THE NEW YORKER: Bureaucratic Delays Impede Due Process In U.S. Immigration Court!

http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/what-will-trump-do-with-half-a-million-backlogged-immigration-cases

Jonathan Blitzer writes in The New Yorker:

“In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions travelled to Nogales, Arizona, to make an announcement. “This is the Trump era,” he said. “The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigrations laws, and the catch-and-release practices of old are over.” While his tone was harsh, and many of the proposals he outlined were hostile to immigrants, he detailed one idea that even some of his critics support: the hiring of more immigration judges.

U.S. immigration courts are facing a backlog of over half a million cases—and each one, on average, takes almost two years to close. These delays mean that everyone from asylum seekers to green-card holders faces extended stays in detention while awaiting rulings. Speaking about the problem, one immigration judge recently told the Times, “The courts as a whole lose credibility.”

Much of the backlog can be traced back to the Obama Administration, when spending on immigration enforcement went up, while Congress dramatically limited funds for hiring more judges. The number of pending cases grew from a hundred and sixty-seven thousand, in 2008, to five hundred and sixty thousand, in 2017, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. The broader trend, though, goes back farther. Since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, in 2002, the increase in resources allocated for border security and immigration policing has always significantly outpaced funding for the courts. (Immigration courts are part of the Department of Justice.) As more and more people have been arrested, detained, and ordered deported, the courts have remained understaffed and underfunded. “We’ve always been an afterthought,” Dana Leigh Marks, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told me.

Roughly three hundred judges nationwide are responsible for the entire immigration caseload, and hiring is slow—filling a vacancy typically tak

es about two years, according to the Government Accountability Office. In Nogales, Sessions said that he would try to streamline the hiring process. But until that happens the Administration has been relocating judges to areas where they’re deemed most necessary. “We have already surged twenty-five immigration judges to detention centers along the border,” Sessions said, as if talking about military troop levels.”

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To state the obvious, a court should be run as an independent court system, not a bureaucratic agency within a highly politicized Executive Department like the DOJ. (If you ever wondered whether the DOJ was politicized, recent events should make it clear that it is.)

And, Jeff, these are judges, not troops; and the individuals are not an “invading army,” just mostly ordinary folks seeking refuge, due process, and fair treatment under our laws and the Constitution. Remember, it’s not an immigration crisis; it’s a crisis involving the steady degradation of due process within the U.S. Immigration Court system.

PWS

06-21-17

WashPost: GANGS — A Complicated Problem With No Easy Solution — Budget Cuts Undermine Some Local Programs!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/ms-13-gains-recruits-and-power-in-us-as-teens-surge-across-border/2017/06/16/aacea62a-3989-11e7-a058-ddbb23c75d82_story.html?hpid=hp_rhp-top-table-main_ms-13-1240pmm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.5745c22fb3d0

Michael E. Miller, Dan Morse, and Justin Jouvenal report:

“The increasing MS-13 violence has become a flash point in a national debate over immigration. President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have vowed to eradicate the gang, while immigrant advocates say the young people are being scapegoated to further an anti-immigrant agenda.

Danny’s case illustrates just how difficult the balance between compassion and safety can be. Was he a child who needed help? Or a gang member who shouldn’t have been here?

“Do you close the doors to all law-abiding folks who just want to be here and make a better life . . . and in the process keep out the handful who are going to wreak havoc on our community?” asked one federal prosecutor, who is not permitted to speak publicly and has handled numerous MS-13 cases. “Or do you open the doors and you let in good folks and some bad along with the good?”

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Read the entire, much longer, article at the link.

it does seem short sighted to save a few bucks by cutting some of the few programs specifically designed to address this issue.

PWS

06-16-17

 

FAILED DUE PROCESS VISION: BIA Blows Off IJ’s Due Process Violations — Third Circuit Blows Whistle On BIA! — Serrano-Alberto v. Attorney General — READ MY “CONTINUING CRITIQUE” OF THE BIA’S FAILURE TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF ASYLUM SEEKERS!

http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/153146p.pdf

PANEL: Circuit Judges VANASKIE, KRAUSE, and NYGAARD

OPINION BY: Judge Nygaard

“While in the vast majority of cases, IJs diligently comport with their constitutional and statutory obligations, and while it is only on rare occasion that we have held an IJ’s conduct crosses the line, the record here compels us to conclude this is one of those rare cases. Because we reach this conclusion against the backdrop of the three main cases to date in which we have distinguished between permissible and impermissible IJ conduct under the Due Process Clause, we will review each of those cases before addressing Serrano- Alberto’s claims for relief.

. . . .

What these cases teach us is that, where a petitioner claims to have been deprived of the opportunity to “make arguments on his or her own behalf,” Dia, 353 F.3d at 239, there is a spectrum of troubling conduct that is fact-specific and must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine if (1) the petitioner “was prevented from reasonably presenting his case[,] and (2) . . . substantial prejudice resulted,” Fadiga, 488 F.3d at 155 (internal quotation marks omitted). At one end of the spectrum, the “lack of courtesy,” “interject[ions]” to clarify and develop the record, and “annoyance and dissatisfaction with . . . testimony” in Abdulrahman, 330 F.3d at 597, were not sufficient to establish a due process claim. At the other end, the “contemptuous tone,” focus on “issues irrelevant to” the petitioner’s claims, and findings unsupported by the record in Wang, 423 F.3d at 270, and the “wholesale nitpicking,” “continual[] abuse[]” and “belligerence,” and “interrupt[ions] . . . preventing important

30

parts of [the petitioner’s] story from becoming a part of the record,” in Cham, 445 F.3d at 691, 694, were flagrant enough to violate due process. Where these component parts of an IJ’s conduct are sufficiently egregious, at least in combination, a petitioner’s procedural due process rights are violated.

In Serrano-Alberto’s case, we conclude the IJ’s conduct falls on the impermissible end of the spectrum. Indeed, the IJ’s conduct here shares many of the attributes of the conduct we found unconstitutional in Wang and Cham, including a hostile and demeaning tone, a focus on issues irrelevant to the merits, brow beating, and continual interruptions. See supra Sec. III.B. And in contrast to Abdulrahman where the interruptions assisted the petitioner in answering questions and appropriately refocused the hearing, 330 F.3d at 596-98, the IJ’s interruptions here repeatedly shut down productive questioning and focused instead on irrelevant details, see supra Sec. III.B.”

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On the “plus side,” the Third Circuit went out of its way to point out that this case is the exception rather than the rule with respect to Immigration Judges’ respect for due process during the hearing process.

But, on the negative side, why should a supposedly “expert” Board whose mission is to protect due process be letting clearly unfair adjudications like this, which violate due process, get by? Not everybody can afford to go to the Court of Appeals. So, the Board’s failure to carry out its due process functions can actually cost lives, or at least ruin them. How can such a critically important function as appellate immigration judging be treated so dismissively, inappropriately, incompetently, and lackadaisically by successive Administrations while largely escaping critical public examination of its often highly questionable jurisprudence?

In my view, as I’ve observed before, part of the problem lies with the BIA’s overall negative approach to asylum seekers, particularly those from Central America with claims based on “particular social groups.” With a “closed, inbred judiciary” drawn almost exclusively from Government, a highly politicized Department of Justice which is unqualified to run a court system, and the fear of another “Ashcroft purge” hanging over them for judging independently and protecting the rights of asylum seekers, the BIA has basically “tanked” on its duty to guarantee fairness, due process, and protection to asylum seekers. So, if the BIA is unwilling to speak up for the due process and substantive rights of respondents, what’s its purpose? To provide a “veneer of deliberation and due process” to dissuade the Article III courts and the public from digging into the details to find out the real problems?

It’s also interesting that the Third Circuit “calls out” the BIA for a standard practice of using (often bogus) “nexus” denials to deny protection to asylum applicants who fit within a protected ground and can clearly demonstrate a likelihood of harm upon return. Check out FN 5 in the Third Circuit’s opinion:

“5 In a number of recent cases, the BIA likewise has assumed a cognizable PSG or imputed political opinion and disposed of the appeal by finding no nexus. See, e.g., Bol- Velasquez v. Att’y Gen., No. 15-3098 (3d Cir. filed Aug. 28, 2015) (ECF Agency Case Docketed); Bell v. Att’y Gen., No. 14-4781 (3d Cir. filed Dec. 18, 2014) (same); Santos v. Att’y Gen., No. 14-1050 (3d Cir. filed Jan. 8, 2014) (same); Ulloa- Santos v. Att’y Gen., No. 12-2781 (3d Cir. filed June 25, 2012) (same); Orellana-Garcia v. Att’y Gen., No. 12-2099 (3d Cir. filed Apr. 20, 2012) (same). This practice, however, can have troubling consequences. First, it places the analytical cart before the horse in cases like this one, where the very definition of the PSG is then at issue, for denying relief based on the absence of a nexus begs the question: nexus to what? See, e.g., Bol-Velasquez, No. 15-3098. Even the Attorney General has observed “it would be better practice for Immigration Judges and the Board to address at the outset whether the applicant has established persecution on account of membership in a [PSG], rather than assuming it as the Board did here. Deciding that issue—and defining the [PSG] of which the applicant is a part—is fundamental to the analysis of which party bears the burden of proof and what the nature of that burden is.” Matter of A-T-, 24 I. & N. Dec. 617, 623 n.7 (U.S. Att’y Gen. 2008). Second, even where the PSG definition is undisputed—so that the BIA would certainly have discretion to conclude that the efficiency of assuming a given PSG weighs in favor of resolution at the nexus stage—a reflexive practice of simply assuming a PSG has been established and is cognizable does not account for the very real benefits on the other side of the scale. Just as the Supreme Court has observed in the qualified immunity context, adjudication at every step is generally “necessary to support the Constitution’s ‘elaboration from case to case’ and to prevent constitutional stagnation” because “[t]he law might be deprived of this explanation were a court simply to skip ahead,” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232, 236 (2009) (holding the two-step protocol announced in Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001) is no longer mandatory “but often beneficial”), so here, the BIA’s practice of assuming PSG and resolving cases on nexus grounds often inhibits the proper and orderly development of the law in this area by leaving the contours of protected status undefined, precluding further appellate review under the Chenery doctrine, see SEC v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194 (1947), and ultimately generating additional needless litigation because of the uncertainty in this area, see Valdiviezo-Galdamez, 663 F.3d at 594-609; Fatin v. INS, 12 F.3d 1233, 1238 (3d Cir. 1993); Matter of M-E-V-G-, 26 I. & N. Dec. 227, 230 (BIA 2014). This is a case in point, where the IJ articulated the relevant PSG as “individuals perceived as wealthy who refuse to pay gang taxes,” App. 17, although other definitions were reasonable, and the BIA, despite being presented with alternative formulations, declined to rule on the question altogether. In sum, for both of the reasons stated, we strongly encourage IJs and the BIA to define the PSG in question and to adjudicate the existence and cognizability of that PSG.”

Let’s get down to the real point. Largely because of intervention from Article III Courts, more and more “particular social groups” are becoming “cognizable.” This is particularly true in the area of family-based social groups.

Alternatively, the DHS and the BIA have tried to deny claims on the grounds that the foreign government is “not unable or unwilling to protect.” But, given the documented conditions in the Northern Triangle of Central America, such findings often don’t pass the “straight face test” and have had difficulty on judicial review. So the best way to deny protection to Central American asylum seekers is by developing metaphysical, largely bogus, findings of lack of “nexus.”

The answer to the Third Circuit’s question “nexus to what” is simple. It doesn’t matter. No matter what the protected group is in Central American cases, the BIA will do its best to find that no nexus exists, and encourage Immigration Judges to do likewise.

A vivid example of that was the BIA’s recent precedent inMatter of L-E-A-, 27 I&N Dec. 40 (BIA 2017), discussed in earlier blogs. There, without dissent or meaningful discussion, the BIA “deconstructed” a clearly established case for nexus (which actually had been found by the Immigration Judge) and buried it under layers of impenetrable legal gobbledygook.  Maybe it will get deference from the Article IIIs, maybe it won’t. There isn’t much consistency there either.

Asylum applicants lives are at stake in removal proceedings. They deserve a process where fairness, due process, and deep understanding of the life-preserving functions of protection law are paramount. Today’s system, which all too often runs on the principles of expediency, institutional preservation, job security, pleasing the boss, and sending law enforcement “messages” is failing those most in need. One way or another, our country and future generations will pay the price for this dereliction of duty.

PWS

06-13-17

 

 

NICHOLAS KULISH IN THE NYT: TORTURED IN VENEZUELA, HANDCUFFED BY ICE @ THE MIAMI ASYLUM OFFICE! — DHS Continues To Abuse Legal Authority, Clog Backlogged U.S. Immigration Courts! My Quote: “Why clog an already clogged court docket with a case that looks like a slam dunk?”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/13/us/asylum-torture-venezuela.html

Nicholas reports:

“Marco Coello, then a skinny 18-year-old high school student, was grabbed by plainclothes agents of the Venezuelan security services as he joined a 2014 demonstration against the government in Caracas.

They put a gun to his head. They attacked him with their feet, a golf club, a fire extinguisher. They tortured him with electric shocks. Then Mr. Coello was jailed for several months, and shortly after his release, he fled to the United States.

Human Rights Watch extensively documented his case in a report that year. The State Department included him in its own human rights report on Venezuela in 2015. With such an extensive paper trail of mistreatment in his home country, his lawyer, Elizabeth Blandon, expected a straightforward asylum interview when Mr. Coello appeared at an immigration office this April in Miami.

“I had this very naïve idea that we were going to walk in there and the officer was going to say, ‘It’s an honor to meet you,’” said Ms. Blandon, an immigration law expert in Weston, Fla.

Instead, he was arrested and taken to a detention facility on the edge of the Everglades. He was now a candidate for deportation. “Every time they would move me around, I would fear that they were going to take me to deport me,” said Mr. Coello, now 22.

Mr. Coello’s case drew extensive media coverage in both Miami and Caracas and, eventually, the intervention of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. The senator helped secure Mr. Coello’s release, though he could still be deported.

The case may have been a sign of just how far the government is willing to go to carry out President Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

“It’s very unusual — almost unprecedented — that ICE would arrest an asylum applicant who is at a U.S.C.I.S. office waiting for their asylum interview,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell Law School.”

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Just because arresting individuals believed to be in the U.S. without authorization is legal doesn’t mean that it’s not stupid or wasteful in many cases. Cases like this belong in the Asylum Office.

In a well-functioning system, Mr. Coello likely would have been granted asylum following his interview. Instead, he’s on an already overcrowded U.S. Immigration Court docket with a merits hearing scheduled for approximately one year from now.

What does the U.S. gain from these types of wasteful enforcement actions? What message are we sending to Mr. Coello and others who will eventually become full members of our society? What kind of messages are we sending to Venezuela and those attempting to escape from some of the world’s most brutal governments?

Read Nicholas’s complete report, which contains more quotations from me and others, at the above link.

PWS

06-13-17

UW Law Looking For Immigrant Justice Clinic Director!

http://jobs.hr.wisc.edu/cw/en-us/job/495278/immigrant-justice-clinic-director

Click the link for full details.  Great opportunity for a bilingual immigration attorney who wants to get into clinical teaching at a terrific school in a super city.  Unlike many of today’s law schools, UW Law is located on Bascom Hill in the “heart” of the Main Campus with a view of the Capitol dome! Madison has to be one of the best places to live in the US.

While the initial appointmeet is for one year, based on performance, creativity, and ability to inspire funding, the position has longer term potential!

And, as an extra bonus, if you get the job, I’ll drop by at some mutually convenient time and give your students a “guest lecture.” Preferably right before a Badger home football or basketball game!

Thanks to Professor Alberto Benítez of the GW Law Immigration Clinic for sending this my way.

PWS

06-09-17

 

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?

These Are The Guys That Trump, Sessions, And Kelly Are Purporting To “Protect” Us Against!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/maryland-news/he-picked-up-a-paint-brush–and-discovered-a-world-of-opportunity/2017/05/07/bfac6d22-26cc-11e7-bb9d-8cd6118e1409_story.html?utm_term=.a44db669c584

Arelis R. Hernández writes in the Washington Post:

“The still life of rotting fruit captured the attention of Jon Rudnicki, an admissions counselor for the Maine College of Art who came to Washington last fall to review the portfolios of prospective students. So did the dark self-portrait titled “Slave With Agreement,” which shows artist Rafael Rodriguez, his hands tied with rope.

Before Rudnicki realized it, he had spent more than 20 minutes listening to the skinny young man from Prince George’s County talk about isolation, frustration and optimism — far longer than the five minutes he typically allows for student meetings.

“The intentionality behind the work was profound. He has a story to tell,” Rudnicki said of Rodriguez, a senior at Northwestern High School who is set to graduate next month. “I literally see thousands of kids and thousands of pieces of art, and it says something when a student’s face and artwork sticks out. I wanted to help him find his voice.”

Rudnicki lobbied for his college to admit Rodriguez, 21, who fled violence in his native El Salvador four years ago and entered the United States illegally, eventually coming to live with an aunt in Maryland.

The school offered him a scholarship that would pay nearly half of the annual $35,000 cost for four years.

And unlike thousands of other undocumented immigrants of college age, Rodriguez has a chance of being able to seek federal student loans to cover the rest, thanks to a little-known but increasingly in-demand program that will give him legal residency — and is easier for young people to access in Maryland than in most of the rest of the country.

“When I make art, I feel free,” said Rodriguez, who never painted before coming to the United States. “I want to get my education to be an art teacher, have my own art studio and teach people from my country the importance of getting an education. That’s the only way things will change there.”

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

Read the complete story at the link.

Rodriguez’s attorney, Diane McHugh Martinez, is one of the best!  She appeared before me many times at the U.S. Immigration Court in Arlington, Virginia, and always had creative ideas on how to use the law to save lives and make our country better. She helped many wonderful young people and families to achieve a new start and contribute to the greatness of America. And, she was always able to “reach across the aisle” and enlist the assistance of the fine DHS Assistant Chief Counsel in Arlington in “making the system work.”

As I used too say, “Building America, one case at a time!”

PWS

05-08-17

 

 

THE HILL: Nolan Rappaport Says NY Times “Sugar Coats” Horrors Of FGM!

http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/immigration/330660-politically-correct-ny-times-hides-horror-of-female-genital

Nolan writes:

“The New York Times does not use the term “Female Genital Mutilation” (FGM) in its article about a Michigan doctor who is being prosecuted for allegedly performing that procedure on two seven-year-old girls.  The Times calls the offense, “genital cutting,” despite the fact that the prosecution is based on a federal criminal provision entitled, “Female genital mutilation.”

If convicted, the doctor can be sentenced to incarceration for up to five years.

According to Celia Dugger, the Times’ Health and Science editor, “genital cutting” is a “less culturally loaded” term than “FGM.”  It will not widen the “chasm” between “advocates who campaign against the practice and the people who follow the rite.”

For reasons that are inexplicable to me, Dugger seems to think that there can be a legitimate difference of opinion on whether it is right to mutilate the genitals of a seven-year-old girl.

Also, her euphemism, “genital cutting,” makes FGM sound less horrific, which is a disservice to the victims and to the people who are trying to stop the practice.

Political correctness serves a valid purpose when it prevents a person from unnecessarily or unintentionally offending others, but I do not understand why we should be sensitive to the feelings of people who subject seven-year-old girls to genital mutilation.”

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

Go on over to The Hill to read Nolan’s complete article at the above link.

For those who want to read (or re-read) my majority opinion in Matter of Kasinga, 21 I&N Dec. 357 (BIA 1996)  finding for the first time that FGM is persecution, here is the link: https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/eoir/legacy/2014/07/25/3278.pdf.

PWS

04-26-17

REUTERS: Mica Rosenberg Reports On Trump’s “Under The Radar” Plan To Bar “Freedom Fighters” & “Victims Of Terrorism” From The U.S.!

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-terrorism-exceptions-idUSKBN17N13C

Mica and Yegenah Torbati report:

“Now the Trump administration is debating whether to rescind the waivers that have allowed Raj, and tens of thousands of others, to immigrate to the United States in the past decade (See graphic on waivers: tmsnrt.rs/2oPssIo). Some immigration hardliners are concerned the exemptions could allow terrorists to slip into the country.

U.S. President Donald Trump directed the secretaries of State and Homeland Security, in consultation with the attorney general, to consider abolishing the waivers in an executive order in March. That directive was overshadowed by the same order’s temporary ban on all refugees and on travelers from six mostly Muslim nations.

The bans on refugees and travel were challenged in lawsuits, and their implementation has been suspended pending full hearings in court. But the waiver review was not included in the court rulings, so that part of the order remains in effect.

Rules governing the waivers have been hammered out over the last decade with both Democratic and Republican support. But in recent years they have drawn fire from some conservative lawmakers, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he was a senator.

A State Department official said this week the department is working with DHS to review the waivers and is “looking at actually pulling them back in accordance with the executive order.”

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to give details on the timing of the review or its likely outcome. The Department of Justice declined to comment.

KURDS, KAREN, HMONG

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Congress expanded the definition of who could be considered a terrorist and what constituted “material support” to terrorism in rules now known as the Terrorism Related Inadmissibility Grounds.

Those changes ensnared people like Raj who were coerced or inadvertently provided support to terrorists, as well as members of persecuted ethnic groups that supported rebel organizations, and even U.S.-allied groups fighting against authoritarian regimes.

Without an exemption, members of Kurdish groups that battled Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq, Hmong groups who fought alongside U.S. troops in Vietnam, or some Cubans who fought Fidel Castro’s regime would not be allowed to immigrate to the United States.

Under the exemptions, U.S. authorities have the discretion to grant people residency in the United States after they have passed background checks and are found to pose no threat to national security.

Congress initially passed waivers to the terrorism bars in 2007 with bipartisan support, and in the years that followed both the Bush and Obama administrations added additional groups and circumstances to the exemptions.

“PHANTOM PROBLEM”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has granted nearly 22,000 TRIG exemptions in total over the last decade, according to the latest data available, which goes through September 2016. The State Department also grants TRIG exemptions, but a spokesman could not provide data on how many.

Refugees from Myanmar are the largest single group of beneficiaries to date of TRIG exemptions granted by USCIS, with more than 6,700 waivers.

The wave of Myanmar refugees dates to 2006, when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ruled that thousands of members of the Karen ethnic group, then living in a camp in Thailand, could resettle in the United States, even if they had supported the political wing of an armed group that had fought the country’s military regime.

One high-profile supporter of scrapping the waivers is House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia whose staffers were instrumental in drafting Trump’s travel ban. Goodlatte told Reuters he was “pleased that the Trump Administration is reviewing the dangerous policy.”

Groups favoring stricter immigration laws have also applauded the review. Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations at NumbersUSA, called the waivers “a potential security risk.”

“I personally don’t think that a bureaucrat should be deciding how much support for terrorism is enough to be barred,” she said.

A USCIS spokeswoman, when asked if a recipient of an exemption had ever been involved in a terrorism-related case after arriving in the United States, referred Reuters to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which said it was a question for the State Department to answer.

“I don’t know of any cases where beneficiaries of exemptions have gotten into trouble after arriving,” the State Department official said, noting that the department does not typically track people after they arrive in the United States.

Trump’s order to review the waivers “is another example of an attempt to address a non-existent phantom problem,” said Eric Schwartz, who served in the State Department during the Obama administration.

Schwartz and immigration advocates say the waivers are granted after lengthy review and are extremely difficult to get.

“These are case-by-case exemptions for people who represent no threat to the United States but rather have been caught in the most unfortunate of circumstances,” said Schwartz.

For Raj, the initial ruling that his ransom payment supported a terrorist group led to more than two years in U.S. immigration detention, followed by more years of electronic monitoring. His waiver allowed him to bring his wife to the United States after nine years apart. She now studies nursing.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Additional reporting by Julia Edwards in Washington and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Sue Horton and Ross Colvin)”

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

Just to illustrate the lunacy of the already over-broad definition of “terrorist,” all of our “founding fathers” would be “terrorists” under this definition.

I heard a number of so-called”terrorist cases” over my time as a trial judge at the Arlington Immigration Court. A few of the folks on the detained docket (during the years I was assigned to that docket) might have potentially been dangerous.

But, most so-called “terrorists” were basically harmless individuals who actually appeared on my non-detained docket even during the “last years” when I was handling the “non-priority docket” (which was actually the overwhelming majority of cases at Arlington).

Most were folks who had supposedly provided “material support” like giving a ride to a rebel who commandeered the respondent’s car at gun point, carrying supply bags a few miles for guerrillas under threat of death, allowing rebels to ransack the family kitchen at gunpoint (sometimes called the “taco rule”), or giving money to a dissident group that was actually being supported by the U.S. in a battle against an oppressive government” (otherwise referred to as “freedom fighters”).

Most of them had lived in the U.S. for years without incident and were stunned to find out that being a victim of terrorism or helping a dissident group that the U.S. supported could be a bar to immigration. For example, anyone assisting rebels in the fight against the Assad Government or against ISIS would be considered a “terrorist” by our definition. And, ask yourself, why would any “real” terrorist have appeared on my non-detained, non-priority docket?

Of course, as a mere Immigration Judge I could not grant the “waiver” discussed in Mica’s article. But, I was required to make essentially an “advisory holding” that “but for” the “terrorist bar” I would have granted the respondent’s application.

I am aware that some of the cases I handled were referred to USCIS by the Office of Chief Counsel (the respondent can’t initiate the waiver process on her or his own) and eventually granted. Thereafter, I “vacated” on “joint motion” the removal order I had previously entered against the respondent. The whole process seemed convoluted.

Just another example of how the xenophobes in the Trump Administration are wasting time and taxpayer money making an already bad situation even worse.

A further example of how pointless the “terrorist bar” is in it’s current form: many of the individuals covered by the bar would also be entitled to “Deferral of Removal” under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”). The “terrorist bar” can’t be applied to “CAT deferral.” Therefore, individuals who are denied asylum but qualify for CAT deferral can’t be removed from the country. In effect, all that the terrorist bar does in such cases is keep individuals who are no threat to the U.S. in “limbo,” rather than allowing them to regularize their immigration status.

PWS

04-21-17

 

 

JEFF SESSIONS’S DREAM OF AN “AMERICAN GULAG:” Despite Mounting Evidence Of Substandard Conditions, Lack Of Accountability, & Hinky Contracting, Sessions Plans For “American Gulag” Using Private Prisons — Creating Corporate Profits From Human Misery While Ripping Off U.S. Taxpayers!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/prisons-and-profits_us_58ef9886e4b04cae050dc533?t0r

Christopher Brauchli reports in HuffPost:

“It turns out that the immigration crackdown that Donald Trump’s ICE is pursuing, though hard on illegals and their families by producing terrible uncertainty for them, is not without its “bright side.” The light that provides a bright side is shining on the shares of stock in the Geo Group and CoreCivic, and on jails in a number of Texas counties.

Geo Group and CoreCivic operate private, for-profit prisons. Before Trump became president, they were on hard times, and for good reason. In August 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General issued a report that was highly critical of the way those companies treated prisoners entrusted with their care. The report found that inmates in facilities run by those corporations “were nine times more likely to be placed on lockdown than inmates at other federal prisons and were frequently subjected to arbitrary solitary confinement simply because there was not space for them among the general population.”

Although placing them in solitary confinement so they would not add to overcrowding in the general prison population had the desired effect, solitary confinement is generally acknowledged to be equivalent to torture and has been repeatedly criticized for its excessive use in United States prisons. According to the report, the Bureau of Prisons was using the private prisons on a large scale to “confine federal inmates who are primarily low security, criminal alien adult males with 90 months or less remaining to serve on their sentences.” The report stated that “in a majority of the categories we examined, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable Bureau of Prisons institutions.” It said that the contract prisons “do not provide comparable services [to those operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons], do not save substantially on costs, and do not maintain ‘the same level of safety and security.’”

At almost the same time that that report was issued, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, issued instructions to federal officials to reduce the use of private prisons because of the falling prison population throughout the country. The result was that stock in CoreCivic and GEO, the two largest private prison companies in the United States, fell precipitously. The election of Donald J. Trump reversed their fortunes.

The day after the election shares in CoreCivic rose 43 percent and share in GEO rose 21 percent. The investors’ optimism was rewarded when on February 21st, 2017, Attorney General Sessions, rescinded the order that the private prisons be phased out. Following the announcement, the prison companies enjoyed another jump in share prices. The order should not have been a surprise. Notwithstanding the Justice Department report that was highly critical of the private prisons, Trump―for whom facts are notoriously unimportant―said: “I do think we can do a lot of privatizations and private prisons. It seems to work a lot better.” Of course, private prisons are not the only ones rejoicing in the prospect of more inmates, thanks to the increased attention being paid to illegal immigrants and their incarceration. Jailers in small Texas counties are also excited.

. . . .

. . . . Now many of the counties that eagerly built new jails find themselves trying to pay off the cost of construction without adequate occupants to pay the debt that was incurred to build them. The good news for them is that since Trump has encouraged ICE to round up and jail illegal immigrants, the glut of jail space may soon vanish and cells that were empty and non-income producing, will once again be fully occupied with illegal immigrants and their families.

In a speech delivered to Police Chiefs Association on April 11, 2017, Attorney General Sessions announced a number of increased enforcement policies including a provision that those who get married to avoid immigration laws, will be charged with offenses that carry a two-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. If, notwithstanding the prospect of new occupants, counties no longer want to maintain their facilities, they may be able to sell them to private prison companies that will use the space for housing illegal immigrants. It’s a win-win situation for private prisons and Texas counties. The only loser is the pre-Trump United States we knew and loved.”

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

Hey, the only “losers” here are humanity, values, taxpayers, and our self-respect. What’s not to like about that Sessions-Trump initiative?

And “Gulag” is definitely the right term to describe contemporary immigration detention. Just ask families whose loved ones, and lawyers whose clients are moved from facility to facility, and sometimes removed from the United States, without notice. Even U.S. Immigration Courts sometimes have a hard time locating the “respondents” on their detained dockets in the DHS detention maze. Not to mention that sometimes detainees with cases pending before one Immigration Court are more or less arbitrarily moved to another detention center in another jurisdiction (perhaps to save a few bucks on “bed rates”).

PWS

04-14-17

RELIGION/POLITICS/REFUGEES: Pope Francis Puts Migrants’ Lives First — World’s Top Catholic Stands Tall Against Those Who Would Shun Most Vulnerable — Pence’s Values Might Bar Meeting With Women, But Haven’t Stopped Him From Supporting Policies That Hurt Refugees, Migrants, Transgender Children, Gays, The Sick, The Poor, The Starving, Many Women & Almost All Other Vulnerable People! Big Time Disconnect!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/how-pope-francis-is-leading-the-catholic-church-against-anti-migrant-populism/2017/04/10/d3ca5832-1966-11e7-8598-9a99da559f9e_story.html?hpid=hp_rhp-more-top-stories_no-name%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.1dbd72f3d9a0

Anthony Faiola and Sarah Pulliam Bailey report in the Washington Post:

“VATICAN CITY — As politicians around the world including President Trump take an increasingly hard line on immigration, a powerful force is rallying to the side of migrants: the Roman Catholic Church led by Pope Francis.

Catholic cardinals, bishops and priests are emerging as some of the most influential opponents of immigration crackdowns backed by right-wing populists in the United States and Europe. The moves come as Francis, who has put migrants at the top of his agenda, appears to be leading by example, emphasizing his support for their rights in sermons, speeches and deeds.

The pro-migrant drive risks dividing Catholics — many of whom in the United States voted for Trump. Some observers say it is also inserting the church into politics in a manner recalling the heady days of Pope John Paul II, who stared down communism and declared his opposition to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The Vatican is standing in open opposition to politicians like Trump not just on immigration but also on other issues, including climate-change policy.

But the focal point is clearly migrant rights.
In the United States, individual bishops, especially those appointed by Francis, have sharply criticized Trump’s migrant policies since his election. They include Newark Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, who last month co-led a rally in support of a Mexican man fighting deportation. Tobin has decried Trump’s executive orders on immigration, calling them the “opposite of what it means to be an American.”

In Los Angeles, Archbishop José H. Gomez, the first Mexican American vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which leads the U.S. church, described migrant rights as the bishops’ most important issue. He has delivered blistering critiques of Trump’s policies, and instructed his clerics to distribute cards in English, Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese informing migrants of their rights in 300 parishes .
Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, one of Francis’s closest allies in the U.S. church, has issued orders that if federal immigration authorities should attempt to enter churches without a warrant in search of migrants, priests should turn them away and call the archdiocese’s lawyers. Catholic school principals were given the same instructions by the archdiocese, which Cupich said was an attempt to respond in a way that was firm “but not extreme.”

He said Francis has helped bishops shape their response.

“The pope makes it a lot easier for me to be a bishop because he’s very clear in his teaching, and [on] this one in particular, he’s trying to awaken the conscience of the citizens of the world,” Cupich said.

Francis has long been an advocate of migrants — kicking off his papacy in 2013 with a trip to an Italian island used as a waypoint for migrants desperate to enter Europe. In a highly public spat early last year, Francis and Trump exchanged barbs — with Francis declaring that anyone who wants to build walls “is not Christian.”

. . . .

Those who have the pope’s ear say Francis is seeking to counter anti-migrant policies by appealing directly to voters.

“I don’t think the pope is challenging [the politicians]. I think he is challenging their supporters, both those who actively support them and those who passively allow their policies to happen,” said the Rev. Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Vatican’s new Section for Refugees and Migrants, which opened in January, just before Trump took office. Czerny reports directly to the pope — a sign of the importance of the new office.

“Mr. Trump or Ms. Le Pen are not the root of the problem,” Czerny continued. “The root of the problem is the fear, selfishness and shortsightedness that motivate people to support them.”

. . . .

He [William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore] added that previous popes have taken similar positions as Francis on immigration. But, Lori added, Francis is “perhaps more dramatic.” His trips, such as his 2016 visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, also connected his stance on migrants to politics.
“The poor is the hallmark of his papacy,” Lori said. “It will affect our priorities and it should.”

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

Meanwhile, Carla Gardina Pestana writes about “Arrogant Christians in the White House” in HuffPost:

“Mike Pence, the fundamentalist Christian whose views are so extreme that he cannot be alone with a woman other than his wife, and Donald Trump, who brags about sexually assaulting women and famously stumbled over an attempt to quote a biblical passage while on the campaign trail, seem to hold wildly divergent religious views. Yet both adhere to variations of Christianity inflected with arrogance. Together they represent two troubling trends in American Christianity, trends which appear to prove all the complaints secular liberals ever leveled against Christians.

Pence adheres to biblical literalism. Put simply, this view asserts that the Bible is a transparent document, one that prescribes specific behavioral guidelines. Glossing over the fact that the Bible is a complex text built of ancient fragments brought together by human hands, that it does not speak directly to many modern issues, and that even on its own terms it encompasses numerous contradictions, these Christians confidently declare that the Bible provides clear guidance for every Christian. Literalists arrived at this position only relatively late in Christian history, in response to various challenges from many quarters, including biblical scholarship, advances in science, and a rise in unbelief. Cutting through the complexities and the need to make choices, literalists declared all choice to be false and all discussion to be error. It was a comforting if simplistic and authoritarian solution to the problem of uncertainty.

Its arrogance lies in the hubris of those who believe that only their chosen answers are correct. Its potential to harm others comes when adherents gain political power and force their mandates on nonbelievers. One of the many dangers emanating out of the Trump White House is the power of Pence to impose not his religion but the behaviors his religion dictates onto the rest of us. Women’s rights and gender equality are on Pence’s hit list.

Trump’s religion, although very different, is similarly alarming. Unsurprisingly Trump accepts a religious viewpoint that tells him he is uniquely awesome. Whatever he has—however he acquired it—God wants him to enjoy to the fullest. Although traditional Christian social practice mandates that believers exercise humility, charity and other virtues that put others before self, Trump’s faith rejects all curbs on self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement. This religious position, known as Prosperity Theology, is newer than Pence’s literalism. It preaches that God wants the rich to be not only rich but selfish. Its attraction to a man like Trump—born to wealth, selfishly guided by his own desires, endlessly demanding that others adore him but never judge him—is transparent.

. . . .

Pence’s arrogance leads him to believe that he knows exactly what God wants us all to do and that he ought to force that on us if he has the power to do so. Trump’s faith simply endorses his own self-regard, elevating his personal whims to God’s desires. The political marriage of the two men is obviously one of expedience, given the great disparities in their beliefs and goals. Yet between them, they can do a great deal of damage. Arrogant self-righteousness and egotistical self-regard together wield power over the rest of us.

Little wonder that the pope has been modeling Christian humility and singing the praises of Christian charity, or that the supporters of these two find his lessons in what it means to be a Christian so infuriating.”

Read the complete article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/arrogant-christians-in-the-white-house_us_58e94a6fe4b06f8c18beec89?

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Also, Allen Clifton writing in Forward Progressives quotes the views of Pastor John Pavlovitz taking Trump and the GOP to task for hypocricy on Syrian refugees, a point that has been noted several times previously in this blog: 

“There are many things concerning Donald Trump that completely baffle me, but the fact that he’s strongly and enthusiastically supported by a party that comically portrays itself as representatives for “the Christian moral majority” is right near the top of my list. Of all the major candidates who ran for president from either party, Trump was, without a doubt, the least Christian of any of them. I haven’t viewed Republicans as actual Christians for years, but Trump’s rise to the top of the GOP cemented the fact that there’s nothing Christian about the Republican Party.
A great example of what I’m talking about is Trump and the GOP’s take on refusing to accept Syrian refugees. Innocent, desperate people, many of whom are women and children, fleeing a war-torn country hoping to escape a brutal dictator who, once again, just used chemical weapons against his own people. Not only have Trump and his fellow Republicans blatantly vilified these poor people as a means of pandering to the bigotry that fuels their party, but they continually lied about the process refugees must endure before ever stepping foot on U.S. soil.
If you listen to Trump talk about the vetting process, he essentially said we never had one — which is an outright lie. Every refugee allowed into the United States endures a rigorous process that usually takes between 18-24 months to complete and these refugees never know where they’re actually going to end up. So it’s not as if some “undercover terrorist” can pose as a refugee, say they want to go to America, and they’re here in two weeks.
Nevertheless, it’s undeniable that Trump and the GOP have gone out of their way to demonize these poor people for political purposes.

That made it rather nauseating to watch Trump claim that the images of the victims of the most recent chemical weapons attack launched by Assad are what “moved” him to take action by ordering last week’s airstrike. Nothing like selling yourself as the party of “Christian values,” while vilifying and rejecting refugees, then claiming that the images of victims of a horrific chemical attack “moved you” — not to do everything you can to help people who need it — but to fire 59 Tomahawk missiles at an airbase that was up-and-running within a few hours of the attack.

I’m sorry, but you can’t claim you’re “moved” by the sickening images of what’s going on in Syria when your administration’s policy is to reject helping thousands of refugees desperately trying to flee the carnage that’s plagued that nation for over six years now.

That’s also along the lines of what North Carolina Pastor John Pavlovitz said in a recent blog post:
‘This is the human collateral damage of what Donald Trump’s been selling for 16 months now. It is the cost in actual vibrant, beautiful lives, of the kind of incendiary rhetoric and alternative facts and Fox News truths that you’ve been fine with up until now. This is what you bought and paid for. Maybe not something this sadistic or explicitly grotesque, but the heart is the same: contempt for life that looks different and a desire to rid yourself of it.
I want to believe that you’re truly outraged, but honestly your resume is less than convincing.
Honestly, you didn’t seem all that broken up when Muslim families were handcuffed in airports a couple of months ago, or when mosques were being defaced, or when many of us were pleading the case for families fleeing exactlythe kind of monstrous atrocities you were apparently so moved by this week—and getting told to eat our bleeding hearts out by MAGA hat-wearing trolls. You weren’t all that concerned when your President told terrified, exhausted refugees to leave and go home—twice.'”

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

Matthew 25:

44And they too will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45Then the King will answer, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’ 46And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”…

PWS

04-11-17

 

SYRIAN REFUGEE HYPOCRISY: I’m Not The Only One To Notice The Moral Disconnect In Shooting Missiles While Ignoring The Plight Of Millions Of Vulnerable Syrian Civilian Refugees, Many Children!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-syria-humanitarian-refugees_us_58e6fd6ee4b051b9a9da3d6e

Akbar Shahid Ahmed writes in HuffPost:

“WASHINGTON ― As President Donald Trump on Thursday night announced a military strike on Syria because of his deep concern for “beautiful babies” and other civilians killed in a chemical weapons attack this week, two legal battles continued over his efforts to keep Syrian children and their families out of the United States.

The president’s first ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries is being litigated in a federal court in Seattle. His second attempted Muslim ban remains blocked by a federal judge in Hawaii, with an appeals court scheduled to hear the case in May.

Both executive orders halted the entry of refugees, and targeted Syrians in particular. The language of the orders echoed Trump’s campaign talk about the humanitarian crisis facing more than 20 million people from that country. In September, the then-candidate said denying U.S. entry to Syrian refugees is “a matter of terrorism” and “a matter of quality of life.”

Since his inauguration, Trump has repeatedly spread lies about refugee-related problems in Sweden. And his administration has tried to mislead the public on the number of refugees being investigated on terror charges. The Washington Post rated Trump’s talking point on the issue “highly misleading” last month.

After a U.S. intelligence analysis suggested that Syrian President Bashar Assad used the banned chemical weapon sarin in an attack on an opposition-held village on Tuesday, Trump spoke multiple times about children and other civilians who were affected.

“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered at this very barbaric attack,” Trump said after launching the strike Thursday night. “No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”

The White House confirmed after the attack that Trump has not altered his position on refugees. National Security Adviser James McMaster said the refugee issue “wasn’t discussed as any part of the deliberations” for the strikes, according to a White House pool report.

The hypocrisy did not go unnoticed.

. . . .

“More than 11 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes since Syria’s civil war began in 2011, when Assad attacked peaceful protests against his family’s decades-long rule.

“In many cases, children caught up in this crisis have fared the worst, losing family members or friends to the violence, suffering physical and psychological trauma, or falling behind in school,” the nonprofit World Vision wrote in a post on March 15, the sixth anniversary of the civil war. “Children affected by the Syrian refugee crisis are at risk of becoming ill, malnourished, abused, or exploited.”

Trump’s strike in itself is unlikely to have any serious impact on civilian suffering. A one-off U.S. show of force may help the president and his team feel they’re taken action. But the Assad regime’s assault on Syria’s people will likely continue, perhaps after some small break.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested this would be the case Thursday night, telling reporters not to expect a change in U.S. policy toward directly trying to force Assad out.

“If Trump just wants Assad to stop using [chemical weapons] but does nothing about sieges, torture & mass executions, then Assad will likely say ‘deal,’” Kristyan Benedict, campaigns manager for Amnesty International UK, tweeted. “Stopping Assad’s chemical attacks has value for sure but [chemical weapons] are just one tool the regime use to terrorize civilians & maintain their power.”

The hypocrisy also was noted in  a NY Times Op-Ed by Anthony J. Blinken on the need for an effective diplomatic follow-up to the military response:

“Here at home, Mr. Trump must speak directly to the American people about the country’s mission and its objectives, thoroughly brief Congress and seek its support, and make clear the legal basis for United States actions. And while he’s at it, he should reopen the door he has tried to slam shut on Syrian refugees. The president’s human reaction to the suffering of those gassed by the Assad regime should extend to all the victims of Syria’s civil war, including those fleeing its violence.”

Read Blinken’s entire op-ed here: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/04/07/opinion/after-the-missiles-we-need-smart-diplomacy.html?em_pos=small&emc=edit_ty_20170407&nl=opinion-today&nl_art=0&nlid=79213886&ref=headline&te=1&_r=0&referer=

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Sorry, but I wouldn’t expect any real humanitarian or moral leadership out of this Administration. It’s really all about muscle, authority, acting tough, showing up the Obama Administration, throwing bones to the military, and shoring up shaky support among GOP hawks in Congress who have been itching to start another un-winnable war in the Middle East for years. Oh yeah, and it changed the subject from the Russia investigation, internal war in the West Wing, failed health care, and more attacks by this Administration on America’s environment, health, safety, privacy, and civil rights.

I also wouldn’t let new NSC head Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster off the hook here. Yes, he did America and the world a huge service by getting alt-right nationalist Steve Bannon off the NSC and perhaps shaking his standing in the West Wing. And, he undoubtedly brings a much needed voice of military and national security expertise to the table. The idea of Gen. Mike Flynn, a proven liar and flake, and Bannon being given any part in America’s national security apparatus is scary beyond belief.

But, McMaster’s failure to “connect the dots” between military policy and the intertwined ongoing civilian humanitarian refugee crisis in Syria is simply inexcusable. And, by publicly turning our back on Syrian refugees we actually signal that our talk of humanitarian concerns in Syria is merely a “smokescreen.”

We have, and will continue to, show little concern for the real human victims of the Syrian war. This signals to both Assad and Russia that our only real interest is maintaining politically visible “red lines.” As long as Assad sticks to “conventional means” of murdering, maiming, terrorizing and displacing Syrian civilians we will continue to turn our back on the suffering of refugees.

Both knowledge of and actual hands on field work in the area of refugees and humanitarian relief should be a job requirement for any military officer promoted to the rank of General or its equivalent in other branches of service. War, at the end of the day, is about only one thing: people. And, there is no such thing as a war that doesn’t produce both civilian deaths and refugees.

PWS

04-07-17

 

 

 

SYRIA/HUMAN RIGHTS: Firing Missiles To Solve A Humanitarian Crisis, While Ignoring The Plight Of Syrian Refugees Makes Little Sense — But It Does Serve To Undermine U.S. Moral Leadership — By Turning His Back On Syrians Who Could Be Saved, Trump Made The Situation Worse!

President Trump’s suddenly discovered moral outrage over the gassing of Syrian civilians and his hasty resort to military force seems odd in light of his studied indifference, and even demonization, of millions of desperate Syrian refugees in need of resettlement in America and the West. Pelting Syria with missiles is likely to kill some innocent civilians as well as Assad supporters and Russians. But, helping Syrians in need who actually managed to flee the country would be a sure-fire way of saving the lives of civilians, many of them women and children, enriching United States, taking pressure off our allies in the region with overflowing refugee camps, and showing some moral leadership to other Western nations who are wavering in their humanitarian commitments.

Here’s a clip from HuffPost showing how UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, notwithstanding her pictures of gassed Syrian kids, had no answer for why the U.S. is failing to fulfill its humanitarian responsibility to take a fair share of Syrian refugees.

HuffPost reports:

“Earlier on Wednesday, Haley gave a fierce speech at the United Nations condemning the Syrian regime and its Russian ally.

“How many more children have to die before Russia cares?” Hayley asked at the meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

Despite Hayley’s comments, it’s unclear what response the U.S. is considering in the wake of the attack. Trump said during a joint press conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Wednesday that Tuesday’s attack had changed his attitude toward the Assad regime and the country’s ongoing civil war. Just last week, the Trump administration had signaled it would no longer push for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s removal.

But neither Hayley nor Trump addressed whether Tuesday’s atrocity changed anything toward the president’s stance on Syrian refugees. Though there are already stringent requirements for refugees to enter the U.S., Trump repeatedly said during the presidential campaign that he considered Syrian refugees a terrorist threat.

After taking office in January, Trump signed an executive order on immigration that blocked admission to the U.S. for all refugees for 120 days and for Syrian refugees indefinitely, while also cutting the goal for refugee admissions this fiscal year from 110,000 to 50,000. The ban was later struck down in court. The implementation of a revised version of the executive order, which didn’t single out Syrian refugees but still blocked admission of all refugees for 120 days and decreased the total number of refugees to be admitted, was also halted in court.

At one point during Haley’s exchange with Van Susteren, a woman sitting in the mezzanine yelled out: “What about refugees?”

Haley went silent. Van Susteren paused, and then said, “Moving on.” The subject of refugees did not come up again.

. . . .

Haley’s talk came directly after a panel on the weaponization of medical care in Syria, in which two doctors asked those in the audience to start caring about Syrian doctors, civilians and refugees.”

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

The sad fact is that the dead children in Syria are dead. Neither missiles nor recriminations about failed Obama Administration policies will bring them back to life. But, there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of still alive Syrian kids in refugee camps whose lives can be saved and who need our help. Sooner, rather than later.

PWS

04-06-17

Kim Gould In The WSJ Opinion/Letters: “This Immigrant Problem Is More Imagined Than Real”

http://This Immigrant Problem Is More Imagined Than Real

“I suspect that the readers who comment negatively about today’s immigrants not assimilating into American culture don’t know any and have spent no time with them (Letters, March 28 responding to Bret Stephens’s “‘Other People’s Babies,’” Global View, March 21). Challenge yourself to do this: Go volunteer at your local school and meet some of the kids, go to community gatherings and meet the parents. You will be pleasantly surprised. Many, possibly most, espouse the best of traditional American conservative values: hard work, a focus on education, thrift, industry and a strong interest in engaging with the larger American community.

Kim Gould

Seattle”

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Couldn’t agree with your more, Kim! Not only is this the experience I have had with the overwhelming number of migrants coming before me over 13 years at the Arlington Immigration Court, but it also matches the “real life” experience our church has had through association with wonderful groups like “Casa Chirilagua” and the “Kids Club” in our Alexandria, Virginia community.

Moreover, there is no such thing as “other people’s babies.” We are morally responsible for the well-being of all children in America, regardless of status. Being fortunate enough to live in the United States is a great privilege and fortune that those of us who were born U.S. citizens received through absolutely no personal merit of our own. Interestingly, only foreign-born naturalized citizens had to go through a merit-based process to achieve U.S. citizenship. With great privilege, comes great responsibility.

PWS

04-05-17

The Asylum Seeker Assistance Project (“ASAP”) — A Wonderful New DC Area Community Service Organization Making America Really Great! — Special Public Event On Saturday, April 29 — Register Here!

 

The Asylum Seeker Assistance Project

 

We thank Judge Paul W. Schmidt for giving us the opportunity to share with you an exciting new project that will provide critically important support to asylum seekers as they pursue their claims for protection in our backlogged immigration court system. We also want to invite those of you who may be local to the DC metro area to join us as we celebrate our first class of 12 asylum seekers completing our job-readiness program. But, first, a bit about the Asylum Seeker Assistance Project (ASAP) and what we do!

 

Founded in 2016, ASAP is the first and only community-based nonprofit providing comprehensive services to support the estimated 50,000 individuals pursing asylee status in the D.C. Metro region. Our mission is to provide services that support the safety, stability, and economic security of asylum seekers and their families.

 

Grounded in a strengths-based approach, ASAP combines direct client services with advocacy initiatives to develop programming that promotes community belonging and engagement. By providing access to information, services, and support, ASAP seeks to empower asylum seekers to rebuild their lives in the U.S. and to ensure that we, as a community, take full advantage of their presence and potential.

 

OUR PROGRAMS

 

Employment: ASAP’s employment program combines individualized career planning, 30-hours of job readiness training, and job placement services to address common employment barriers encountered by asylum seekers. Our goal is to equip asylum seekers with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to secure and retain safe, legal, and purposeful employment.

 

Community: ASAP’s community program facilitates opportunities for asylum seekers to connect with each other, ASAP volunteers, and the larger community. We also maintain a list of asylees willing and able to provide support and guidance to newly arrived asylum seekers.

 

Legal: ASAP offers asylum law trainings, legal information sessions, and “Know Your Rights” workshops on demand to clients, attorneys, law students, and community partners. ASAP can also provide targeted referrals to pro bono and low bono immigration legal service providers.

 

Outreach: ASAP conducts educational awareness events co-facilitated by asylum seekers and asylees. We have given talks and presentations to audiences ranging from elementary school-aged children to adults. By engaging audiences of all ages, we work to plant the seeds of social change.

 

(Coming 2018) Social Services: ASAP works with clients to create a comprehensive assessment of their life in the U.S. in order to identify client needs, recognize strengths, and prioritize goals. ASAP works with a coalition of community partners to provide information, resources, and referrals to ensure client safety and stability.

 

Come and Learn More About Us in Person and Celebrate Asylum Seekers!

Please join us in Bethesda, MD, on Saturday, April 29th from 3-6pm to learn more about the Asylum Seeker Assistance Project (ASAP) as we celebrate our launch with the first class of ASAP clients. This is a family-friendly event with planned activity stations (including face-painting, arts and crafts, henna art, and fishing for ducks!) to entertain the little ones. Food, drinks, and lots of good company will be provided.

Please purchase tickets and sign up for the event here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/together-we-rise-a-family-friendly-celebration-tickets-32993122317

How can I contact the organizer with any questions?

We can be reached at asylumprojectdc@gmail.com, or you can engage with board member Lindsay M. Harris, Assistant Professor of Law at UDC Law teaching in the Immigration and Human Rights clinic at Lindsay.harris@udc.edu.

How can I learn more about ASAP?

Visit our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/asylumprojectdc/

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Thanks to my good friend Professor Lindsay Harris of UDC Law for providing this information. Please note the event on April 29, 2017 is open to all! Please come out to learn, meet, and support this worthy group in its important work!

PWS

04/04/17