidays. But, occasionally I had to go pick up my cellphone or something else I had inadvertently left in my office. And, who should be there but Larry. And he was always working on a FBA project, the Green Card, Conference Planning, recruiting new members, etc. So, please join me in a round of applause for Judge Burman for all he has done for promoting productive dialogue and improving the practice of immigration law.

Now, this is when I used to give my comprehensive disclaimer providing plausible deniabilityfor everyone in the Immigration Court System if I happened to say anything inconvenient or controversial. But, now that Im retired, we can skip that part.

My speech is entitled: Life At EOIR, Past Present, and Future.I will start by introducing myself to you and telling you a bit about how my life and career have been intertwined with EOIR. Then I will briefly address five things: the court systems vision, the judges role, my judicial philosophy, what needs to be done to reclaim the due process vision of the Immigration Courts, and how you can get involved.

CAREER SUMMARY

I graduated in 1970 from Lawrence University a small liberal arts college in Appleton, Wisconsin, where I majored in history. My broad liberal arts education and the intensive writing and intellectual dialogue involved were the best possible preparation for all that followed.

I then attended the University of Wisconsin School of Law in Madison, Wisconsin, graduating in 1973. Go Badgers!

I began my legal career in 1973 as an Attorney Advisor at the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) at the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) under the Attorney Generals Honors Program. Admittedly, however, the BIAs Executive Assistant culled my resume from the Honors Program reject pile.One of my staff colleagues at that time, now retired U.S Immigration Judge Joan Churchill, is right here in the audience.

At that time, before the creation of the Executive Office for Immigration Review – “EOIR” for you Winnie the Pooh fans — the Board had only five members and nine staff attorneys, as compared to todays cast of thousands. Among other things, I worked on the famous, or infamous, John Lennon case, which eventually was reversed by the Second Circuit in an opinion by the late Chief Judge Irving Kaufman.[1] As an interesting historical footnote, that case was argued in the Circuit by then Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Maguire Dunne, who went on to become a distinguished Member of the BIA and one of my Vice Chairs during my tenure as Chairman.

I also shared an office with my good friend, the late Lauri Steven Filppu, who later became a Deputy Director of the Office of Immigration Litigation (OIL) in the DOJs Civil Division and subsequently served with me on the BIA. The Chairman of the BIA at that time was the legendary immigration guru” Maurice A. “Maury” Roberts. Chairman Roberts took Lauri and me under this wing and shared with us his love of immigration law, his focus on sound scholarship, his affinity for clear, effective legal writing, and his humane sense of fairness and justice for the individuals coming before the BIA.

In 1976, I moved to the Office of General Counsel at the “Legacy” Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”). There, I worked for another legendary figure in immigration law, then General Counsel Sam Bernsen. Sam was a naturalized citizen who started his career as a 17-year-old messenger at Ellis Island and worked his way to the top of the Civil Service ranks. Perhaps not incidentally, he was also a good friend of Chairman Roberts.

At that time, the Office of General Counsel was very small, with a staff of only three attorneys in addition to the General Counsel and his Deputy, another mentor and immigration guru, Ralph Farb. At one time, all three of us on the staff sat in the same office! In 1978, Ralph was appointed to the BIA, and I succeeded him as Deputy General Counsel.   I also served as the Acting General Counsel for several very lengthy periods in both the Carter and Reagan Administrations.

Not long after I arrived, the General Counsel position became political. The incoming Administration encouraged Sam to retire, and he went on to become a name and Managing Partner of the Washington, D.C. office of the powerhouse immigration boutique Fragomen, Del Rey, and Bernsen. He was replaced by my good friend and colleague David Crosland, now an Immigration Judge in Baltimore, who selected me as his Deputy. Dave was also the Acting Commissioner of Immigration during the second half of the Carter Administration, one of the periods when I was the Acting General Counsel.

The third General Counsel that I served under was one of my most unforgettable characters:the late, great Maurice C. “Mike” Inman, Jr. He was known, not always affectionately, as Iron Mike.His management style was something of a cross between the famous coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, and the fictional Mafia chieftain, Don Corleone. As my one of my colleagues said of Iron Mike:” “He consistently and unreasonably demanded that we do the impossible, and most of the time we succeeded.Although we were totally different personalities, Mike and I made a good team, and we accomplished amazing things. It was more or less a good cop, bad coproutine, and Ill let you guess who played which role. You can check the “Inman era” out with retired Immigration Judge William P. Joyce, who is sitting in the audience and shared the experience with me.

Among other things, I worked on the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Cuban Boatlift, the Refugee Act of 1980, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (“IRCA”), the creation of the Office of Immigration Litigation (OIL), and establishing what has evolved into the modern Chief Counsel system at Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”).

I also worked on the creation of EOIR, which combined the Immigration Courts, which had previously been part of the INS, with the BIA to improve judicial independence. Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, the leadership and impetus for getting the Immigration Judges into a separate organization came from Mike and the late Al Nelson, who was then the Commissioner of Immigration. Prosecutors by position and litigators by trade, they saw the inherent conflicts and overall undesirability, from a due process and credibility standpoint, of having immigration enforcement and impartial court adjudication in the same division. I find it troubling that officials at todays DOJ arent able to understand and act appropriately on the glaring conflict of interest currently staring them in their collective faces.

By the time I left in 1987, the General Counsels Office, largely as a result of the enactment of IRCA and new employer sanctions provisions, had dozens of attorneys, organized into divisions, and approximately 600 attorneys in the field program, the vast majority of whom had been hired during my tenure.

In 1987, I left INS and joined Jones Days DC Office, a job that I got largely because of my wife Cathy and her old girl network.I eventually became a partner specializing in business immigration, multinational executives, and religious workers. Among my major legislative projects on behalf of our clients were the special religious worker provisions added to the law by the Immigration Act of 1990 and the “Special Immigrant Juvenile” provisions of the INA with which some of you might be familiar.

Following my time at Jones Day, I succeeded my former boss and mentor Sam Bernsen as the Managing Partner of the DC Office of Fragomen, Del Rey & Bernsen, the leading national immigration boutique, where I continued to concentrate on business immigration. You will note that immigration is a small community; you need to be nice to everyone because you keep running into the same folks over and over again in your career. While at Fragomen, I also assisted the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) on a number of projects and was an adviser to the LawyersCommittee, now known as Human Rights First.

In 1995, then Attorney General Janet Reno appointed me Chairman of the BIA. Not surprisingly, Janet Reno, who recently died, was my favorite among all of the Attorneys General I worked under. I felt that she supported me personally, and she supported the concept of an independent judiciary, even though she didnt always agree with our decisions and vice versa.

She was the only Attorney General who consistently came to our Investitures and Immigration Judge Conferences in person and mixed and mingled with the group. She was also kind to our clerical staff and invited them downtown to meet personally with her. She had a saying equal justice for allthat she worked into almost all of her speeches, and which I found quite inspirational. She was also hands down the funniest former Attorney General to appear on Saturday Night Live,doing her famous Janet Reno Dance Partyroutine with Will Farrell immediately following the end of her lengthy tenure at the DOJ.

Among other things, I oversaw an expansion of the Board from the historical five members to more than 20 members, a more open selection system that gave some outside experts a chance to serve as appellate judges on the Board, the creation of a supervisory structure for the expanding staff, the establishment of a unified Clerks Office to process appeals, implementation of a true judicial format for published opinions, institution of bar coding for the tens of thousands of files, the establishment of a pro bono program to assist unrepresented respondents on appeal, the founding of the Virtual Law Library, electronic en banc voting and e-distribution of decisions to Immigration Judges, and the publication of the first BIA Practice Manual, which actually won a Plain Language Awardfrom then Vice President Gore.

I also wrote the majority opinion in my favorite case, Matter of Kasinga, establishing for the first time that the practice of female genital mutilation (“FGM”) is persecution” for asylum purposes.[2] As another historical footnote, the losingattorney in that case was none other than my good friend, then INS General Counsel David A. Martin, a famous immigration professor at the University of Virginia Law who personally argued before the Board.

In reality, however, by nominally losingthe case, David actually won the war for both of us, and more important, for the cause of suffering women throughout the world. We really were on the same side in Kasinga. Without Davids help, who knows if I would have been able to get an almost-united Board to make such a strong statement on protection of vulnerable women.

During my tenure as Chairman, then Chief Immigration Judge (now BIA Member) Michael J. Creppy and I were founding members of the International Association of Refugee Law Judges (“IARLJ”). This organization, today headquartered in The Hague, promotes open dialogue and exchange of information among judges from many different countries adjudicating claims under the Geneva Convention on Refugees. Since my retirement, I have rejoined the IARLJ as a Vice President for the Americas.

In 2001, at the beginning of the Bush Administration, I stepped down as BIA Chairman, but remained as a Board Member until April 2003. At that time, then Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was not a fan of my opinions, invited me to vacate the Board and finish my career at the Arlington Immigration Court, where I remained until my retirement on June 30 of last year. So, Im one of the few ever to become an Immigration Judge without applying for the job. Or, maybe my opinions, particularly the dissents, were my application and I just didnt recognize it at the time. But, it turned out to be a great fit, and I truly enjoyed my time at the Arlington Court.

I have also taught Immigration Law at George Mason School of Law in 1989 and Refugee Law and Policyat Georgetown Law from 2012 through 2014. Ive just agreed to resume my Adjunct position with Georgetown Law for a compressed summer course” in “Immigration Law & Policy.

Please keep in mind that if everyone agreed with me, my career wouldnt have turned out the way it did. On the other hand, if nobody agreed with me, my career wouldnt have turned out the way it did. In bureaucratic terms, I was a “survivor.” I have also, at some point in my career, probably been on both sides of many of the important issues in U.S. immigration law.

One of the challenges that lawyers will face in Immigration Court is that different judges have distinct styles, philosophies, and preferences.   I always felt that although we might differ in personality and approach, at least in Arlington we all shared a commitment to achieving fairness and justice.

As a sitting judge, I encouraged meticulous preparation and advance consultation with the DHS Assistant Chief Counsel to stipulate or otherwise narrow issues. In Arlington, for example, even with a new high of 10 Immigration Judges, the average docket is still 3,000 cases per judge. There currently are more than 30,000 pending cases at the Arlington Court. Because of this overwhelming workload, efficiency and focusing on the disputed issues in court are particularly critical. 

THE DUE PROCESS VISION

Now, lets move on to the other topics: First, vision.   The “EOIR Vision” is: “Through teamwork and innovation, be the worlds best administrative tribunals, guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.In one of my prior incarnations, I was part of the group that developed that vision statement. Perhaps not surprisingly given the timing, that vision echoed the late Janet Reno’s “equal justice for alltheme.

Sadly, the Immigration Court System is moving further away from that due process vision. Instead, years of neglect, misunderstanding, mismanagement, and misguided priorities imposed by the U.S. Department of Justice have created judicial chaos with an expanding backlog now approaching an astounding 600,000 cases and no clear plan for resolving them in the foreseeable future.   There are now more pending cases in Immigration Court than in the entire U.S. District Court System, including both Civil and Criminal dockets, with fewer than half as many U.S. Immigration Judges currently on board as U.S. District Judges.

And, the new Administration promises to add hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of new cases to the Immigration Court docket, again without any transparent plan for completing the half million already pending cases consistent with due process and fairness. In fact, notably, and most troubling, concern for fairness and due process in the immigration hearing process has not appeared anywhere in the Administrations many pronouncements on immigration.

Nobody has been hit harder by this preventable disaster than asylum seekers, particularly scared women and children fleeing for their lives from the Northern Triangle of Central America. In Immigration Court, notwithstanding the life or death issues at stake, unlike criminal court there is no right to an appointed lawyer. Individuals who cant afford a lawyer must rely on practicing lawyers who donate their time or on nonprofit community organizations to find free or low cost legal representation. Although the Government stubbornly resists the notion that all asylum seekers should be represented, studies show that represented asylum seekers are at least five times more likely to succeed than those who must represent themselves. For recently arrived women with children, the success differential is an astounding fourteen times![3]

You might have read about the unfortunate statement of an Assistant Chief Judge for Training who claimed that he could teach immigration law to unrepresented toddlers appearing in Immigration Court. Issues concerning representation of so-called vulnerable populationscontinue to challenge our Court System. Even with Clinics and Non-Governmental Organizations pitching in, there simply are not enough free or low cost lawyers available to handle the overwhelming need. In fact, soon to be former EOIR Director Juan Osuna once declared in an officially-sanctioned TV interview that the current system is “broken.”[4]

Notwithstanding the admitted problems, I still believe in the EOIR vision. Later in this speech Im going to share with you some of my ideas for reclaiming this noble due process vision.

THE ROLE OF THE IMMIGRATION JUDGE

Changing subjects, to the role of the Immigration Judge: Whats it like to be an Immigration Judge? As an Immigration Judge, I was an administrative judge. I was not part of the Judicial Branch established under Article III of the Constitution. The Attorney General, part of the Executive Branch, appointed me, and my authority was subject to her regulations.

We should all be concerned that the U.S. Immigration Court system is now totally under the control of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has consistently taken a negative view of immigrants, both legal and undocumented, and has failed to recognize the many essential, positive contributions that immigrants make to our country.  

Perhaps ironically, the late Judge Terence T. Evans of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals offered one of the best descriptions of what its like to be an Immigration Judge. Judge Evans was not one of us, but saw plenty of our work during his lifetime. Judge Evans said:

“Because 100 percent of asylum petitioners want to stay in this country, but less than 100 percent are entitled to asylum, an immigration judge must be alert to the fact that some petitioners will embellish their claims to increase their chances of success. On the other hand, an immigration judge must be sensitive to the suffering and fears of petitioners who are genuinely entitled to asylum in this country. A healthy balance of sympathy and skepticism is a job requirement for a good immigration judge. Attaining that balance is what makes the job of an immigration judge, in my view, excruciatingly difficult.”[5]

My Arlington Immigration Court colleague Judge Thomas G. Snow also gives a very moving and accurate glimpse of an Immigration Judges life in a recent article from USA Today:

” Immigration judges make these decisions alone. Many are made following distraught or shame-filled testimony covering almost unimaginable acts of inhumanity. And we make them several times a day, day after day, year after year.

We take every decision we make very seriously. We do our best to be fair to every person who comes before us. We judge each case on its own merits, no matter how many times weve seen similar fact patterns before.

We are not policymakers. We are not legislators. We are judges. Although we are employees of the U.S. Department of Justice who act under the delegated authority of the attorney general, no one tells us how to decide a case. I have been an immigration judge for more than 11 years, and nobody has ever tried to influence a single one of my thousands of decisions

And finally, because we are judges, we do our best to follow the law and apply it impartially to the people who appear before us. I know I do so, even when it breaks my heart.[6]

My good friend and colleague, Judge Dana Leigh Marks of the San Francisco Immigration Court, who is the President of the National Association of Immigration Judges, offers a somewhat pithier description: [I]mmigration judges often feel asylum hearings are like holding death penalty cases in traffic court.’”[7]

Another historical footnote: as a young lawyer, then known as Dana Marks Keener, Judge Marks successfully argued the landmark Supreme Court case INS v. Cardoza Fonseca, establishing the generous well-founded fearstandard for asylum, while I helped the Solicitor Generals office develop the unsuccessful opposing arguments for INS.[8] Therefore, I sometimes refer to Judge Marks as one of the founding mothers” of U.S. asylum law.

From my perspective, as an Immigration Judge I was half scholar, half performing artist. An Immigration Judge is always on public display, particularly in this age of the Internet.His or her words, actions, attitudes, and even body language, send powerful messages, positive or negative, about our court system and our national values. Perhaps not surprisingly, the majority of those who fail at the job do so because they do not recognize and master the performing artistaspect, rather than from a lack of pertinent legal knowledge.

One of the keys to the Immigration Judges job is issuing scholarly, practical, well-written opinions in the most difficult cases. That ties directly into the job of the Immigration Courts amazing Judicial Law Clerks (“JLCs”) assisted by all-star legal interns from local law schools. The JLC’s job is, of course, to make the judge look smart,no matter how difficult or challenging that might be in a particular case.  

MY JUDICIAL PHILOSOPHY

Next, I’ll say a few words about my philosophy. In all aspects of my career, I have found five essential elements for success: fairness, scholarship, timeliness, respect, and teamwork.

Obviously, fairness to the parties is an essential element of judging. Scholarship in the law is what allows us to fairly apply the rules in particular cases. However, sometimes attempts to be fair or scholarly can be ineffective unless timely. In some cases, untimeliness can amount to unfairness no matter how smart or knowledgeable you are.

Respect for the parties, the public, colleagues, and appellate courts is absolutely necessary for our system to function. Finally, I view the whole judging process as a team exercise that involves a coordinated and cooperative effort among judges, respondents, counsel, interpreters, court clerks, security officers, administrators, law clerks and interns working behind the scenes, to get the job done correctly. Notwithstanding different roles, we all share a common interest in seeing that our justice system works.

Are the five elements that I just mentioned limited to Immigration Court? They are not only essential legal skills, they are also necessary life skills, whether you are running a courtroom, a law firm, a family, a PTA meeting, a book club, or a soccer team. As you might imagine, I am a huge fan of clinical experience as an essential part of the law school curriculum. Not only do clinical programs make important actual contributions to our justice system due process in action but they teach exactly the type of intellectual and practical values and skills that I have just described.

RECLAIMING THE VISION

Our Immigration Courts are going through an existential crisis that threatens the very foundations of our American Justice System. Earlier, I told you about my dismay that the noble due process vision of our Immigration Courts has been derailed. What can be done to get it back on track?

First, and foremost, the Immigration Courts must return to the focus on due process as the one and only mission. The improper use of our due process court system by political officials to advance enforcement priorities and/or send “don’t comemessages to asylum seekers, which are highly ineffective in any event, must end. Thats unlikely to happen under the DOJ as proved by over three decades of history, particularly recent history. It will take some type of independent court. I think that an Article I Immigration Court, which has been supported by groups such as the ABA and the FBA, would be best.

Clearly, the due process focus was lost during the last Administration when officials outside EOIR forced ill-advised prioritizationand attempts to “expedite” the cases of frightened women and children from the Northern Triangle who require lawyers to gain the protection that most of them need and deserve. Putting these cases in front of other pending cases was not only unfair to all, but has created what I call aimless docket reshuffling— “ADR” — that has thrown the Immigration Court system into chaos and dramatically increased the backlogs.  

Although those misguided Obama Administration priorities have been rescinded, the reprieve is only fleeting. The Trump Administration has announced plans to greatly expand the prioritytargets for removal to include even those who were merely accused of committing any crime. The Administration also plans a new and greatly expanded immigration detention empire,likely to be situated in remote locations near the Southern Border, relying largely on discredited private for profitprisons. The Administration also wants to make it more difficult for individuals to get full Immigration Court hearings on asylum claims and to expand the use of so-called expedited removal,thereby seeking to completely avoid the Immigration Court process.

Evidently, the idea, similar to that of the Obama Administration, is to remove most of those recently crossing the border to seek protection, thereby sending a “don’t come, we dont want youmessage to asylum seekers.

Second, there must be structural changes so that the Immigration Courts are organized and run like a real court system, not a highly bureaucratic agency. This means that sitting Immigration Judges, like in all other court systems, must control their dockets. The practice of having administrators in Falls Church and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., none of whom are sitting judges responsible for daily court hearings, manipulate and rearrange local dockets in a vain attempt to achieve policy goals unrelated to fairness and due process for individuals coming before the Immigration Courts must end.  

If there are to be nationwide policies and practices, they should be developed by an Immigration Judicial Conference,patterned along the lines of the Federal Judicial Conference. That would be composed of sitting Immigration Judges representing a cross-section of the country, several Appellate Immigration Judges from the BIA, and probably some U.S. Circuit Judges, since the Circuits are one of the primary consumersof the court’s “product.”

Third, there must be a new administrative organization to serve the courts, much like the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. This office would naturally be subordinate to the Immigration Judicial Conference. Currently, the glacial hiring process, inadequate courtroom space planning and acquisition, and unreliable, often-outdated technology are simply not up to the needs of a rapidly expanding court system.  

In particular, the judicial hiring process over the past 16 years has failed to produce the necessary balance because judicial selectees from private sector backgrounds particularly those with expertise in asylum and refugee law have been so few and far between. Indeed, during the last Administration nearly 90% of the judicial appointments were from Government backgrounds. And, there is no reason to believe that pattern will change under the current Administration. In fact, only one of the seven most recent appointments by Attorney Generals Sessions came from a private sector background.

Fourth, I would repeal all of the so-called Ashcroft reformsat the BIA and put the BIA back on track to being a real appellate court.   A properly comprised and well-functioning BIA should transparently debate and decide important, potentially controversial, issues, publishing dissenting opinions when appropriate. All BIA Appellate Judges should be required to vote and take a public position on all important precedent decisions. The BIA must also “rein in” those Immigration Courts with asylum grant rates so incredibly low as to make it clear that the generous dictates of the Supreme Court in Cardoza-Fonseca[9] and the BIA itself in Mogharrabi[10] are not being followed.

Nearly a decade has passed since Professors Andy Schoenholtz, Phil Shrag, and Jaya Ramji-Nogales published their seminal work Refugee Roulette, documenting the large disparities among Immigration Judges in asylum grant rates.[11] While there has been some improvement, the BIA, the only body that can effectively establish and enforce due process within the Immigration Court system, has not adequately addressed this situation.

For example, let’s take a brief “asylum magical mystery tour” down the East Coast.[12] In New York, 84% of the asylum applications are granted. Cross the Hudson River to Newark and that rate sinks to 48%, still respectable in light of the 47% national average but inexplicably 36% lower than New York. Move over to the Elizabeth Detention Center Court, where you might expect a further reduction, and the grant rate rises again to 59%. Get to Baltimore, and the grant rate drops to 43%. But, move down the BW Parkway a few miles to Arlington, still within the Fourth Circuit like Baltimore, and it rises again to 63%. Then, cross the border into North Carolina, still in the Fourth Circuit, and it drops remarkably to 13%. But, things could be worse. Travel a little further south to Atlanta and the grant rate bottoms out at an astounding 2%.

In other words, by lunchtime some days the Immigration Judges sitting in New York granted more than the five asylum cases granted in Atlanta during the entire Fiscal Year 2015!   An 84% to 2% differential in fewer than 900 miles! Three other major non-detained Immigration Courts, Dallas, Houston, and Las Vegas, have asylum grants rates at or below 10%.

Indeed a recent 2017 study of the Atlanta Immigration Court by Emory Law and the Southern Poverty Law Center found:

[S]ome of the Immigration Judges do not respect rule of law principles and maintain practices that undermine the fair administration of justice. During the course of our observations, we witnessed the following [issue, among others]. Immigration Judges made prejudicial statements and expressed significant disinterest or even hostility towards respondents in their courts. In at least one instance, an Immigration Judge actively refused to listen to an attorney’s legal arguments. In another instance, an Immigration Judge failed to apply the correct standard of law in an asylum case. [13]

This is hardly “through teamwork and innovation being the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all!” These unusually low asylum grant rates are impossible to justify in light of the generous standard for well-founded fear established by the Supreme Court in Cardoza-Fonseca and the BIA in Mogharrabi, and the regulatory presumption of future fear arising out of past persecution that applies in many asylum cases.[14] Yet, the BIA has only recently and fairly timidly addressed the manifest lack of respect for asylum seekers and failure to guarantee fairness and due process for such vulnerable individuals in some cases arising in Atlanta and other courts with unrealistically low grant rates.[15]    

Over the past 16 years, the BIA’s inability or unwillingness to aggressively stand up for the due process rights of asylum seekers and to enforce the fair and generous standards required by American law have robbed our Immigration Court System of credibility and public support, as well as ruined the lives of many who were denied protection that should have been granted.   We need a BIA which functions like a Federal Appellate Court and whose overriding mission is to ensure that the due process vision of the Immigration Courts becomes a reality rather than an unfulfilled promise.

Fifth, and finally, the Immigration Courts need e-filing NOW! Without it, the courts are condemned to files in the aisles,misplaced filings, lost exhibits, and exorbitant courier charges. Also, because of the absence of e-filing, the public receives a level of service disturbingly below that of any other major court system. That gives the Immigration Courts an amateur nightaura totally inconsistent with the dignity of the process, the critical importance of the mission, and the expertise, hard work, and dedication of the judges and court staff who make up our court. 

GETTING INVOLVED 

Keep these thoughts in mind. Sadly, based on actions to date, I have little hope that Attorney General Sessions will support due process reforms or an independent U.S. Immigration Court, although it would be in his best interests as well as those of our country if he did. However, eventually our opportunity will come. When it does, those of us who believe in the primary importance of constitutional due process must be ready with concrete reforms.

So, do we abandon all hope? No, of course not!   Because there are hundreds of newer lawyers out there who are former Arlington JLCs, interns, my former student, and those who have practiced before the Arlington Immigration Court.       

They form what I call the New Due Process Army!And, while my time on the battlefield is winding down, they are just beginning the fight! They will keep at it for years, decades, or generations — whatever it takes to force the U.S. immigration judicial system to live up to its promise of guaranteeing fairness and due process for all!        

What can you do to get involved now? The overriding due process need is for competent representation of individuals claiming asylum and/or facing removal from the United States. Currently, there are not nearly enough pro bono lawyers to insure that everyone in Immigration Court gets represented.     

And the situation is getting worse. With the Administrations expansion of so-called expedited removal,lawyers are needed at earlier points in the process to insure that those with defenses or plausible claims for relief even get into the Immigration Court process, rather than being summarily removed with little, if any, recourse.

Additionally, given the pressure that the Administration is likely to exert through the Department of Justice to movecases quickly through the Immigration Court system with little regard for due process and fundamental fairness, resort to the Article III Courts to require fair proceedings and an unbiased application of the laws becomes even more essential. Litigation in the U.S. District and Appellate Courts has turned out to be effective in forcing systemic change. However, virtually no unrepresented individual is going to be capable of getting to the Court of Appeals, let alone prevailing on a claim.

I have been working with groups looking for ways to expand the accredited representativeprogram, which allows properly trained and certified individuals who are not lawyers to handle cases before the DHS and the Immigration Courts while working for certain nonprofit community organizations, on either a staff or volunteer basis. Notwithstanding some recently publicized problems with policing the system, which I wrote about on my blog immigrationrcourtside.com, this is a critically important program for expanding representation in Immigration Courts. The accredited representativeprogram is also an outstanding opportunity for retired individuals, like professors, who are not lawyers to qualify to provide pro bono representation in Immigration Court to needy migrants thorough properly recognized religious and community organizations.        

Even if you are not practicing or do not intend to practice immigration law, there are many outstanding opportunities to contribute by taking pro bono cases. Indeed, in my experience in Arlington, big lawfirms were some of the major contributors to highly effective pro bono representation. It was also great hands onexperience for those seeking to hone their litigation skills.

Those of you with language and teaching skills can help out in English Language Learning programs for migrants.   I have observed first hand that the better that individuals understand the language and culture of the US, the more successful they are in navigating our Immigration Court system and both assisting, and when necessary, challenging their representatives to perform at the highest levels. In other words, they are in a better position to be informed consumersof legal services.        

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

But, many of these organizations receive at least some government funding for outreach efforts. We have already seen how the President has directed the DHS to “defund” outreach efforts and use the money instead for a program to assist victims of crimes committed by undocumented individuals.

Undoubtedly, with the huge emphases on military expansion and immigration enforcement, to the exclusion of other important programs, virtually all forms of funding for outreach efforts to migrants are likely to disappear in the very near future. Those who care about helping others will have to make up the deficit. So, at giving time, remember your community nonprofit organizations that are assisting foreign nationals. 

Finally, as an informed voter and participant in our political process, you can advance the cause of Immigration Court reform and due process. For the last 16 years politicians of both parties have largely stood by and watched the unfolding due process disaster in the U.S. Immigration Courts without doing anything about it, and in some cases actually making it worse.

The notion that Immigration Court reform must be part of so-called comprehensive immigration reformis simply wrong. The Immigration Courts can and must be fixed sooner rather than later, regardless of what happens with overall immigration reform. Its time to let your Senators and Representatives know that we need due process reforms in the Immigration Courts as one of our highest national priorities.

Folks, the U.S Immigration Court system is on the verge of collapse. And, there is every reason to believe that the misguided enforce and detain to the maxpolicies being pursued by this Administration will drive the Immigration Courts over the edge. When that happens, a large chunk of the entire American justice system and the due process guarantees that make American great and different from most of the rest of the world will go down with it.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, I have introduced you to one of Americas largest and most important, yet least understood and appreciated, court systems: the United States Immigration Court. I have shared with you the Courts noble due process vision and my view that it is not currently being fulfilled. I have also shared with you my ideas for effective court reform that would achieve the due process vision and how you can become involved in improving the process. Now is the time to take a stand for fundamental fairness’! Join the New Due Process Army! Due process forever!        

Thanks again for inviting me and for listening. Have a great conference!

 

 

(05/12/17)

        

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Matter of Lennon, 15 I&N Dec. 9 (BIA 1974), rev’d Lennon v. INS, 527 F.2d 187 (2d Cir. 1975).

[2] Matter of Kasinga, 21 I&N Dec. 357 (BIA 1996).

[3] TRAC Immigration, “Representation is Key in Immigration Proceedings Involving Women with Children,” Feb. 18, 2015, available online at http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/377/.

[4] “Immigration Director Calls for Overhaul of Broken System,” NBC Bay Area News, May 27, 2015, available online.

[5] Guchshenkov v. Ashcroft, 366 F.3d 554 (7th Cir. 2004) (Evans, J., concurring).
[6] Hon. Thomas G. Snow, “The gut-wrenching life of an immigration judge,” USA Today, Dec. 12, 2106, available online at http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2016/12/12/immigration-judge-gut-wrenching-decisions-column/95308118/

[7] Julia Preston, “Lawyers Back Creating New Immigration Courts,” NY Times, Feb. 6, 2010.

[8] INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987).

[9] INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987).

[10] Matter of Mogharrabi, 19 I&N Dec. 4379(BIA 1987).

[11] Jaya Ramji-Nogales, Andrew I. Schoenholtz, and Philip G. Schrag, Refugee Roulette: Disparities in Asylum Adjudication, 60 Stan. L. Rev. 295 (2007);

[12] All statistics are from the EOIR FY 2015 Statistics Yearbook, available online at https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/fysb15/download,

[13] See Emory Law/SPLC Observation Study Rips Due Process Violations At Atlanta Immigration Court — Why Is The BIA “Asleep At The Switch” In Enforcing Due Process? What Happened To The EOIR’s “Due Process Vision?” in immigrationcourtside.com, available online at http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/03/02/emory-lawsplc-observation-study-rips-due-process-violations-at-atlanta-immigration-court-why-is-the-bia-asleep-at-the-switch-in-enforcing-due-process-what-happened-to-the-eoirs-due-proces/

[14] See 8 C.F.R. § 1208.13(b)(1).

[15] See, e.g., Matter of Y-S-L-C-, 26 I&N Dec. 688 (BIA 2015) (denial of due process where IJ tried to bar the testimony of minor respondent by disqualifying him as an expert witness under the Federal Rules of Evidence). While the BIA finally stepped in with this precedent, the behavior of this Judge shows a system where some Judges have abandoned any discernable concept of “guaranteeing fairness and due process.” The BIA’s “permissive” attitude toward Judges who consistently deny nearly all asylum applications has allowed this to happen. Indeed the Washington Post recently carried a poignant story of a young immigration lawyer who was driven out of the practice by the negative attitudes and treatment by the Immigration Judges at the Atlanta Immigration Court. Harlan, Chico, “In an Immigration Court that nearly always says no, a lawyer’s spirit is broken,” Washington Post, Oct. 11, 2016, available online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/in-an-immigration-court-that-nearly-always-says-no-a-lawyers-spirit-is-broken/2016/10/11/05f43a8e-8eee-11e6-a6a3-d50061aa9fae_story.html

How does this live up to the EOIR Vision of “through teamwork and innovation being the world’s best administrative tribunals guaranteeing fairness and due process for all?”   Does this represent the best that American justice has to offer?

Applicants For Immigration Benefits Busted — Will This Become the Norm?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/04/06/they-met-with-immigration-officers-to-apply-for-legal-residency-only-to-be-arrested-by-ice/?hpid=hp_rhp-more-top-stories_no-name%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.eebb0333a5d5

Kristine Phillips resorts in the Washington Post:

“Leandro Arriaga has been in the United States illegally since 2001.

He stayed despite a deportation order and over the past 16 years has made a living fixing and remodeling homes. He also started a family. But the father of four had grown tired of “living in the shadows,” his attorney said.

So last week, he went to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office for his marriage petition interview — the first step to legalize his presence in the United States through his wife, a naturalized citizen. The process, called an I-130 visa petition, is a common way for foreigners to gain legal residency through their relatives or spouses.

But Arriaga was arrested that day, along with four others who also showed up at the USCIS office in Lawrence, Mass. All five have deportation orders, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.”

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

Are such incidents merely anecdotal, or do they represent a clear change in policy? Maybe the effect is the same. If migrants believe that visiting DHS field offices to apply for immigration benefits will put them at risk, they will stop doing it, regardless of what the “actual policy” might be.

I’d be interested in any comments from readers about what you are seeing or hearing in your areas.

PWS

04/06/17

 

WashPost: Professors (And Former USG Senior Execs) Martin & Legomsky Analyze Judge Brinkema’s Travel Ban Decision — Religious Discrimination Finding Might Be Key To Opponents’ Future Success (Or Not)!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/why-virginia-matters-in-the-travel-ban-fight/2017/02/14/27cfff3c-f2ec-11e6-b9c9-e83fce42fb61_story.html?utm_term=.880047c24800

Rachel Weiner reports:

“’Judge Brinkema spells out a lot more; she really fleshes out one of the possible claims, and that’s the religious discrimination claim,’” said David Martin, a professor at the University of Virginia who, for many years, helped shape immigration policy inside the government. ‘That may well prove to be the strongest or more fruitful line of inquiry for the plaintiffs in these various cases, particularly if they’re trying to reach past green-card holders or people on immigrant visas. It’s hard to get there without a religious discrimination case of some kind.’”

. . . .

“’It was a very well-reasoned, thoughtful decision. Frankly, I think, a more careful decision than the 9th Circuit decision,’ said Steve Legomsky, former chief counsel for immigration services in the Department of Homeland Security. In her opinion, Legomsky said, Brinkema ‘pretty methodically went through the various statements by Trump. . . . They put great weight on the opinions of the former national security officials to show the absence of counterevidence from the Trump administration. For both of those reasons, I think the Virginia opinion is very important.’
Brinkema also brings to the case extensive national security experience. She presided over the trial of Sept. 11, 2001, conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, among other high-profile cases.

‘It was a thoughtful opinion, it’s well considered, it wasn’t hastily done like some of these other decisions had to be in light of circumstances,’ said Justin Cox of the National Immigration Law Center. His group is involved in several lawsuits against the ban, including one filed in Maryland last week focused on refugees. That case is specifically focused on religious discrimination.

‘Legally [the Virginia ruling] is actually quite significant because it’s the first court to squarely hold that the executive order violates the establishment clause,’ Cox said.

The danger for opponents of the ban is that, should the Justice Department appeal Brinkema’s decision, they will face the more conservative 4th Circuit rather than the left-leaning 9th Circuit.

‘It would be a close call,’ Legomsky said. ‘There is such strong evidence of religious discrimination — it’s really hard to know.’”

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

As noted in this article, in addition to being leading academic “immigration gurus,”  both Professor Martin and Professor Legomsky have lived in the “real world” of shaping Government policies and managing programs that actually implement those policies.

As they point out, while many of the objections to the “travel ban” could be eliminated by applying it just prospectively to those outside the U.S. who have not previously been admitted, that wouldn’t necessarily overcome Judge Brinkema’s finding that the “national security” reasons asserted by the Government in her court were merely “pretext” for unconstitutional religious discrimination.

While Justin Cox might be correct that the Fourth Circuit is not as liberal as the Ninth Circuit, that distinction probably would apply to every other Circuit Court of Appeals. Having spent 13 years as an Immigration Judge in Arlington, where my decisions ultimately could be reviewed by the Fourth Circuit and Fourth Circuit law applied, I found their immigration rulings very balanced. Indeed, they sometimes cited Ninth Circuit precedent and even were ahead of the Ninth in recognizing some migrants’ rights.

While the Fourth Circuit affirmed the overwhelming majority of BIA and Immigration Judge decisions in unpublished, non-precedential decisions, when they spoke in published precedents they always had important guidance to offer. The Fourth Circuit also was not afraid to stand up to the Government and “call them out” when necessary in the field of immigration.

And, at least in the Arlington Immigration Court, we trial judges paid close attention. I think that the Fourth Circuit’s very fair and well-reasoned asylum jurisprudence, in some significant ways more faithful to the asylum law and regulations than rulings of the BIA, was one reason why asylum applicants were often successful in Arlington. That’s also why many asylum cases in Arlington could be resolved by the parties in “short hearings” based on extensive written documentation and application of the Fourth Circuit law.

There is also a wonderful pastel portrait of Judge Brinkema in her court with the full article at the link. Check it out!

PWS

02/16/17

Lexis Nexis: “Trump’s Refugee Executive Order a ‘Priceless Recruiting Tool for ISIS’ – Former INS General Counsel David A. Martin”

https://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/immigration/b/outsidenews/archive/2017/01/30/trump-39-s-refugee-executive-order-a-39-priceless-recruiting-tool-for-isis-39-former-ins-general-counsel-david-a-martin.aspx?Redirected=true

Dan Kowalski at Lexis Nexis summarizes the most hard-hitting part of Professor Martin’s analysis of the Executive Order on Refugees and Visas:

“30 Jan. 2017 – Prof. David A. Martin (please read his full bio) has annotated President Trump’s 27 Jan. 2017 Executive Order. Among other things, Prof. Martin states, “The order is a priceless recruiting tool for ISIS and similar movements, because it so easily fits their narrative that the United States is the enemy of all Muslims. And it will discourage tips and information from American Muslim communities — information that in the past has proved highly valuable to the thwarting of terrorist acts. Accordingly, the Bush and Obama administrations both strived to avoid all measures that could be painted as broadly anti-Muslim. Much of that vital engagement with Muslim communities has been gravely undone by this order.””

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

Go on over to Lexis Nexis at the link for further links to the complete analysis in Vox, Professor Martin’s spectacular biography, and a great picture of Professor Martin.

PWS

01/30/17

Another Installment In The Schmidt Making America Really Great Series: “Refugees And Due Process Make America Really Great” — Read My Speech From Last Night’s “Refugee Ball”

REFUGEES AND DUE PROCESS MAKE AMERICA REALLY GREAT

 

Remarks by Paul Wickham Schmidt,

Retired United States Immigration Judge

 

The Refugee Ball

 

Sixth & I Synagogue 600 I Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001

Tuesday, January 17, 2017 from 5:00 to 9:00 PM

 

Good evening, everyone. I’m honored to be here. Lets have a big round of applause for Jason Dzubow and his staff for coming up with the idea and putting this together!

As you can probably tell, it was a battle getting into my “Jones Day Spring Prom Era Tux” tonight. As I walked out the door, my wife Cathy said: “Are you actually going to be able to breathe, let alone speak, in that thing?”

As a “regular” at the Arlington Immigration Court, Jason obviously is quite familiar with my habits. I noted that on the advance program he took the extreme precaution of not only putting me in a “10-minute slot” near the end of the program, but also adding in parentheses in big bold letters “10 minutes max.” So, I get the picture, Jason. I’m going to briefly address two things that make America great: refugees and due process.

I’m pleased to back in the old ‘hood, although it’s hard to recognize. For about twelve years in the 1970s and 1980s I worked in the General Counsel’s Office of the “Legacy INS” in the famous Chester Arthur Building – the only monument in Washington to our great 21st President –at 425 Eye St., NW, just down the street. And, one of my most memorable accomplishments during that time was being part of the “team” that helped the Refugee Act of 1980 become law. It was a chance to make a positive difference in America’s future, indeed in the world’s future, while coming into contact with some of the finest intellects in the business: David Martin, Alex Aleinikoff, Doris Meissner, the late Jerry Tinker, and the late Jack Perkins come immediately to mind. So, I have what you might call a “vested interest” in U.S. refugee and asylum system.

I worked with refugees and their cases almost every workday for more than 21 years during my tenure as a trial and appellate judge with the United States Immigration Courts. And, I’ll admit that on many of my “off days” the challenges, stories, human drama, triumph, and trauma of refugees and refugee law bounced around in my head, much to the dismay of my wonderful wife, Cathy.

Although I have the greatest respect and admiration for the inspiring life stories of refugees and their contributions to the United States, I have never, for even one second, wanted to be a refugee. Like all of the speakers tonight, I see refugees as a huge asset to our country. It says something about us as a nation that so many great people from all over the world want to make this their home and to contribute their talents, some of which were on display here tonight, to the greatness of America. So, to all of you out there who came as refugees or asylees, thank you for coming, for your service, and for your dedication to making our great country even greater.

The other topic I want to address briefly, that is near and dear to me personally, is the overriding importance of due process in our refugee and asylum system. Each of you who came as a refugee or asylee is here because an adjudicator at some level of our system carefully and fairly gave you a chance to state your claim, listened to and reviewed the support you provided for your claim, and made a favorable decision in your case.

For some of you, that decision was made by a DHS Refugee Officer or an Asylum Officer. Others of you had to rely on different levels of our system – a U.S. Immigration Judge, the Board of Immigration Appeals, or in some cases, a U.S. Court of Appeals to have your status granted. In all of these instances you received something very precious under our Constitution: due process of law.

Unfortunately, there currently is a “due process crisis” in our overloaded Immigration Court System.   With over one-half million pending cases and waiting times of many years in some courts for final hearings to be held, our Immigration Court System is under intense pressure.

Sometimes, that results in approaches that generally have a favorable impact for individuals seeking protection.   For example, grants of Temporary Protected Status and work authorization take many cases off the Immigration Court docket and legislation such as NACARA for Central Americans or HIRIFA for Haitians permanently resolves many cases favorably at the DHS without requiring a full-blown asylum hearing before an U.S. Immigration Judge.

But, when backlogs build up and enforcement pressures mount on our Government, less benign approaches and suggestions sometimes come to the fore. Adjudicators can be pressured to do counterproductive things like decide more cases in less time, limit evidence to shorten hearings, and make “blanket denials” based on supposed improvements in country conditions.

Other times, placing more individuals in civil immigration detention is looked at as a way of both expediting case processing and actively discouraging individuals from coming to the United States and making claims for refuge under our laws in the first place. Or, moving cases though the system so quickly that applicants can’t find pro bono lawyers to represent them is sometimes incorrectly viewed as an acceptable method for shortening adjudication times, thereby reducing backlogs.

Another method far too often used for discouraging asylum claims and inhibiting due process is placing asylum applicants in DHS Detention Centers, often privately operated, with “imbedded” Immigration Courts in obscure out of the way locations like Dilley, Texas and Lumpkin, Georgia where access to pro bono attorneys, family members, and other sources of support is severely limited or nonexistent.

When these things happen, due process suffers. So, while I’m always hoping for the best, it is critical for all of us in this room to zealously protect the due process rights of all migrants and insist on full due process being maintained, and, ideally, even enhanced. This includes both supporting individuals in the system by helping them obtain effective legal representation and, where appropriate, vigorously asserting the due process rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants in the Article III Federal Courts.

Only by insisting on due process for those already in the system will we be able to insure a fair and effective system for future refugees. And, welcoming and fairly treating future refugees is a key to making and keeping America great.

So, that’s my message: due process can’t be taken for granted! It must be nurtured, protected, expanded, and vigorously and proudly asserted! Thanks for listening, good luck, do great things, and due process forever!

(Rev. 01/18/17)