Tessa Berenson writes in Time:
“The president and attorney general have vowed to crack down on illegal immigration, and the new directive could help move cases through the system at a faster clip. Most immigration lawyers agree that the overloaded courts are a major issue. But they fear the end result will be more deportations as judges use the wide discretion afforded to them to curtail continuances. The Immigration and Nationality Act doesn’t establish a right to a continuance in immigration proceedings, Keller’s letter notes. They’re largely governed by a federal regulation which says that an “immigration judge may grant a motion for continuance for good cause shown.”
Immigration lawyers often rely heavily on continuances for their prep work because immigration law grants limited formal discovery rights. Unlike in criminal cases, in which the prosecution is generally required to turn over evidence to the defense, immigration lawyers often have to file a Freedom of Information Act request to find out what the government has on their client. These can take months to process.
“If their priority is speed, we all know that sounds really good, to be more efficient, but usually due process takes a hit when your focus is efficiency,” says Andrew Nietor, an immigration attorney based in San Diego. “By the time we are able to connect with our clients, that first court appearance might be the day after we meet somebody, so we haven’t had the opportunity to do the investigation and do the research. And up until several months ago, it was standard to give immigration attorneys at least one continuance for what they call attorney preparation. Now it’s not standard anymore.”
The Justice Department’s guidance says that “the appropriate use of continuances serves to protect due process, which Immigration Judges must safeguard above all,” and notes that “it remains general policy that at least one continuance should be granted” for immigrants to obtain legal counsel.
But the memo is more skeptical about continuances for attorney preparation. “Although continuances to allow recently retained counsel to become familiar with a case prior to the scheduling of an individual merits hearing are common,” it says, “subsequent requests for preparation time should be reviewed carefully.”
It remains to be seen if this careful review will streamline the ponderous system or add another difficulty for the harried lawyers and hundreds of thousands of immigrants trying to work their way through it. For Jeronimo, it may have been decisive. In mid-August, the judge found that the defense didn’t adequately prove Jeronimo’s deportation would harm his young daughter and gave him 45 days to voluntarily leave the United States. Now Jeronimo must decide whether to appeal his case. But he’s been held in a detention center in Georgia since March, and his lawyers worry that he has lost hope. He may soon be headed back to Mexico, five months after he was picked up at a traffic stop in North Carolina.”
Read the complete article at the link.
OK, let’s have a reality check here. The tremendous backlog is NOT caused by giving respondents time to find an attorney in an already overwhelmed system or by giving those overworked and under-compensated private attorneys time to adequately prepare their clients’ cases.
No, it’s caused by two things both within the control of the Government. The first is the abuse of the system, actively encouraged by this Administration, for cases of individuals who are law abiding members of the U.S. community, helping our nation prosper, who either should be granted relief outside the Immigrant Court process, or whose cases should be taken off the docket by the reasonable use of prosecutorial discretion (something that the Trump Administration eliminated while outrageously calling it a “return to the rule of law” — nothing of the sort — it’s a return to docket insanity enhanced by intentional cruelty).
Your tax dollars actually pay for the wasteful and counterproductive abuses being encouraged by the Trump Administration! Eventually, Congress will have to find a solution that allows all or most of these folks to stay. But, mindlessly shoving them onto already overwhelmed Immigration Court dockets is not that solution.
The second major cause is even more invidious: Aimless Docket Reshuffling (“ADR”) by the Government! The problematic continuances being given in this system — those of many months, or even many years — are forced upon Immigration Judges by EOIR and the DOJ, usually without any meaningful input from either the sitting Immigration Judges or the affected public. Immigration Judges are required to accommodate politically-motivated “changes in priorities” and wasteful transfer of Immigration Judges wth full dockets (which then must be reset, usually to the end of the docket, sometimes to another Immigration Judge) to other locations, often in detention centers, to support enforcement goals without any concern whatsoever for due process for the individuals before the court or the proper administration of justice within the U.S. Immigration Court system.
There is only one real cure for this problem: removal of the U.S. Immigration Courts from the highly politicized U.S. Department of Justice to an independent Article I Court structure that will focus on due process foremost, and efficient, but fair, court administration. But, until then, it’s up to the press to expose what’s really happening here and to the Article III Courts to call a halt to this travesty.
The “heroes” of the U.S. Immigration Court system, dedicated NGOs and attorneys, many of them acting without compensation or with minimal compensation, are under attack by this Administration and the DOJ. Their imaginary transgression is to insist on a fair day in court for individuals trying to assert their constitutional right to a fair hearing. They are being scapegoated for problems that the U.S. Government has caused, aggravated, and failed to fix, over several Administrations.
The DOJ is creating a knowingly false narrative to cover up their failure to deliver due process in the U.S. Immigration Courts and to shift the blame to the victims and their representatives. A simple term for that is “fraud.”
If we allow this to happen, everyone will be complicit in an assault not only on American values but also on the U.S. Constitution itself, and the due process it is supposed to guarantee for all. If it disappears for the most vulnerable in our society, don’t expect it to be there in the future when you or those around you might need due process of law. And, when you don’t get due process, you should also expect the Government to blame you for their failure.