Musings on Events in U.S. Immigration Court, Immigration Law, Sports, and Other Random Topics by Retired United States Immigration Judge (Arlington, Virginia) and former Chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals Paul Wickham Schmidt. To see my complete professional bio, just click on the link below.
“Washington (CNN)The administration’s top immigration enforcement official on Tuesday said his agency will vastly step up crackdowns on employers who hire undocumented immigrants — a new front in President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration agenda.
Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Tom Homan spoke at the conservative Heritage Foundation and was asked whether his agency would do more to target not just undocumented workers, but their places of work.
Homan said he has instructed Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative unit of ICE, to potentially quintuple worksite enforcement actions next year.
He said he recently asked HSI to audit how much of their time is spent on work site enforcement, and said he has ordered that to increase “by four to five times.”
“We’ve already increased the number of inspections in work site operations, you will see that significantly increase this next fiscal year,” Homan promised, saying the goal is to remove the “magnet” drawing people to enter the US illegally.
And he said his agency would approach the task in a way that’s “a little different” than in the past, by going just as aggressively after employees.
“Not only are we going to prosecute the employers that hire illegal workers, we’re going to detain and remove the illegal alien workers,” Homan said.
“When we find you at a work site, we’re no longer going to turn our heads,” Homan elaborated after the event. “We’ll go after the employer who knowingly hires an illegal alien … but we’re always going to arrest a person who is here illegally. That is our job.”
ICE still has posted the previous administration’s policy on work site enforcement, which prioritizes targeting employers that use undocumented labor as a business model, engage in human smuggling, mistreat employees, commit identity fraud, launder money or are otherwise involved in criminal activity.
ICE spokeswoman Liz Johnson said the strategy “continues to address both” employers and employees.
“While we focus on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, under the current administration’s enforcement priorities, workers encountered during these investigations who are unauthorized to remain in the United States are also subject to administrative arrest and removal from the country,” Johnson said.
According to a 2015 Congressional Research Service report, ICE arrested 541 individuals on immigration charges and 362 individuals on criminal charges in work site actions in 2014, continuing a downward trend in actions from a peak in 2011.”
Been there, done that, likely to be just as unsuccessful and wasteful as ever. Indeed, back in the late 1970’s while I was INS Deputy General Counsel we developed the famous (or infamous, depending on which side one was on) “Blackie’s Warrants” (referencing the then well-known but now defunct Washington, D.C. eatery “Blackie’s House of Beef” a noted employer of undocumented workers) for entry into workplaces for civil immigration enforcement purposes. Workplace operations were a fertile source of Federal Court litigation, alleged constitutional violations, some class actions and injunctions, but not many final orders of removal.
Compounding the problem — lots of the employers whose workers will be hauled off in cuffs are likely to be GOP donors who aren’t going to like it when the law is enforced against them, rather than just food cart operators and lawn mowers. My recollection is that politicos of both parties weren’t too happy either, particularly when key industries like tourism, restaurants, and hotels were hit during “prime season.” But, why not keep repeating the same failed “strategies” over and over again just to prove that they still don’t work?
Let’s see, with 630,000+ pending cases in U.S. Immigration Court and counting, some of these new “employee cases” might come up for trial by the end of 2020, with luck. That is, unless under Sessions the DOJ does yet another round of “ADR.” But, since many of the folks now working in the U.S. probably have at least arguable avenues for relief, most cases probably will take even longer. And, of course, in a “saturated” court system, every “low priority” case mindlessly placed on the docket displaces another case, which might be older or higher priority. But, that’s what “Gonzo enforcement” and wasting Government resources is all about.
Mica Rosenberg, Read Levinson, & Ryan McNeill report:
“They fled danger at home to make a high-stakes bet on U.S. immigration courts
Threatened by gangs in Honduras, two women sought asylum in the United States. Their stories illustrate what a Reuters analysis of thousands of court decisions found: The difference between residency and deportation depends largely on who hears the case, and where.
OAKLAND, California – The two Honduran women told nearly identical stories to the immigration courts: Fear for their lives and for the lives of their children drove them to seek asylum in the United States.
They were elected in 2013 to the board of the parent-teacher association at their children’s school in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. They hoped that mothers working together could oust the violent gangs that plagued the campus.
Instead, they became targets. Weeks apart, in the spring of 2014, each of the women was confronted by armed gang members who vowed to kill them and their children if they didn’t meet the thugs’ demands.
Unaware of each other’s plight, both fled with their children, making the dangerous trek across Mexico. Both were taken into custody near Hidalgo, Texas, and ended up finding each other in the same U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Artesia, New Mexico. There, they applied for asylum.
That’s when their fates diverged.
Sandra Gutierrez joined her husband in California, where her case was heard by a San Francisco immigration court judge. At the end of her asylum hearing in September 2016, she received a one-page form, with an “X” in the box next to “granted.” She was free to settle into life with her family in the United States.
The other woman, Ana, joined her daughter’s father in the southeastern United States, and her case was assigned to an immigration court in Charlotte, North Carolina. The judge denied her petition and ordered her deported. She is now awaiting a court date after new lawyers got her case reopened.
Ana declined to be interviewed for this article. Through her lawyers, she asked that her full name not be used because of her uncertain status and her fear that Honduran gangs could find her.
The women’s lawyers framed their respective cases with some important differences. However, the women said their reasons for seeking asylum were the same: Gangs had targeted them because of their involvement in the parent-teacher association, and for that, they and their families had been threatened.
Taken together, the two cases – nearly indistinguishable in their outlines but with opposite outcomes – illustrate a troubling fact: An immigrant’s chance of being allowed to stay in the United States depends largely on who hears the case and where it is heard.
Judge Stuart Couch, who heard Ana’s case in Charlotte, orders immigrants deported 89 percent of the time, according to a Reuters analysis of more than 370,000 cases heard in all 58 U.S. immigration courts over the past 10 years. Judge Dalin Holyoak, who heard Gutierrez’s case in San Francisco, orders deportation in 43 percent of cases.
In Charlotte, immigrants are ordered deported in 84 percent of cases, more than twice the rate in San Francisco, where 36 percent of cases end in deportation.
Couch and Holyoak and their courts are not rare outliers, the analysis found. Variations among judges and courts are broad.
Judge Olivia Cassin in New York City allows immigrants to remain in the country in 93 percent of cases she hears. Judge Monique Harris in Houston allows immigrants to stay in just four percent of cases. In Atlanta, 89 percent of cases result in a deportation order. In New York City, 24 percent do.
The Reuters analysis used data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the U.S. Justice Department unit that oversees immigration courts. The count of deportations included cases in which judges allowed immigrants to leave the country voluntarily.
The analysis excluded immigrants who were in detention when their cases were heard because such cases are handled differently. It also excluded cases in which the immigrant did not appear in court, which nearly always end in a deportation order, and cases terminated without a decision or closed at the request of a prosecutor.
About half the cases in the analysis were filed by asylum seekers like the two Honduran women. The rest were requests for cancellation of deportation orders or other adjustments to immigration status.
Of course, other factors influence outcomes in immigration court. For example, U.S. government policy is more lenient toward people from some countries, less so for others.
Also, immigration judges are bound by precedents established in the federal appeals court that covers their location. Immigration courts in California and the Pacific Northwest fall under the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and they rule in favor of immigrants far more often than courts in the 4th Circuit, which includes North and South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia, Reuters found.
Even so, the Reuters analysis determined that after controlling for such factors, who hears a case and where it is heard remain reliable predictors of how a case will be decided. An immigrant was still four times as likely to be granted asylum by Holyoak in San Francisco as by Couch in Charlotte.
The Reuters analysis also found that an immigration judge’s particular characteristics and situation can affect outcomes. Men are more likely than women to order deportation, as are judges who have worked as ICE prosecutors. The longer a judge has been serving, the more likely that judge is to grant asylum.
“These are life or death matters. … Whether you win or whether you lose shouldn’t depend on the roll of the dice of which judge gets your case.”
The findings underscore what academics and government watchdogs have long complained about U.S. immigration courts: Differences among judges and courts can render the system unfair and even inhumane.
“It is clearly troubling when you have these kinds of gross disparities,” said Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings School of the Law in San Francisco. “These are life or death matters. … Whether you win or whether you lose shouldn’t depend on the roll of the dice of which judge gets your case.”
EOIR spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly said the agency does not comment on external analyses of its data.
Devin O’Malley, a Department of Justice spokesman, challenged the Reuters analysis, citing “numerous conflicting statements, miscalculations, and other data errors,” but declined to elaborate further.
Immigration judges, appointed by the U.S. attorney general, are not authorized to speak on the record about cases.
Dana Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said each case is like “a 1,000 piece puzzle.” While two cases might look identical on the surface, she said, each judge has to weigh the nuances of immigration law to allow someone to stay in the country, which could lead to different outcomes.
The question of equality of treatment among judges has gained urgency as the number of cases in immigration court has ballooned to record highs. Under President Barack Obama, the courts began efforts to hire more immigration judges to reduce the system’s burgeoning backlog, which now stands at more than 620,000 cases, nearly 100,000 of them added since last December.
The administration of President Donald Trump is continuing the effort. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in April that the Justice Department planned to hire more than 50 judges this year and 75 in 2018, which would put the total number of sitting judges above 400.
Of the 28 immigration judges Sessions has appointed so far, 16 are former ICE prosecutors. That experience, the Reuters analysis found, makes them 23 percent more likely to order deportation. (Neither Holyoak nor Couch worked as an ICE prosecutor, according to their EOIR biographies.)
In a wish list of immigration proposals sent to Congress on Oct. 8, the White House said that “lax legal standards” had led to the immigration court backlog and that “misguided judicial decisions have prevented the removal of numerous criminal aliens, while also rendering those aliens eligible to apply for asylum.” Among the proposals offered in exchange for a deal with Congress on the roughly 800,000 “dreamers” – children brought to the country illegally by their parents – the Trump administration said it wanted to hire even more immigration judges and 1,000 ICE attorneys, while “establishing performance metrics for Immigration Judges.”
CRISIS AT THE BORDER
In 2014, an unprecedented 68,000 parents and children, most of them fleeing violence and lawlessness in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, crossed into the United States from Mexico – a refugee crisis that has contributed to the bloated backlog of asylum petitions. Many of the migrants, including Gutierrez and Ana, convinced initial interviewers that they had a “credible fear” of returning home, the first step in filing an asylum claim.
Having come from a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world may have helped establish “credible fear.” But the two women were already at a disadvantage – precisely because they came from Honduras.
Country of origin is a big factor in determining who gets to stay in the United States because immigrants from some countries are afforded special protections. For example, courts ruled in favor of Chinese immigrants 75 percent of the time, the Reuters analysis found. A 1996 law expanded the definition of political refugees to include people who are forced to abort a child or undergo sterilization, allowing Chinese women to claim persecution under Beijing’s coercive birth-control policies.
Hondurans enjoy no special considerations. They were allowed to stay in the United States in just 16 percent of cases, the Reuters analysis found.
The mass exodus from Central America was under way when Gutierrez and Ana were elected to the board of the parent-teacher association at their children’s school in spring 2013.
Two rival gangs – the Barrio 18 and the Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13 – were operating brazenly in the neighborhood. The year before, according to police records in Honduras, gang members killed a school security guard. Now, they were extorting teachers, selling drugs openly and assaulting or killing anyone who confronted them.
The new six-member association board set about trying to improve security at the school, which sits on a dirt road behind a high wall topped with razor wire.
“Before, no one wanted to say anything about the gangs,” Gutierrez said. “We were the brave ones. The previous president was a man, so we thought, ‘We are women, they won’t do anything to us.’ ”
The school’s principal, who asked that he and the school not be identified out of fear of retaliation, worked with the board. They had early success, he said, when they persuaded police to provide officers to guard the school. But the patrols left after a few weeks, probably intimidated by the gangs.
One evening in April 2014, Gutierrez was watching television at home with her two sons, ages 5 and 11, when she heard banging at the front door. Her older boy recognized the three armed and heavily tattooed young men on the stoop as the same ones who had thrown him to the ground earlier that day, telling him, not for the first time, that they wanted him to join their ranks. Now they had come to deliver a message to Gutierrez.
“They said they knew I was involved in the parents’ association,” Gutierrez said. “They said they would kill me and my children.
“I began to panic and shake,” she said. “I thought, ‘I have to go now. I am not going to risk my child’s life.’ ”
She quickly packed some backpacks for her and her children and called the only friend she knew who had a car. They drove all night to her friend’s mother’s house in another town.
“NO POLICE HERE”
Two months later, according to court documents, Ana was walking her 7-year-old daughter home from school when three members of a rival gang confronted them. Two of them grabbed Ana and her daughter, pinned their wrists behind their backs, and pointed a gun at the child’s head. The third pointed a gun at Ana’s head. They demanded that a payment of more than $5,000 be delivered in 24 hours, a huge sum for a woman who sold tortillas for a living.
Ana testified in her asylum hearing that she knew they were gang members “because they were dressed in baggy clothing and they also had ugly tattoos … all over their bodies and faces.”
Ana and her daughter ran home and then, fearing the gang would come after them, fled out the back door. “We had to jump over a wall, and I hurt my foot doing so,” she said in an affidavit. “I was desperate and knew that I had to leave – my daughter’s life and mine were in danger.”
The school principal said he understands why Gutierrez and Ana left Honduras. “Because there were no police here, (the gangs) did what they wanted,” he said. “They said, ‘We’re going to kill the members of the parent-teacher association to get them out of here.’ So the women fled.”
Gutierrez hid for two months at her friend’s mother’s house outside Tegucigalpa. She joined another woman and, with their children, they set out to cross Mexico. On the journey, they were kidnapped – common for Central American migrants – and held for a $3,500 ransom. Gutierrez contacted relatives who wired the money. The kidnappers released her and her two sons near the U.S. border.
There they piled with another group of migrants into an inflatable raft and crossed the Rio Grande, the border between Mexico and the United States. They landed near Hidalgo, Texas.
After walking for an hour and a half, lost and desperate, Gutierrez and her sons sat down in the middle of a dirt road and waited for someone to pass. Two officials in uniforms picked them up. They were eventually transferred to the ICE detention center in Artesia.
Ana fled with her daughter the night the gang members threatened them on the street. “We bought a bus pass to go to Guatemala and from Guatemala to Mexico and to the U.S.-Mexico border,” according to her court testimony. The journey took three weeks. In Mexico, she hired a coyote – a smuggler – to help them cross into the United States and then turned herself in to Border Patrol agents near Hidalgo. She arrived at the Artesia detention center just weeks after Gutierrez.
“The other women in the center told me that there was someone else from Honduras who I might know, but I wasn’t sure who they were talking about,” Gutierrez said. “And then one day we went to lunch, and there they were.”
Gutierrez said that was when she first learned that her fellow parent-teacher association board member had been threatened and had fled from home.
Volunteer lawyers helped the women prepare and submit their applications for asylum.
In late 2014, the two women were released on bond. Gutierrez moved with her boys to Oakland, California, to join her husband, and petitioned to have her case moved to San Francisco. Ana moved with her daughter to live with her daughter’s father and petitioned to have her case moved to Charlotte.
“ASYLUM FREE ZONES”
Many immigrants released on bond before their cases are heard have no idea that where they settle could make the difference between obtaining legal status and deportation.
People familiar with the system are well aware of the difference. When Theodore Murphy, a former ICE prosecutor who now represents immigrants, has a client in a jurisdiction with a high deportation rate but near one with a lower rate, “I tell them to move,” he said.
The Charlotte court that would hear Ana’s case was one of five jurisdictions labeled “asylum free zones” by a group of immigrant advocates in written testimony last December before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The courts in Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas and Atlanta also received the designation.
The advocates testified that, while asylum is granted in nearly half of cases nationwide, Charlotte judges granted asylum in just 13 percent of cases in 2015. The Charlotte court was singled out for displaying a particular “bias against Central American gang and gender-related asylum claims.”
Couch is the toughest of Charlotte’s three immigration judges, according to the Reuters analysis.
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research organization at Syracuse University in New York, first sounded the alarm about disparities in immigration court decisions in 2006. The next year, researchers at Temple University and Georgetown Law School concluded in a study titled “Refugee Roulette” that “in many cases, the most important moment in an asylum case is the instant in which a clerk randomly assigns an application to a particular asylum officer or immigration judge.” In 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found similar disparities in its own study.
In response to the rising criticism, the Executive Office for Immigration Review began tracking decisions to identify judges with unusually high or low rates of granting asylum. Mattingly, the EOIR spokeswoman, said the agency held training sessions for judges to address the disparities in 2008 and 2009. It then created a system for the public to file complaints against immigration judges.
In a 2016 report, the GAO found that little had changed. EOIR held a two-day training session last year. There is no training on the 2017 calendar.
From 2012 to 2016, EOIR received 624 complaints against judges. The 138 complaints lodged in 2016 alone included allegations of bias, as well as concerns about due process and judges’ conduct within the courtroom. Of the 102 complaints that had been resolved when the data were published, only three resulted in discipline, defined as “reprimand” or “suspension” of the judge. “Corrective actions” such as counseling or training were taken in 39 cases. Close to half the complaints were dismissed.
The agency does not identify judges who were the subjects of complaints.
Mattingly, the EOIR spokeswoman, said the agency “takes seriously any claims of unjustified and significant anomalies in immigration judge decision-making and takes steps to evaluate disparities in immigration adjudications.”
DAY IN COURT
Asylum applicants cannot gain legal U.S. residency because they fled their countries in mortal fear of civil strife or rampant crime or a natural disaster. They must convince the court that they have well-founded fears of persecution in their country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinions or membership in a particular social group. The definition of a “particular social group” has been subject to conflicting interpretations in the courts, but in general, such a group comprises people who share basic beliefs or traits that can’t or shouldn’t have to be changed.
In the San Francisco court, Gutierrez’s lawyers argued that she qualified for asylum because as a leader of the parent-teacher association, she was at risk for her political opinion – her stand against gangs – and for belonging to a particular social group of Hondurans opposed to gang violence and recruitment in schools. The lawyers also argued that she was part of another particular social group as the family member of someone under threat, since the gangs had terrorized her son in trying to recruit him.
Holyoak was convinced. Gutierrez told Reuters that during her final hearing, the judge apologized for asking so many questions about what had been a painful time in her life, explaining that he had needed to establish her credibility.
In the Charlotte court, Ana’s lawyer focused more narrowly on her political opinion, arguing that she was at risk of persecution for her opposition to gangs in her position on the parent-teacher association board.
After hearing Ana’s case, Couch concluded in his written opinion that Ana was not eligible for asylum because she had “not demonstrated a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of a statutorily protected ground.” He wasn’t convinced that she risked persecution in Honduras because of her political opinion.
Well-established law recognizes family as a protected social group, according to the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies. Cases that claim opposition to gangs as a protected political opinion, the center says, have generated fewer precedent-setting decisions, making that argument a more difficult one to win in court, though it has prevailed in some cases.
Ana’s response to Couch’s extensive questioning played a part in the decision. In immigration court, the asylum seeker is typically the only witness. As a result, “credibility is really the key factor. Persecutors don’t give affidavits,” said Andrew Arthur, a former immigration judge who now works at the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit organization that supports lower levels of immigration.
Couch wrote in his opinion that Ana’s difficulty recounting the names of the women on the association board weighed against her credibility. He noted that she testified about her fears of the gang “with a flat affect and little emotion,” displaying a “poor demeanor” that “did not support her credibility.”
The judge also questioned why, in an early interview with an asylum officer, Ana never mentioned threats to the parent-teacher association, and instead said she thought the gangs were targeting her for the money her daughter’s father was sending from the United States to build a house in Honduras.
Ana’s assertion that she learned from Gutierrez in detention about gang threats to the parent-teacher association was not “persuasive,” Couch wrote. “The evidence indicates this is a case of criminal extortion that the respondent attempts to fashion into an imputed political opinion claim.”
“SOMEONE WANTS TO KILL THEM”
Gutierrez said Ana told her in one of their occasional phone conversations that she felt intimidated by the intense questioning of the ICE attorney. Gutierrez also said her friend “is very forgetful. … It’s not that she is lying. It’s just that she forgets things.”
Lisa Knox, the lawyer who represented Gutierrez, said judges where she practices tend to give applicants the benefit of the doubt. “They have more understanding of trauma survivors and the difficulty they might have in recounting certain details and little discrepancies,” she said.
Further, Knox said, asylum seekers aren’t thinking about the finer points of U.S. asylum law when they are fleeing persecution. “People show up in our office (and) they have no idea why someone wants to kill them. They just know someone wants to kill them.”
Ana’s lawyer appealed her case to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the first step in the appellate process. This time, her lawyer included arguments about her membership in a particular social group. She lost. In a three-page ruling, one board member said Ana’s lawyer could not introduce a new argument on appeal and agreed with Couch that Ana hadn’t proved a political motive behind the gang members’ attack.
Ana missed the deadline to appeal the BIA decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because her lawyer confused the deadline. She petitioned the BIA through new lawyers to reopen her case and send it back to the immigration court to allow her to present new evidence of her persecution. The new lawyers argued that her previous representation had been ineffective.
In July, the BIA granted Ana the right to a rehearing in immigration court, sending her case back to Charlotte, where it could be heard again by Couch.
Gutierrez can live and work legally in the United States and will ultimately be able to apply for citizenship. The 43-year-old, who worked as a nurse in Honduras, lives in a small one-bedroom apartment with her husband, her two sons – now 15 and 8 – her adult daughter and her grandson. She works as an office janitor and is taking English classes. Her boys are in school. The older one, once threatened by gangs in Honduras, likes studying history and math and is learning to play the cello.
Ana, 31, has had a baby since arriving in the United States and has been granted work authorization while she awaits a final decision on her case. She and her lawyers declined to share more detailed information about her situation because she remains fearful of the gangs in Honduras.
“I am very worried about her,” Gutierrez said. “The situation in our country is getting worse and worse.”
Last February, a 50-year-old woman and her 29-year-old son who were selling food at the school Gutierrez and Ana’s children attended were kidnapped from their home and decapitated, according to police records.
The head of the son was placed on the body of the mother and the head of the mother was placed on the body of the son. The murders, like more than 93 percent of crimes in Honduras, remain unsolved.
Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia and Kristina Cooke
A not-quite-independent judiciary
U.S. immigration courts are administrative courts within the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review. Unlike federal court judges, whose authority stems from the U.S. Constitution’s establishment of an independent judicial branch, immigration judges fall under the executive branch and thus are hired, and can be fired, by the attorney general.
More than 300 judges are spread among 58 U.S. immigration courts in 27 states, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. Cases are assigned to an immigration court based on where the immigrant lives. Within each court, cases are assigned to judges on a random, rotational basis.
The courts handle cases to determine whether an individual should be deported. Possible outcomes include asylum; adjustments of status; stay of deportation; and deportation. Decisions can be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, an administrative body within the Department of Justice. From there, cases can be appealed to federal appeals court.
The Federal Bar Association and the National Association of Immigration Judges have endorsed the idea of creating an immigration court system independent of the executive branch. The Government Accountability Office studied some proposals for reform in 2017, without endorsing any particular model.
By Mica Rosenberg in Oakland, California, and Reade Levinson and Ryan McNeill in New York, with additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco
Data: Reade Levinson and Ryan McNeill
Graphics: Ashlyn Still
Photo editing: Steve McKinley and Barbara Adhiya
Video: Zachary Goelman
Design: Jeff Magness
Edited by Sue Horton, Janet Roberts and John Blanton”
Go to the link at the beginning to get the full benefit of the “interactive” features of this report on Reuters.
Also, here is an interactive presentation on the Trump Administration’s overall immigration policies:
Interesting to note that the Arlington Immigration Court, where I sat for 13 years, has one of the most consistent “grant rates” in the country, ranging from approximately 54% to 60% grants. Compare that with the Charlotte Immigration Court at 11% to 28% grants within the same judicial circuit (the Fourth Circuit). Something is seriously wrong here. And, Jeff Sessions has absolutely no intent of solving it except by pushing for 100% denials everywhere! That’s the very definition of a “Kangaroo Court!”
It’s time for an Article I Court. But, not sure it will happen any time soon. Meanwhile Sessions is making a mockery out of justice in the Immigration Courts just as he has in many other parts of the U.S. Justice system.
“The Department of Justice (DOJ) is reportedly intending to implement numerical quotas on Immigration Judges as a way of evaluating their performance. This move would undermine judicial independence, threaten the integrity of the immigration court system, and cause massive due process violations.
As it currently stands, Immigration Judges are not rated based on the number of cases they complete within a certain time frame. The DOJ – currently in settlement negotiations with the union for immigration judges, the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) – is now trying to remove those safeguards, declaring a need to accelerate deportations to reduce the court’s case backlog and ensure more individuals are deported.
This move is unprecedented, as immigration judges have been exempt from performance evaluations tied to case completion rates for over two decades. According to the NAIJ, the basis for the exemption was “rooted in the notion that ratings created an inherent risk of actual or perceived influence by supervisors on the work of judges, with the potential of improperly affecting the outcome of cases.”
If case completion quotas are imposed, Immigration Judges will be pressured to adjudicate cases more quickly, unfairly fast-tracking the deportation of those with valid claims for relief. Asylum seekers may need more time to obtain evidence that will strengthen their case or find an attorney to represent them. Only 37 percent of all immigrants (and merely 14 percent of detained immigrants) are able to secure legal counsel in their removal cases, even though immigrants with attorneys fare much better at every stage of the court process.
If judges feel compelled to dispose of cases quickly decreasing the chances that immigrants will be able to get an attorney, immigrants will pay the price, at incredible risk to their livelihood.
The Justice Department has expressed concern in recent weeks about the enormous backlog of 600,000 cases pending before the immigration courts and may see numerical quotas as an easy fix. Just this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called on Congress to tighten up rules for people seeking to “game” the system by exploiting loopholes in a “broken” and extremely backlogged process. However, punishing immigration judges with mandatory quotas is not the solution.
The announcement, however, has sparked condemnation by immigration judges and attorneys alike; in fact, the national IJ Union maintains that such a move means “trying to turn immigration judges into assembly-line workers.”
Tying the number of cases completed to the evaluation of an individual immigration judge’s performance represents the administration’s latest move to accelerate deportations at the expense of due process. Judges may be forced to violate their duty to be fair and impartial in deciding their cases.”
The backlog problems in U.S. Immigration Court have nothing to do with “low productivity” by U.S. Immigration Judges.
It’s a result of a fundamentally flawed system created by Congress, years of inattention and ineffective oversight by Congress, political interference by the DOJ with court dockets and scheduling, years of “ADR,” and glaringly incompetent so-called judicial management by DOJ. There are “too many chefs stirring the pot” and too few “real cooks” out there doing the job.
The DOJ’s inappropriate “Vatican style” bureaucracy has produced a bloated and detached central administrative staff trying unsuccessfully to micromanage a minimalist, starving court system in a manner that keeps enforcement-driven politicos happy and, therefore, their jobs intact.
How could a court system set up in this absurd manner possibly “guarantee fairness and due process for all?” It can’t, and has stopped even pretending to be focused on that overriding mission! And what competence would Jeff Sessions (who was turned down for a Federal judgeship by members of his own party because of his record of bias) and administrators at EOIR HQ in Falls Church, who don’t actually handle Immigration Court dockets on a regular basis, have to establish “quotas” for those who do? No, it’s very obvious that the “quotas” will be directed at only one goal: maximizing removals while minimizing due process
When EOIR was established during the Reagan Administration the DOJ recognized that case completion quotas would interfere with judicial independence. What’s changed in the intervening 34 years?
Two things have changed: 1) the overtly political climate within the DOJ which now sees the Immigration Courts as part of the immigration enforcement apparatus (as it was before EOIR was created); and 2) the huge backlogs resulting from years of ADR, “inbreeding,” and incompetent management by the DOJ. This, in turn, requires the DOJ to find “scapegoats” like Immigration Judges, asylum applicants, unaccompanied children, and private attorneys to shift the blame for their own inappropriate behavior and incompetent administration of the Immigration Courts.
In U.S. Government parlance, there’s a term for that: fraud, waste, and abuse!
“The Trump administration is taking steps to impose “numeric performance standards” on federal immigration judges, drawing a sharp rebuke from judges who say production quotas or similar measures will threaten judicial independence, as well as their ability to decide life-or-death deportation cases.
The White House says it aims to reduce an “enormous” backlog of 600,000 cases, triple the number in 2009, that cripples its ability to deport immigrants as President Trump mandated in January.
The National Association of Immigration Judges called the move unprecedented and says it will be the “death knell for judicial independence” in courts where immigrants such as political dissidents, women fleeing violence and children plead their cases to stay in the United States.
“That is a huge, huge, huge encroachment on judicial independence,” said Dana Leigh Marks, spokeswoman and former president of the association and a judge for more than 30 years. “It’s trying to turn immigration judges into assembly-line workers.”
The White House tucked its proposal — a six-word statement saying it wants to “establish performance metrics for immigration judges” — into a broader package of immigration reforms it rolled out Sunday night.
But other documents obtained by The Washington Post show that the Justice Department “intends to implement numeric performance standards to evaluate Judge performance.”
The Justice Department, which runs the courts through the Executive Office for Immigration Review, declined to comment or otherwise provide details about the numeric standards.
The Justice Department has expressed concern about the backlog and discouraged judges from letting cases drag on too long, though it has insisted that they decide the cases fairly and follow due process. On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed concern that false asylum cases are clogging up the courts.
The judges’ union says its current contract language prevents the government from rating them based on the number of cases they complete or the time it takes to decide them.
But now, they say, the department is trying to rescind that language, and advocates say it could violate a federal regulation that requires judges to “exercise their independent judgment and discretion” when deciding cases.
Advocates and immigration lawyers say imposing numerical expectations on judges unfairly faults them for the massive backlog. Successive administrations have expanded immigration enforcement without giving the courts enough money or judges to decide cases in a timely way, they say. An average case for a non-detained immigrant can drag on for more than two years, though some last much longer.
“Immigration judges should have one goal and that goal should be the fair adjudication of cases,” said Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center, a nonprofit that provides legal services and advocacy to immigrants nationwide. “That’s the only metric that should count.”
Immigration lawyers say the proposed standards risk adding to disadvantages immigrants already face in immigration courts. Most defendants do not speak English as their first language if at all, are not entitled to lawyers at the government’s expense, and thousands end up trying to defend themselves.
Often immigrants are jailed and given hearings in remote locations, such as rural Georgia or Upstate New York, which makes it difficult to gather records and witnesses needed to bring a case.
“People’s lives are at risk in immigration court cases, and to force judges to complete cases under a rapid time frame is going to undermine the ability of those judges to make careful, well thought-out decisions,” said Gregory Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which has 15,000 members.
Traditional federal judges are not subject to quotas.
The rare public dispute between the immigration judges and the Justice Department comes as the Trump administration is demanding a commitment to increased enforcement and other immigration restrictions in exchange for legal status for 690,000 young undocumented immigrants who, until recently, were protected from deportation under an Obama-era program. Sessions announced the end of the program last month, and the young immigrants will start to lose their work permits and other protections in March.
In January, Trump issued a slate of executive orders that sought to crack down on immigration. He revoked President Barack Obama’s limits on enforcement and effectively exposed all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States to arrest.
On Sunday, Trump also called for more immigration-enforcement lawyers and more detention beds, which would further increase the caseloads of the courts.
The big stories and commentary shaping the day.
He is also planning to seek congressional funding for an additional 370 immigration judges, which would more than double the current number.
Immigration arrests are up more than 40 percent since Trump took office, and deportation orders are also rising. From Feb. 1 to August 31, judges have issued 88,383 rulings, and in the majority of cases — 69,160 — immigrants were deported or ordered to voluntarily leave the country, a 36 percent increase over the corresponding period in 2016.
The immigration courts have clamored for greater independence from the Justice Department for years and also have sought greater control over their budget. They have long complained about a lack of funding, burnout rates that rival that of prison wardens, and caseloads exceeding 2,000 each. Some judges are scheduling cases into 2022.
On Sunday, Sessions — who appoints the immigration judges and is the court’s highest authority — called the White House’s broad immigration proposals “reasonable.”
“If followed, it will produce an immigration system with integrity and one in which we can take pride,” he said.”
Will the stunningly xenophobic “Gonzo Apocalypto” get away with his lawless plan to strip migrants of the last vestiges of their already restricted Constitutional rights to due process? Or, will the Article III Courts step in, assert themselves, insist on due process and fair and impartial adjudication in Immigration Court, and throw the already staggering Immigration Court System into complete collapse, thereby stopping the “Removal Railway?”
The showdown is coming. I think the eventual outcome is “too close to call.” So far, Sessions is well on his way to co-opting the Immigration Court as just another “whistle stop on the Removal Railway!”
The current backlog has multiple causes: 1) failure of Congress and the DOJ to properly fund and staff the U.S. Immigration Courts; 2) poor enforcement strategies by DHS resulting in too many “low priority” cases on the dockets; 3) often politicized, always changing, sometimes conflicting “case priorities and goals” established by DOJ and EOIR; 4) lack of authority for Immigration Judges to control their own dockets; 5) outdated technology resulting in a “paper heavy” system where documents are often misfiled or missing from the record when needed by the Judges; and 6) “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” caused by moving cases around to fit DHS Enforcement priorities and ill-conceived and poorly planned details of Immigration Judges away from their normal dockets. “Productivity,” which consistently far exceeds the “optimal” 500 completions per Judge annually (currently approximately 770 per Judge) is not one of the primary factors causing the backlog.
Overall, the current backlog is the product of mismanagement of the Immigration Courts by the DOJ spanning multiple Administrations. No wonder the politos at the Sessions DOJ are trying to shift blame to the Immigration Judges, hapless migrants struggling to achieve justice in an “intentionally user unfriendly system,” and stressed out private attorneys, many serving pro bono or for minimal compensation. How would YOU like to be a migrant fighting for your life in a so-called “court system” beholden to Jeff Sessions?
We’re starting to look pretty “Third World.” Sessions and the rest of the “Trump Gang” operate much like corrupt Government officials in “Third World” countries where the rulers control the courts, manipulation of the justice system for political ends is SOP, and claims to aspire to “fairness” ring hollow.
“In Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, mammoth hurricanes have left behind a colossal amount of work. The cleanup and reconstruction efforts are going to take years. That means a severe demand for salvage and demolition crews, roofers, carpenters, IMMIGRANT workers at a makeshift camp in Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. (Marcio Jose Sanchez Associated Press) drywall installers, painters, plumbers and workers in all manner of other trades and skills. And if recent history tells us anything, much of this demand will be met by immigrants — migrant laborers, many of them highly skilled, and many of them lacking legal status.
. . . .
This wasn’t a problem only for immigrants. As long as labor was exploitable and cheap, American-born workers and local businesses suffered too, as conditions and wages slid toward rock bottom.
If we had a federal government sensitive to these issues, the solution would be a moratorium on immigration enforcement in disaster zones. This would ensure that the rebuilders could keep working, and that those depending on them could return home as soon as possible. Given the Trump administration’s relentless attacks on immigrants, there’s little hope for this sensible fix. In the absence of such a moratorium, governors and mayors should insist that federal labor laws be enforced in these areas while reconstruction is underway. Labor laws guarantee workers payment, safe working conditions and the ability to report mistreatment, among other things.
When workers are vulnerable and afraid, aware that their immigration status can be used against them, they are easy targets for abuse. They know that one complaint could mean a quick call to immigration. Their fear of being deported and losing everything shackles them to bad employers.
. . . .
Diaz and the other workers organized, protesting the discrimination and illegal treatment. In retaliation, the employer evicted them without compensation. When they demanded their pay, the employer called local police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which arrested the workers immediately. After spending 78 days in jail, Diaz convinced the district attorney that the workers had been the victim of employer retaliation. The D.A. withdrew the charges, but ICE still detained the workers and sought to deport them.
These abuses, and the exploitation that took place after Katrina, occurred during the George W. Bush administration, which supported comprehensive immigration reform. The climate of fear is far worse today, with agents and officers from ICE and the Border Patrol running roughshod over immigrant communities, goaded by President Trump’s toxic rhetoric.
Nevertheless, immigrants will still risk their lives to come here. Their need is that dire — and our demand is that urgent. The credit rating company Moody’s estimates that the damage from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma could total $150 billion to $200 billion — considerably more than the $108 billion or so in damage left by Katrina. Irma destroyed an estimated 25% of homes in the Florida Keys. In Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, more than 136,000 homes and other structures were flooded by Harvey. In the aftermath of these disasters, there has been talk of rebuilding homes and cities with greater attention to long-term sustainability and resilience.
Some have even called for a “green New Deal” that marries these goals with stronger social safety nets for storm victims. This worthy vision can and should take into account the people who are doing the rebuilding, making sure they are safe, secure and paid a fair wage. And that means starting with meaningful protections for the immigrant workers who help storm victims return home.
Saket Soni is executive director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice and the National Guestworker Alliance
Read the entire report at the above link.
Just another example of how White Nationalist inspired “Gonzo Enforcement” is not only wasteful, impractical, and inhumane, but also just plain dumb! The Trump Administration degrades America and our values with each day it is in office. When your “worldview” is driven by prejudice, bias, and political pandering, you’re bound to make lots of bad decisions!
“Washington (CNN)Democrats are raising alarms that more than a quarter of eligible recipients under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program have not yet filed to renew their status ahead of Thursday’s deadline.
According to data provided Wednesday by a senior Democratic congressional staffer and confirmed to CNN by US Citizenship and Immigration Services, 42,669 individuals nationwide — or 27.7% of the 154,234 people eligible — had not submitted their applications. That was slightly down from roughly 48,000 that the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday hadn’t yet submitted.
When President Donald Trump announced the end of the program, known as DACA, a month ago, he put in place a six-month delay on expiring protections by allowing any recipient whose DACA expires by March 5 until Thursday to apply for a two-year renewal. Otherwise, the program that protects young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation will begin to end on March 5, as the two-year permits of nearly 700,000 active protectees begin to run out.
Democrats have repeatedly implored DHS to extend the deadline, saying one month to gather paperwork — and the roughly $500 application fee — is not long enough for those affected.
Trump sketches out DACA deal with Republicans at White House dinner
They’ve been especially critical of DHS for not making special consideration for DACA recipients in states hit by hurricanes Irma and Harvey, though DHS did announce Tuesday it would make case-by-case decisions for recipients in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands affected by Maria.
The frustration bubbled up at a Senate hearing Tuesday, where Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin cited considerations the Internal Revenue Service was making for Texas, Louisiana and Florida residents.
“May I implore you, implore you, to do the same thing at DHS that our own Internal Revenue Service is doing,” Durbin said to the DHS officials testifying. “If it’s good enough for our tax collectors to have a heart, isn’t it good enough for DHS to have a heart?”
Senators’ frustration with Trump on DACA bubbles up at hearing
According to the Wednesday data, more than 2,600 of eligible recipients in Texas had yet to submit renewals, 28% of the total eligible in that state. In Florida, more than 2,000, or 35% of those eligible, had yet to renew. In the US islands hit by Irma, 16 of the 37 eligible hadn’t yet renewed.
Democrats have also been frustrated with DHS over its notification process, saying without individual notifications to those eligible for renewal, the administration should extend the deadline.
“We are very concerned that because DACA recipients were not individually notified of their eligibility for renewal, tens of thousands of DACA recipients could lose their work authorization and DACA status protections,” Congressional Hispanic Caucus leaders wrote in a letter to acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke on Tuesday repeating a request to meet about extending the deadline.
Trump said he was putting in place the six-month window to give Congress a sense of urgency to put the Obama administration executive action into law.
But despite Tuesday’s hearing, multiple working groups and meetings the President has had with lawmakers at the White House, little substantive progress has been made.
The fault lines have remained consistent. Democrats support the bipartisan Dream Act that would protect eligible young immigrants who arrived as children and put them on a path to citizenship. They say they could accept border security as a compromise with it, but insist they will not vote for anything that could put the families and friends of those protected at greater risk of deportation.
DACA deal: A list of just some of the things that could go wrong
But Republicans are also insistent that any DACA deal must include border security and likely immigration enforcement measures, and the more conservative members of the party are suggesting policies — like mandatory worker verification, cuts to the legal immigration system and expanded deportation authority — that would be almost impossible to get Democrats to agree to.
Any solution would likely have to include Democrats, as they’ll be needed for passage in the Senate and to make up for Republicans in the House who would never vote for any DACA deal. But House Speaker Paul Ryan has also pledged not to move any bill that doesn’t get the votes of a majority of Republicans, limiting the options.
Durbin was joined on Tuesday at the hearing by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, in urging lawmakers and the White House to not try to concoct too big a compromise. Tillis has sponsored legislation similar to Durbin’s Dream Act that he bills as a conservative DACA solution.
Responding to a wish list articulated by a DHS senior staff member testifying about the White House’s aims, Tillis grew frustrated and urged members to focus on a narrow deal as a starting point.
“It reads like a laundry list for comprehensive immigration reform, and if Congress has proven an extraordinary ability to do anything, it’s to fail at comprehensive immigration reform,” Tillis said.”
Bad news on all fronts for Dreamers, and for America. Over at the White House, notorious White Nationalist xenophobe racist and Sessions confidante Stephen Miller is plotting to destroy any chance of compromise legislation to aid Dreamers by attaching reductions in legal Immigraton and other parts of the White Nationalist agenda to the bill.
“The White House is finalizing a plan to demand hard-line immigration reforms in exchange for supporting a fix on the DACA program, according to three people familiar with the talks — an approach that risks alienating Democrats and even many Republicans, potentially tanking any deal.
The White House proposal is being crafted by Stephen Miller, the administration’s top immigration adviser, and includes cutting legal immigration by half over the next decade, an idea that’s already been panned by lawmakers in both parties.
The principles would likely be a political non-starter for Democrats and infuriate Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who have negotiated with President Donald Trump on immigration and left a White House meeting last month indicating a solution was near. They could also divide Republicans, many of whom oppose cutting legal immigration.
Miller was upset after Trump’s dinner last month with Schumer and Pelosi and has been working since to bring the president back to the tougher stance he took during his campaign.
Miller has begun talking with Hill aides and White House officials about the principles in recent days. The administration is expected to send its immigration wish-list to Congress in the coming days, perhaps as soon as this weekend, said the people familiar with the plan, who include two administration officials. They requested anonymity to discuss the ongoing negotiations.
A White House official cautioned that the plans have not been finalized and could still change. Miller didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Unless they change dramatically from their current form, the immigration principles could short-circuit congressional negotiations aimed at finding a fix to DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — the Obama-era initiative that grants work permits to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors.
“Handing Stephen Miller the pen on any DACA deal after the revolt from their base is the quickest way to blow it up,” said a senior Democratic Senate aide.
Lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol panned an earlier White House immigration proposal spearheaded by Miller, the RAISE Act, when the White House rolled it out in August. Republicans including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ron Johnson .)of Wisconsin all but declared the proposal dead on arrival.
Trump announced last month that he would end the DACA program, but he said he’d give Congress six months to come up with a legislative solution.
Despite Trump’s efforts to make nice with Schumer and Pelosi, Republican lawmakers signaled this week that the president is prepared to demand tough immigration measures as part of the negotiations.
In addition to provisions in the RAISE Act, the White House’s immigration principles also include parts of the Davis-Oliver Act, including measures that would give state and local law enforcement power to enforce immigration laws, allow states to write their own immigration laws and expand criminal penalties for entering the U.S. illegally.
The principles would also incorporate a provision from the Davis-Oliver Act that puts the onus on Congress to designate Temporary Protected Status, which allows immigrants to temporarily stay in the United States because they are unable to return to their home country as a result of a natural disaster or other dangerous circumstances.
The Davis-Oliver Act gives Congress 90 days to approve a measure extending TPS protections to a foreign state. If Congress does not act, the designation will be terminated. Lawmakers have raised concerns that Congress will be unable to agree on the designations, effectively killing the program.
In addition, the principles call for billions of dollars in border security, as well as money for detention beds and more immigration judges, according to the people familiar with them. Republicans are likely to support those moves.”
Miller’s proposals are right out of the White Nationalist restrictionist playbook. It will be a non-starter for Democrats. Additionally, no decent human being of any party should ever be associated, in any way, with any idea emanating from the arrogant racist Miller.
If Miller is involved, Dreamer relief is DOA. That means that Dreamers are likely to be left to fight out their future one case at a time in the Federal Courts and in the Immigraton Courts. Given the existing 630,000+ case backlog in the U.S. Imigration Courts, and the relatively cumbersome process for restoring “Dreamer” cases to the Immigraton Court Docket, not many will actually be removed from the United States before 2000.
I also think that Dreamers will have a reasonable chance of succeeding in the Article III Courts in barring DHS from relying on any evidence furnished as part of the DACA application and interview process as evidence of removability. That’s likely to throw a further monkey wrench into any enforcement initiative aimed at Dreamers.
So, the best strategy might prove to be working hard to remove the Trump regime and enough White Nationalist GOPers through the ballot box to create a climate for reasonable immigraton reform in 2021.
Sad, but probably true. A country that mistreats its youth in this manner can expect “very bad things” to happen in the future.
“Washington (CNN)Sending immigration judges to the border has resulted in thousands of more cases being handled, the Justice Department announced Wednesday, though a substantial backlog in the immigration courts remain.
The Justice Department released new statistics on Wednesday touting the effects of reassigning more than 100 immigration judges to the southern border, saying it has resulted in 2,700 more cases being completed than would have otherwise.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which manages the Justice Department’s immigration court system, estimated that the judges moved to the border completed significantly more cases than if they had remained at home, and completed 21% more cases than judges historically assigned to those areas as their home courts.
Still, the 2,700-case-increase remains a drop in the bucket compared to the backlog in the immigration courts, which are separate from the broader criminal justice and civil law system and have different rules.
According to data from Syracuse University’s TRAC system, the authority for tracking the backlog, there were more than 630,000 cases pending for fiscal year 2017 through the end of August, with more than 100,000 each in Texas and California.
The backlog of pending cases is a major contributor to issues with immigration enforcement and illegal immigration. When undocumented immigrants are caught and processed to have their cases adjudicated, they can receive court dates years in the future. Unable for legal and resource reasons to detain people indefinitely, the government paroles many of those individuals until their court dates, leaving them to establish lives in the US for years before potentially being ordered to be deported.
DOJ released the statistics on the heels of an investigation by Politico Magazine that found some reassigned judges with unfilled dockets and little to do. Citing internal DOJ documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request as well as judge interviews, Politico Magazine reported underworked judges and 22,000 postponed cases in their home courts.
Wednesday’s announcement seemed to rebut that report, citing progress the Justice Department had seen made.
“EOIR is pleased with the results of the surge of immigration judges to detention facilities and the potential impact it has on the pending caseload nationwide,” said acting Director James McHenry in a statement. “The Justice Department will continue to identify ways in which it can further improve immigration judge productivity without compromising due process.”
President Donald Trump’s executive orders have called for dealing with the bottlenecked immigration courts, including by reassigning judges and hiring more judges and attorneys. His administration is also looking at whether technology, such as video conferencing, can help.”
Without actually seeing the raw data, which apparently has not yet been released to the public, it’s hard to assess the accuracy of the DOJ/EOIR “victory dance.” So far, all of these “improvements” do not seem to have resulted in a decrease in overall Immigration Court backlogs. And, the “technology'” of video conferencing, cited by Director McHenry, is hardly “new” even at EOIR. For example, the Arlington Immigration Court has been doing all detained cases by televideo since approximately 2004. So, it’s difficult to see how “televideo technology” is going to make a material dent in the administrative problems facing the Immigration Courts. But, we’ll see. If nothing else, seems that the reports on ADR and details “got the attention” of the folks at DOJ and Falls Church.
And, even assuming that these stats eventually support EOIR’s claim, it still neither explains nor justifies detailing Immigration Judges to locations where they were not fully occupied at a time when the backlog was building.
As part of a joint six-month investigation, NBC-owned television stations across the country interviewed retired and current immigration judges, some of whom said the backlog is threatening to overwhelm the court
By Chris Glorioso, Dave Manney, Erica Jorgensen and Evan Stulberger
Documents from the Trump administration show the president’s plan to ship more immigration judges for temporary assignments in border states is encountering a fundamental problem: there isn’t enough work for all the new judges to do.
According to an assessment of “Surge Hearing Locations,” dated April 4, 2017, the Department of Justice found six of the 17 immigration courts receiving transferred judges could not give those judges enough work to support a full docket.
INVESTIGATIVE’Phantom’ Judges Cause Confusion in NYC Immigration Court
In the assessment and supporting documents, DOJ staffers wrote about an immigration court in Karnes, Texas, where there was “concern regarding the lack of filings to sustain details from other courts”
Immigration: Crisis in the Courts
An overview on how immigration judges are struggling with a punishing backlog that in many cities is pushing cases far into the future, slowing deportations and leaving families in limbo.
The same assessment says another court in Texas’s Prairieland Detention Center “is not receiving enough cases to truly fill a docket or even come close to it.”
At the court inside Texas’s Dilly Family Residential Center, DOJ staffers wrote “the one judge detailed there is not occupied.”
At New Mexico’s Cibola County Detention Center, DOJ staffers found the caseload “has not been sufficient to keep the two immigration judges assigned to this docket occupied.”
Staffers also noted two empty courtrooms at New Mexico’s Otero immigration facility — and concluded there were “insufficient caseloads for further deployments.”
Scheduling records show the Justice Department repeatedly assigned five transferred judges to the immigration court in Louisiana’s LaSalle Detention Facility, even though an assessment of the court found “at this time there is not enough work for five judges. There is enough work for a reasonable docket and three judges.”
The report went on to conclude that inefficient transferring of detainees often means “there is very little work for a detailed judge to complete.”
In most cases, the transferred judges spend two weeks to a month hearing cases in out-of-state court.
The Department of Justice declined to comment for this story, but in response to a previous inquiry by Politico, an agency spokesman said “After the initial deployment, an assessment was done to determine appropriate locations to increase the adjudication of immigration court cases without compromising due process.”
While transferred judges may have had light workloads when they arrived in some of the border state courts, there is evidence the dockets they left behind suffered in their home courts.
A joint analysis by the News 4 I-Team and Telemundo 47 Investiga found case adjournments in New York City’s immigration court went up 276 percent — from an average of 139 adjournments in the three months before the judge transfers began, to 522 in the three months after judge transfers began.
Despite that, the Trump administration has increased its target from 50 judge reassignments, to at least 137 nationwide. Nineteen New York City immigration judges — more than half of the city’s 32-judge staff – participated in the temporary transfer program.
Olga Byrne, an advocate for refugees at Human Rights First, a nonprofit that represents asylum-seekers in court, said immigration attorneys at her organization have noticed the spike in adjournments and questioned whether judicial assignments border state assignments are worth the trouble.
“We’ve been in touch with a couple of judges who have expressed a lot of frustration about being sent to a detention center where they could take a long lunch break,” said Byrne. “They had only a few cases to consider for a whole week and yet they had to defer hundreds of cases from their docket in their home court.”
But it is clear the Trump Administration knew its decision to deploy more judges to border states would likely have negative impacts on dockets those judges leave behind in their home states.
In response to questions from U.S. Senate staffers, a DOJ memo concedes that “it is likely that the case backlog will increase for the locations from which an Immigration Judge is assigned.”
In New York City alone, there are more than 82,000 immigrants waiting for a court hearing. The average wait time is north of two and a half years. Nationwide, the immigration case backlog stands at more than 617,000.
Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D – Upper Manhattan), who came to America as an undocumented immigrant, said he fears the Trump administration is over-staffing border state courts to rapidly deport current border-crossers, while ignoring the population of non-detained immigrants who’ve been living and working in America’s big cities, hoping for a shot at citizenship for years.
“By shifting judges to the border, they are in fact maybe predicting that there will be lots of cases before them in those jurisdictions,” Espaillat said. “I am concerned this is part of a greater effort to put together a deportation machine – and proceed to arrest and deport thousands of people who are undocumented.”
This isn’t the first time a presidential initiative has been criticized for mucking up immigration court schedules and exacerbating the nationwide case backlog.
During the Obama Administration, the Justice Department launched an effort to prioritize court hearings for unaccompanied minors who enter the country illegally.
Byrne says that too was a political decision which negatively impacted the court’s ability to handle thousands of older cases languishing in the backlog.
“It’s not a new thing that they are basically fulfilling political objectives with the way that the immigration court dockets are managed,” Byrne said. “I think we should be equally critical of both [the Trump and Obama administrations] for using the immigration court to fulfill political objectives rather than focusing on making that court system work well and efficiently.”
Source: I-Team: Immigration Judges Sent to Courts With ‘Very Little Work’ – NBC New York http://www.nbcnewyork.com/investigations/Immigration-Court-New-York-Judge-Investigation-448498463.html#ixzz4uXiMR2xJ
Follow us: @nbcnewyork on Twitter | NBCNewYork on Facebook“
To put this in context, during this massive abuse of the US Immigration Courts at the direction of Sessions and his incompetent politicos at the DOJ, the Chief Immigration Judge issued the notorious “Continuance Policy.” That document not not very subtilely implied that unjustified continuance requests by private attorneys (all of them overburdened by the effects of ADR, and many working on a pro bono or “low bono” basis) and laxity in granting continuances by overwhelmed and demoralized U.S. Immigration Judges were major contributing factors in increasing backlogs. Nothing could be further from the truth!
In fact, conscientious Immigration Judges and dedicated private attorneys are the only ones trying to make this broken system work and to maintain at least a semblance of due process. Their main obstacles: improper politically-motivated interference from the DOJ and poor administration and failure to stand up to the politicos by out of touch bureaucrats at EOIR Headquarters in Falls Church who are afraid to “blow the whistle”because they value their jobs over due process.
What kind of incompetents would draw the bulk of unneeded judicial details from what are known to be the most seriously backlogged Immigration Courts in the US, such as New York and Arlington? What type of incompetents would “study” the impact and need for the details after the fact, rather than carefully planning in advance? Assuming they were necessary (which they weren’t) why weren’t judicial details drawn from among the Assistant Chief Immigration Judges in Falls Church Headquarters who are never assigned actual cases? They, actually have time on their hands. And why does a system in crisis with inept management have highly-paid bureaucratic administrators like the ACIJs who never do any real judging? What makes a person a “judge”if he or she never “judges” anything?
Yes, as I’ve stated before, the Obama Administration enforcement policies and political interference from the Obama DOJ helped drive the backlogs to new heights. But, after taking over an obviously broken system, rather than doing the right thing and fixing the Immigration Courts with bipartisan legislation to create an independent Immigration Court System, with adequate resources, professional court administration, and freedom from political interference in its due process functions, the Trump Administration intentionally made things much, much worse! More judges have resulted in more backlogs because of politicized, incompetent judicial administration and poorly designed enforcement policies at DHS. If that doesn’t tell you something is seriously wrong, what will?
Newly released records obtained by the News4 I-Team show the severe impact new immigration policies have in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area; one former judge says it’s making the huge immigration court case backlog even worse.
Records from January through July of 2017 show immigration judges around the country were forced to postpone 24,806 cases, because those judges were not in their courtrooms to hear cases.
In the Virginia and Maryland court locations, which serve the D.C. area, more than 2,700 local cases have been pushed off, sometimes for years, because the judges were instead reassigned to hear cases at the border.
“What it isn’t serving, I think, is due process and the ends of justice,” said Judge Paul Wickham Schmidt, who retired from the immigration court in Arlington in 2016, “I think it’s a misuse of resources.”
Source: Federal Records Show New Immigration Policies Delay Local Cases, Increase Court Backlog – NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com/investigations/Federal-Records-Show-New-Immigration-Policies-Delay-Local-Cases-Increase-Court-Backlog-449104633.html#ixzz4uUmx6bGk
Follow us: @nbcwashington on Twitter | NBCWashington on Facebook
Schmidt said he’s glad he left the bench, because it allows him to speak freely about what he’s seeing in the court system today.
“It’s a disaster. I think it’s moving toward implosion,” he added, directing his barbs at current immigration policies and the shift in which types of cases are now a priority.
“They’re trying to detain everybody who arrives, so they’ve assigned more judges to the southern border,” said Schmidt. “And those judges leave behind full dockets.”
DC-Area Immigration Courts Scheduling Hearings for 2021
The News4 I-Team learned in the first seven months of this year, the Department of Justice reassigned judges from around the country more than 200 times, usually for two weeks or more. Additional reassignments are ongoing and more are scheduled later this year.
In Arlington, Virginia records show at least 15 reassignments, and while the judges were gone, they had to postpone 2,580 local cases. Only Los Angeles, New York and Miami had more.
“But since most judges are backed up for years, they don’t have any vacant (slots). It’s not like they move them to next week. They move them to slots 3 to 4 years down the road,” said Schmidt. “Why would you use people in an office like Arlington that’s overwhelmed?”
Source: Federal Records Show New Immigration Policies Delay Local Cases, Increase Court Backlog – NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com/investigations/Federal-Records-Show-New-Immigration-Policies-Delay-Local-Cases-Increase-Court-Backlog-449104633.html#ixzz4uUnE6DPv
Follow us: @nbcwashington on Twitter | NBCWashington on Facebook
The Arlington court is already scheduling cases for December 2021. That’s the second longest delay in the nation.
In May alone, five of the seven Arlington judges had weeks of reassignment to the border. Records show they delayed 946 cases as a result.
“When you can’t give people hearing dates that are reasonable dates, which they can count on, they know it’s actually going to take place, then as a judge I feel you lose credibility,” said Schmidt.
Immigration: Crisis in the Courts
Schmidt said to make matters worse, while judges are reassigned, they cannot work remotely on cases back at their home courts because the files are all on paper, not electronic.
He said at the border, many cases involve people who recently arrived in the United States and haven’t had time to get a lawyer, so a lot of those cases are not even ready to be heard and get delayed as well.
Published 2 hours ago | Updated 50 minutes ago
Source: Federal Records Show New Immigration Policies Delay Local Cases, Increase Court Backlog – NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com/investigations/Federal-Records-Show-New-Immigration-Policies-Delay-Local-Cases-Increase-Court-Backlog-449104633.html#ixzz4uUncKBbO
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What kind of “court system” puts “Gonzo Enforcement” first and Due Process last? A “captive” one run by incompetentent politicos!
I hope that when Sessions finally shows up for his long-awaited hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Leahy will grill him on his biased and incompetent administration of the U.S. Immigration Courts as well as the false narratives and misrepresentations Sessions spreads about Dreamers and migrants generally.
Hernandez v. Sessions, 9th Cir., 10-02-17 (Published)
PANEL: Stephen Reinhardt, Ferdinand F. Fernandez, and Kim McLane Wardlaw, Circuit Judges.
OPINION BY: Judge Reinhardt
CONCURRING & DISSENTING OPINION: Judge Fernandez
“Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their challenge under the Due Process Clause to the government’s policy of allowing ICE and IJs to set immigration bond amounts without considering the detainees’ financial circumstances or alternative conditions of release. The government has failed to offer any convincing reason why these factors should not be considered in bond hearings for non-citizens who are determined not to be a danger to the community and not to be so great a flight risk as to require detention without bond. The irreparable harm to Plaintiffs of detention pursuant to bond amounts determined through a likely unconstitutional process far outweighs the minimal administrative burdens to the government of complying with the injunction while this case proceeds.
The district court’s order granting the preliminary injunction is AFFIRMED.
29 The government also challenges the requirement that it meet and confer with Plaintiffs to develop guidelines for future immigration hearings. According to the government, this requirement gives “Plaintiffs’ counsel veto authority over the terms and guidelines to be used in those bond proceedings, [which] violates Congress’s delegation of such authority to the Executive.” To the contrary, the district court retains authority to resolve any disputes between the parties regarding implementation of the injunction. The requirement that the parties meet and confer is merely an administrative mechanism to reduce unnecessary burdens on the district court’s resources. It is an entirely ordinary exercise of the district court’s authority to manage cases and to encourage cooperation before parties resort to asking the court to resolve a dispute. See, e.g., C.D. Cal. L.R. 7-3 (requiring parties to confer prior to filing most motions and to file the motion only if the parties are “unable to reach a resolution which eliminates the necessity for a hearing”).”
KEY QUOTE FROM JUDGE FERNANDEZ, CONCURRING & DISSENTING:
“I agree that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it decided to issue a preliminary injunction requiring the consideration of “financial ability” and “alternative conditions of supervision”1 in making determinations regarding the release of aliens who have been detained pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1226(a). However, I do not agree with the breadth of the injunctive order that was issued. Thus, I respectfully concur in part and dissent in part.”
Read the full decision at the above link.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
With an estimated 10 to 11 million “undocumented migrants” currently in the U.S., hundreds of thousands of cases annually being added to the U.S. Immigration Courts’ already out of control docket of 630,000 cases, and the Trump Administration’s “gonzo” enforcement policy where line agents often arbitrarily decide which migrants to place in Immigration Court (presumably somewhat driven by the need to show “numbers” for budget and performance purposes), one thing is obvious: The system would collapse immediately if everyone apprehended by the DHS at the border and in the interior simply insisted on a full due process “Individual Merits” hearing. Thus, the migrants’s exercise of the Constitutional right to due process and a meaningful opportunity to be heard is the enemy of DHS’s out of control, “gonzo” enforcement.
So, what is DHS to do to suppress this dangerous exercise of constitutional rights? Here are DHS’s “strategies:”
Avoid the hearing process entirely by using some form of “expedited removal” which avoids Immigration Court altogether;
In absentia orders, often based on incomplete address information and inadequate warnings being given to migrants by DHS and/or on sloppy address recording and hearing notice procedures by DHS and EOIR resulting in individuals being clueless about their so-called “final orders” and therefore ill-equipped to exercise their statutory right to move for reopening;
Coercive detention, used to demoralize, discourage, and duressmigrants into “waiving” their due process rights and agreeing to depart without a merits hearing either by so-called “voluntary departure” or an uncontested final order.
Obviously, setting reasonable bonds that allow-income migrants can actually pay interferes with the full coerciveness of detention. Once released, migrants have a better chance of locating an attorney, filing a plausible application for relief, and ultimately being granted permission to stay. Therefore, resisting and “monkey wrenching” reasonable release on bonds is a key element of the current DHS “gonzo” enforcement strategy.
One of the ways that most fair U.S. Immigration Judges combat this is by using various “arbitration and mediation skills” to encourage DHS to accept reasonable bonds and waive appeal. But, as previously reported, counsel across the country report that DHS is refusing to negotiate bonds and appealing many of those set by the IJ. In other words, DHS is hoping that the coercive effect of detention will force folks to leave without a hearing before they run out of detention space in the New American Gulag.
Thus, U.S. Immigration Judges have become somewhat feckless in the bond process. DHS simply “blows off” the IJs’ entreaties to negotiate because DHS knows that they can unilaterally block release pending appeal anyway. And, as I previously pointed out, the BIA routinely holds bond appeals pending the completion of detained merits hearings and then simply dismisses the bond appeal as “moot.” As one (now former) Assistant Chief Counsel in Arlington undiplomatically informed me during a bond hearing shortly after I took the bench in 2003: “You can enter any order you want Judge, but the Detention Officer is going to decide whether or not this respondent gets released.” That’s the point at which I became an “Article I convert.”
Consequently, an Article III (a/k/a “Real”) Court enforcing due process and also requiring the DHS to negotiate some reasonable criteria and procedures for release on bond is both essential to our Constitutional system of due process and justice and also is a direct threat to unbridled DHS “gonzo enforcement.” As you can see from “FN 29” above, DHS has absolutely no interest in settling this case on a reasonable basis, although urged to do so by both the US District Court and the Court of Appeals. They expect and want the Article III Courts to “just roll over” like the “captive” Immigration Courts do.
Consequently, we can expect the Administration to fight tooth and nail against all efforts to put meaning in the currently largely false promise of Due Process in Immigration Court! Expect a DHS appeal to the Supremes! Stay tuned!
Gothamist: “Of the total 498 detainees arrested nation-wide this week, 181 do not have a criminal record, according to ICE. This means roughly 36 percent of immigrants picked up in the sweep are being held for their undocumented status alone. This category of non-citizens was considered a low priority in the latter years of the Obama administration, but President Donald Trump has widened the dragnet. In addition to the New York arrests, there were 28 in Baltimore; 30 in Cook County, Illinois; 63 in Denver; 101 in Los Angeles; 107 in Philadelphia; 33 in Portland; 27 in Santa Clara County, California; 14 in Washington, D.C.; and 50 across Massachusetts.” See also:Immigrant Arrests in New Jersey Largely Include Those Without Criminal Records
Politico: “Of the 101 arrests in Los Angeles, 85 of the individuals had criminal convictions—meaning 16% percent of the Angelenos arrested had no prior criminal convictions, per numbers given to LAist from an ICE spokesperson.
The sweep arrested immigrants in 10 locations across the country. Los Angeles had the second-most arrests, behind 107 arrests in Philadelphia (498 people were arrested in total). The list of locations—which also included New York, Washington D.C., and Baltimore.”
NBC: “[E]ven as the Trump administration expands its dragnet, the court is so backlogged that some hearings are being scheduled as far in the future as July 2022.”
ABC/Washington Post Poll: “A vast 86 percent of Americans support a right to residency for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, with support crossing the political spectrum. Two-thirds back a deal to enact such legislation in tandem with higher funding for border control.”
AIC, ACLU, AILA, WRC, CGRS, NWIRP, and RAICES filed a complaint with the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Office of the Inspector General, urging a thorough investigation into the steps ICE has taken to implement and oversee its policies on the detention and treatment of pregnant women.
Chron: “The practice of detaining asylum seekers who don’t present a danger violates not only their right to due process but international and U.S. law on refugees, according to the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid suit on behalf of five detained immigrants.”
NYT: “Fearful of concessions to Mr. Trump that could increase immigration enforcement aimed at their families and friends, the activists are targeting Democratic congressional leaders with loud political protests.”
“On September 4, immigration judge Denise Slavin followed orders from the Department of Justice to drop everything and travel to the U.S.-Mexico border. She would be leaving behind an overwhelming docket in Baltimore, but she was needed at “ground zero,” as Attorney General Jeff Sessions called it—the “sliver of land” where Americans take a stand against machete-wielding, poison-smuggling criminal gangs and drug cartels.
As part of a new Trump administration program to send justices on short-term missions to the border to speed up deportations and, Sessions pledged, reduce “significant backlogs in our immigration courts,” Slavin was to spend two weeks at New Mexico’s Otero County Processing Center.
But when Slavin arrived at Otero, she found her caseload was nearly half empty. The problem was so widespread that, according to internal Justice Department memos, nearly half the 13 courts charged with implementing Sessions’ directive could not keep their visiting judges busy in the first two months of the new program.
“Judges were reading the newspaper,” says Slavin, the executive vice president of the National Immigration Judges Association and an immigration judge since 1995. One, she told POLITICO Magazine, “spent a day helping them stock the supply room because she had nothing else to do.”
Slavin ended up leaving Otero early because she had no cases her last day. “One clerk said it was so great, it was like being on vacation,” she recalls.
In January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the DOJ to deploy U.S. immigration judges to U.S. detention facilities—most of which are located on or near the U.S.-Mexico border. The temporary reassignments were intended to lead to more and faster deportations, as well astake some pressure off thecurrently overloaded immigration court system. But, according to interviews and internal DOJ memos, since the new policy went into effect in March, it seems to have had the opposite result: Judges have frequently had to cancel cases on their overloaded home dockets only to find barely any work at their assigned courts—exacerbating the U.S. immigration court backlog that now exceeds 600,000 cases.
According to internal memos sent by the DOJ’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) and obtained by the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) via a Freedom of Information Act request, judges delayed more than 20,000 home court hearings for their details to the border from March to May.
“I canceled about 100 cases in my home court to hear 20,” says Slavin, who was forced to postpone those Baltimore hearings by a year since her court schedule was already booked through most of 2018. In Otero, she had no more than 50 hours of work over the course of two weeks (she typically clocks 50 hours per week in Baltimore). But she couldn’t catch up on her work at home because she had no access to her files.
Her three colleagues at the facility who had also been ordered there by the DOJwere no busier. One who had been sent to Otero previously told her the empty caseloads were normal.
“Sending judges to the border has made the backlog in the interior of the country grow,” says Slavin, “It’s done exactly the opposite of what they hoped to accomplish.”
On April 11 in Nogales, Arizona, Sessions formally rolled out the DOJ’s judge relocation program. “I am also pleased to announce a series of reforms regarding immigration judges to reduce the significant backlogs in our immigration courts,” he told the crowd of Customs and Border Protection personnel gathered to hear him. “Pursuant to the president’s executive order, we will now be detaining all adults who are apprehended at the border. To support this mission, we have already surged 25 immigration judges to detention centers along the border.”
The idea was to send U.S. immigration court judges currently handling “non-detained” immigration cases—cases such as final asylum decisions and immigrants’ applications for legal status—to centers where they would only adjudicate cases of those detained crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, along with others who had been picked up by ICE for possible deportation. More judges would follow, the attorney general said.
But as Sessions spoke, nearly half of those 25 “surge” judges—whose deployments typically last two weeks or a month—were largely unoccupied. One week before the attorney general’s Nogales announcement, EOIR—the Justice Department office that handles immigration cases—published an internal memo identifying six of 13 detention centersas offering inadequate work for their visiting justices.
“There are not enough cases to fill one immigration judge’s docket, let alone five,” the DOJ wrote of Texas’ T. Don Hutto facility, which had been assigned five Miami judges to hold hearings via video teleconference with the women detained there.
One judge sent to the South Texas Residential Center, a family detention facility, had no cases at all; a judge at another family facility, Karnes Residential Center, had a “light” docket; and Texas’ Prairieland Detention Center, which had received a judge, also was “not receiving enough cases to fill a docket or even come close to it,” the memo stated.
The two judges assigned to New Mexico’s Cibola Detention Facility also had barely any work to do, and Louisiana’s La Salle Detention Center—not on the border but treated as such in its receipt of five “surge” judges—had similarly been overstaffed. “There is not enough work for five judges,” said one DOJ memo. “There is enough work for a reasonable docket and three judges.”
The Justice Department documents also revealed a number of logistical issues with the border courts, including a lack of phone lines or internet connectivity, and noise infiltrating the courtroom from the detention facility. “The courtrooms at Imperial Regional Detention Facility are not suitable for in-person hearings because security is wholly inadequate,” said one memo of the California facility. “The court cannot do telephonic interpreters and the request for in-person interpreters remains pending. … Last week an immigration judge was left in the courtroom without a bailiff.”
Meanwhile, the judges sent to the border were forced to abandon thousands of home court cases—which the DOJ was aware could increase pressure on the U.S. immigration court system, where a specialized cadre of judges handles questions over whether people can remain in the country or face deportation. “It is likely that the backlog will increase for the locations from which a judge is assigned,” predicted one March 29 document, which also projected the deployments would cost $21 million per fiscal year.
Within the first three months of the program, judges postponed about 22,000 cases around the country, including 2,774 in New York City alone, according to the DOJ memos. (The delays added to an already clogged system: New York City’s immigration court backlog stood at 81,842 as of July, according to the immigration data tracker TRAC Immigration.)
When asked about these FOIA documents, and why the DOJ had deployed judges where they were not needed, a Justice Department spokesmanresponded that the program had improved in recent months. “After the initial deployment, an assessment was done to determine appropriate locations to increase the adjudication of immigration court cases without compromising due process,” he said.
Immigration judges and advocates acknowledge that the program has slightly improved since May—but many say that’s largely because the DOJ is sending fewer judges on temporary missions. “Some of the least productive assignments have either been discontinued or converted to video teleconferencing hearings, and it seems that fewer judges are being sent overall,” says National Association of Immigration Judges President Dana Marks, who serves as an immigration judge in San Francisco. But, she says, “the basic problem still persists.”
More than 100 total judges have been reassigned since March, but Politico was not able to obtain data on whether deployments are declining or increasing, or how many judges are still facing empty caseloads.
The spokesperson declined to comment on Slavin’s experience at Otero. But the DOJ discontinued deployments to Otero this month, as soon as Slavin completed her assignment there.
The U.S. immigration court backlog has increased under Trump, moving from 540,000 in January to 600,000 in July. But the DOJ spokesperson denied thatthe deployments were responsible for the bump, instead blaming the overloaded system on the Obama administration’s policies. He noted that the first six months of the Trump administration had seen a14.5 percent increase in final immigration court rulings from the previous year,and that more than 90 percent of cases by “surge” judges had led to deportation orders.
But just because judges have ruled on more cases doesn’t mean the Trump administration hasn’t worsened the backlog, NIJC communications director Tara Tidwell Cullen says. In fact, it could likely mean the opposite. Trump’s first six months in power saw 40 percent more immigration arrests in the country’s interior than the year before, adding more cases to already overloaded dockets.
“The ‘home’ courts where judges are sent from continue to be understaffed and their caseloads are adversely impacted as judges are sent to temporary assignments,” adds Marks, the San Francisco judge. Adding to the problem, she points out, istheadministration’s decision to detain immigrants without allowing the Department of Homeland Security to grant them bonds. Now, detainees have to go to immigration court to get a bond, creating extra work for those justices.
Not everyone thinks sending judges to the border is a bad idea.
“The best use of resources is to throw them all at detention,” says Leon Fresco, who served as deputy assistant attorney general under President Barack Obama. Judges typically release individuals detained for more than 90 days with no trial on habeas corpus, he explains, in which case the government has “wasted money in detaining them” to start. Better, then, to hear all the detained cases quickly.
Any administration will have to make tough calls, says Fresco. “You have just about 300 judges to hear more than 500,000 cases, so you have to prioritize.” Under Obama, the DOJ—while it hadn’t sent judges to the border—had also prioritized recent border crossers in order to send a message that the U.S. would immediately hear their cases, rather than allow them to “wait eight years to be adjudicated” while staying in the country, Fresco says. Trump’s priorities similarly send a message to potential border crossers that “we do have quick justice.”
The problem, Fresco adds, is that the Trump administration has been clumsy in its border deployments—sending judges to places where they aren’t needed. “There are ways to do this, but they need to be more flexible and nimble, and they’re not being as nimble as they can be,” he says. “EOIR is an agency badly in need of some sort of consulting firm. … There’s still too little rhyme or reason about how case assignments work—you shouldn’t have weeks with judges with hours of idle time.”
Chicago immigration judge Robert D. Vinikoor says his deployment went smoothly. He had a full caseload in his two-week detail at Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego this April, and he maintains that the reassigned judges were necessary to get immigrants out of detention as expeditiously as possible. “DHS is detaining more and more people and keeping them in custody, so that’s the need for the judges,” says Vinikoor, who retired in June after serving 33 years as an immigration judge. “The question is: Are they over-detailing? In some cases they put the cart before the horse.”
But Marks, who has been an immigration judge for 30 years, disagrees. Even if the DOJ gets deployments right, she says, the surge policy shows the administration has the wrong priorities. She says the administration’s biggest mistake was making a “politically motivated decision” and not consulting immigration judges. “The judges weren’t asked and that’s always been our big frustration,” she says.” The judges are the ones who are the experts in handling their cases.”
Marks notes that her union had similar frustrations with the Obama administration’s prioritization of recent border crossers—predominantly Central American women and children seeking asylum—to send a message they would be deported quickly if they could not prove they qualified for asylum. That decision, she says, worsened the backlog, too.
The overloaded system jeopardizes due process for immigrants, says NIJC’s policy director Heidi Altman, who filed the FOIA for EOIR’s memos after hearing about “chaos” in the courts when the border details began.
“When the backlog is exacerbated it makes it exponentially harder for us and other legal services to take on clients,” says Altman, whose NIJC organizes pro-bono attorneys handling immigration cases, which do not guarantee legal representation. Without a lawyer handling a case, she says, it is less likely to proceed fairly.
But there’s another reason that Trump might want to reconsider the border surge, says John Sandweg, former acting director of ICE under the Obama administration: It takes the pressure off the undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country for years and may be fighting to prevent an order of deportation.“They’re basically giving amnesty ironically to the non-detained docket.”
“By shifting the judges away they’ll never have their hearing so they’ll never be ordered deported,” he says. “You’re letting them stay.”
NO MORE BUREAUCRATIC BS – AMERICA NEEDS AN INDEPENDENT ARTICLE I IMMIGRATION COURT NOW
A RESPONSE TO THE DOJ’S ATTEMPT TO “COVER UP” THE SCANDALOUS, SELF-CREATED, DUE-PROCESS DENYING IMMIGRATION COURT BACKLOG EXPOSED BY NBC 4 DC’S I-TEAM
By Paul Wickham Schmidt
United States Immigration Judge (Retired
Let’s look at a few pieces of the EOIR “response” to the I-Team’s Recent Expose. You can read that full exercise in bureaucratese in a separate blog right here: http://wp.me/p8eeJm-1tn
First, the EOIR bureaucracy has no coherent plan to address the backlog that now has risen to more than 628,000 pending cases (even more than at the time Jodie interviewed me) notwithstanding more U.S. Immigration Judges on board! The agency is “studying” the matter. Usually that means that politicos at the DOJ are looking for ways to further truncate Due Process and fairness for respondents in the Immigration Courts.
“Studying” the matter. Oh, please! Let’s look at the most glaring failure highlighted by Jodie, the failure to have even a rudimentary e-filing system. Back in 2001, a group of us, including computer wonks, field personnel, and Senior Executives were assigned to an e-filing project. We submitted a detailed report, complete with plans for a pilot program to the EOIR Executive Group, where it promptly was buried. More than 15 year later, and following several more waste of time studies, there still is no e-filing system in the U.S. Immigration Courts! Not even a viable pilot program! In the meantime, almost every other court system in America has implemented e-filing. For heaven’s sake, even the local courts in Wisconsin have e-filing capability!
This is a blatant misrepresentation of what caused the real problem and a grotesque failure to accept responsibility! The current crisis has little, if anything, to do with Immigration Judge productivity (at an average of 750 completions per judge, U.S. Immigration Judges are already working 50% above the recommended maximum level for their positions — if anything, as shown by some of the recent gross errors exposed by U.S. Circuit Courts, both the Immigration Judges and the BIA Judges should be slowing down to get things right — “haste makes waste”).
No the real problem here is quite simple: bureaucrats at EOIR, the politicos at DOJ, and Congress. Let’s start with Congress. While Congress has belatedly provided some extra positions and funding for the Immigration Courts, for years Congress has been responsible for overfunding DHS enforcement while underfunding the Immigration Court system.
Moreover, the idiotic Government shutdown during the Obama Administration hurt immeasurably. During at least one such shutdown, the vast majority of Immigration Judges, those assigned to the non-detained dockets, were determined by the DOJ to be “nonessential,” sent home on “furlough,” and our dockets were cancelled. When we finally returned to court, there was docket chaos. The system really never has recovered from that man-made disaster. Moreover, both Congress’s failure to fund and DOJ’s idiotic designation of us as “nonessential” sent strong messages that the entire Immigration Court is a “who cares” operation from both a Congressional and an Administration standpoint. And mindless hiring freezes resulting from incompetence in Congress and the Executive Branch didn’t help either.
Then, years of “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” at the behest of DOJ politicos carrying out improper enforcement initiatives through the courts turned chaos into absolute bedlam! Senior Immigration Judges were reassigned from “Merits Dockets” to “meet and greets” for Unaccompanied Minors who really belonged before the DHS Asylum Office. Other judges were taken off of “ready for trial” merits dockets and assigned to hear cases of recently arrived “Adults With Children,” many of whom had not received sufficient time to find lawyers and whose cases were often “Not Quite Ready For Prime Time.” Judges were detailed from full “home” dockets to the Southern Border where they often weren’t needed or didn’t have enough work to keep busy. Then, the Trump Administration took judges off of Merits Dockets that had been pending for years and reassigned them to obscure detention courts, where they often were not fully occupied or were taking over dockets from other judges who were left with nothing to do.
The DOJ/EOIR bureaucracy long ago deprived sitting Immigration Judges of any meaningful control over their local dockets. To now insinuate that Immigration Judge “productivity” or “continuances granted by local Immigration Judges” are significant causes of the problem is an outrageous attempt to cover up the sad truth. Additionally, over the past four Administrations, the DOJ has refused to implement Congress’s statutory grant of contempt authority to U.S. Immigration Judges. This deprives Immigration Judges of even the most rudimentary tools possessed by judges of comparable authority for maintaining order and control of their courts.
Then there are continuances. As Hon. Jeffrey Chase and I have both pointed out in our separate blogs, the attempt to blame judges and overwhelmed private counsel, particularly those serving for NGSs or pro bono, for requesting too many continuances is totally bogus.The majority of the lengthy continuances in Immigration Court are the result of Aimless Docket Reshuffling imposed by the politicos at DOJ and carried out by compliant administrators at EOIR who have lost sight of their due process mission but not of the need to save their jobs by cooperating with the politicos.
As Jodie pointed out, there are lots of folks out there, many with potentially winning cases, who are ready and would like their “day in court.” But, the system is too busy shuffling things around to satisfy the President’s Executive Orders and trying to fulfill the Attorney General’s enforcement priorities to deliver justice in a reasonable, predictable, and orderly manner.
The private bar and NGO attorneys, many of whom serve pro bono or low bono, are the unsung heroes of this system. They are the only reason the system hasn’t completely collapsed yet! Their intentional mistreatment and the disrespect showered on them by spineless bureaucrats at EOIR and the cowardly politicos at DOJ is nothing short of a national disgrace!
Then, let’s take a closer look at the DOJ/EOIR hiring fiasco! According to a recent GAO study recommending improvements at the Immigration Courts, Immigration Judge hiring has taken an astounding average of two years! That’s longer than it takes for a Senate-confirmed political appointment or than it took the Roosevelt Administration to build the Pentagon during the New Deal! But, the results of this glacial, “Rube-Goldberg” process are disturbingly predictable and pedestrian. Nearly 90% of the Immigration Judges hired over this and the past Administration came from prosecutorial or other government backgrounds. With due respect, one could probably have produced similar results by “blind drawing” applications from senior government attorneys from a box. Neither EOIR nor DOJ has put forth an efficient, transparent, merit-based program to replace this mess, although many worthy models exist — such as the merit hiring procedures for U.S. Bankruptcy Judges and Magistrates which usually involve widespread input from leading practitioners in the areas they will be serving.
Notwithstanding the current “crisis,” EOIR and DOJ are sitting on an Immigration Judge vacancy rate of 15%! There are currently 55 judicial vacancies! EOIR was only able to hire and bring on 64 new Immigration Judges during the entire past year. That will barely be enough to fill the currently vacant positions and any retirements or other departures. So, the idea that a DOJ plan to budget for more judges is going to solve this crisis any time in the foreseeable future is nonsense.
Let’s take a quick look at the numbers in the DOJ “never-never land.” They project 449 Immigration Judges by the end of FY 2018, which is September 30, 2018, one year from now. Let’s also assume the highly unlikely: that Congress grants the request, the money is appropriated, additional courtrooms are built, additional staff is hired, all the judicial positions are filled, and the additional Immigration Judges are all on board and up to speed by September 30, 2018.
449 Immigration Judges could at most, complete approximately 337,000 cases without impeding due process. Therefore, using the DOJ’s own figures, and giving the most optimistic outlook possible, it would take nearly two years, practically to the end of this Administration, just to complete all of the cases currently on docket if no additional cases were filed! The idea that 449 Immigration Judges could do that plus handle incoming cases without creating a new backlog is facially absurd. DOJ’s own numbers refute it. What is clear is that neither the politicos at DOJ nor the bureaucrats at EOIR have any idea of how to actually solve the backlog problem and reestablish order in the Immigration Courts.
So, what really needs to be done!
First and foremost, we need an independent U.S. Immigration Court outside the DOJ.And that means a return to Due Process as the sole function and guiding light of the Immigration Court just like it is for all other independent courts. DHS Enforcement priorities should be considered and accommodated where possible without compromising due process. But, they are just one of many factors that go into running an efficient due process court system. DHS Enforcement should not be “driving the train.”
Given that approximately half of the individuals now in Immigration Court appear to be entitled to some form of relief, independent U.S. Immigration Judges could develop ways to force the DHS to identify these cases and either resolve them outside of court or move them up to “short dockets” for quick resolutions based largely on stipulations and focused testimony or legal arguments.
Moreover, I know from hard experience that even though independent Article III judges were technically not supposed to review “prosecutorial discretion“ they had many creative ways to basically tell the INS (now DHS) to get certain low priority or extreme humanitarian cases off the docket — or else. The current Administration’s abusive removal of prosecutorial discretion from local DHS prosecutors is a major contributing factor in the current docket mess. An independent court would be able to stand up to this kind of nonsense, rather than “going along to get along.” No court system in American operates without a heavy dose of PD from the prosecutors.
Additionally, implementation of contempt authority, extending to both private attorneys and Government prosecutors, would give Immigration Judges real clout in stopping abuses of the court’s docket and moving cases along in a failure and reasonable manner.
Second, the EOIR bureaucracy needs to be replaced with a real court structure patterned on other Federal Courts. I’d hazard to say that no other functioning court system in America has as Byzantine and as bloated a bureaucracy as EOIR. Far too many of the positions and resources are in “Headquarters” in Falls Church rather than in the local courts where they belong. Docket control needs to be returned to sitting Immigration Judges who are in the best position to work with the local bar, pro bono providers, the DHS Office of Chief Counsel, and the Court Administrator to establish the most efficient and fair ways of scheduling cases and moving along dockets given local conditions and limitations.
And “Job One” at the local Immigration Court level should be to work with all parties to insure that Immigration Court cases are docketed and scheduled in a manner that insures, to the maximum extent humanly possible, that no individual who wants a lawyer is required to appear without one. Representation by competent counsel is the single most important ingredient of achieving due process in the U.S. Immigration Courts.
Third, the U.S. Immigration Courts need a new professional Administrative Office patterned on the Administrative Office for U.S. Courts and responsible to a Judicial Council, not politicos at the DOJ. Courtroom planning, technology, security, files management, training, planning for the future, and hiring are all not up to professional court management standards in the current system. In particular, the outdated, often unreliable technology and inadequate space are glaring issues in a high volume system like the Immigration Courts.
Also, the current judicial selection system is a bad joke. It is neither transparent nor timely, and it totally lacks credibility in the “real world” of immigration practice. The Immigration Courts need a non-partisan, merit-based, efficient hiring system that gives local practitioners and judges as well as government counsel some meaningful input while producing results in a timely fashion. There are many merit-based models out there like those for hiring U.S. Bankruptcy Judges, U.S. Magistrates, and Judges for the Superior Court of DC.
Fourth, the system needs an Appellate Court that acts like an independent appellate court not a service center catering to the politicos at the DOJ. The current BIA’s lack of diverse backgrounds among its Appellate Immigration Judges and glaring lack of Immigration Court or asylum expertise has resulted in a weak body of asylum law and insufficient control over wayward judges who are unwilling to grant relief in appropriate situations. There are many asylum cases out there in the backlog that should and could be rapidly granted. Moreover, many of them probably should have been granted at the DHS Asylum Office. The current Board has failed to take appropriate corrective action in those courts where hostility to or misinterpretation of laws favorable to respondents has resulted in indefensibly low rates of granting relief. This, in turn, encourages the DHS to keep cases on the court docket that properly should be settled out of court, returned to the Asylum Office, or sent to the USCIS.
The current Board “is what it is,” It can’t really help itself, as a result of questionable choices outside of its control made by the politicos at the DOJ over several Administrations. I’m not suggesting that current BIA Judges should not be “grandfathered” into an independent Appellate Division of the Immigration Court. But future Appellate Judge appointments should be strictly merit-based and should be focused on recognizing proven expertise and fairness in applying asylum laws and expertise gained in activities beyond just government service, particularly those in clinical academic practices or serving the pro bono community through NGOs.
Fifth, and finally, the U.S. Immigration Courts need e-filing now! The time for “study” is long over! Existing systems in other courts can be tailored for U.S. Immigration Court use. It’s no longer “rocket science.” It’s “Basic Professional Court Management 101.” It’s time for action, not more studies, unfulfilled promises, and bureaucratic smokescreens! If nothing else, the failure of the DOJ over a number of Administrations to accomplish this very basic ministerial task demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt its incompetence and inability to administer the U.S. Immigration Courts in anything approaching a minimally professional manner.
Yup, I’ve set forth an ambitious agenda. But, unlike the “DOJ/EOIR BS,” it’s based on real life experience and decades of observation at all levels inside and outside this broken system. If Congress and the Administration can’t get their collective acts together and establish an Independent Article Immigration Court now, there will be a “lock-up” point at which almost everything will stop functioning. There is no way that the current EOIR technology and inadequate planning can keep on absorbing even more cases and even more positions.
And if, as I predict, rather than doing the right thing, this Administration responds with mindless hurry up denials of due process, the cases will start piling up in the Article III Courts and being returned to the Immigration Courts for “do-overs” in droves. I’ve actually seen it happen before in the Bush Administration. But, this is much worse because there are many more cases and this Administration is even more clueless about how to deal with immigration enforcement and the Immigration Court system. In the end, it’s the folks who depend on the Immigration Court system for justice and the overall concept of our courts being able to deliver even-handed justice in a fair and reasonable manner that will be hurt. And, folks, that’s going to affect all of us at some point in the future.
Don’t accept more ridiculous shameful bureaucratic, “do nothing” BS from the DOJ! It’s time to hold DOJ and EOIR fully accountable for their failure to provide basic Due Process in the U.S. Immigration Courts and for Congress to accept their fair share of the blame!
Tell your Senators and Representatives that you’ve had enough of this nonsense and gross waste and mismanagement of government resources! Fixing the U.S. Immigration Courts now must be one of our highest national priorities! Those who would continue to sweep this problem under the rug deserve to be voted out of office! No more BS and excuses; Article I now! Due Process Now!
Other than the above, of course, I think the current system is great!
“U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review Responses to I-Team Immigration Backlog Report
What steps have been taken by DOJ/EOIR to combat the backlog?
EOIR is committed to a multi-level strategy to maximize our adjudicatory capacity, including the hiring of more judges, working with our federal partners to make the immigration process more efficient, and the increased use of video-teleconference capabilities. EOIR is undertaking a broad, agency-wide effort to review and reform its internal practices, procedures, and technology in order to enhance immigration judge productivity and ensure that cases are adjudicated in a fair and timely manner across all of the agency’s courts. EOIR records show that through the end of August 2017, the immigration courts had 628,698 pending cases. Although multiple factors may have contributed to this caseload, immigration judges must ensure that lower productivity and adjudicatory inefficiency do not further exacerbate this situation. To this end, EOIR recently issued Operating Policies and Procedures Memorandum 17-01: Continuances (available at https://www.justice.gov/eoir/oppm-log), which provides guidance on the fair and efficient handling of motions for continuance.
How many immigration judges have retired and how many have been sworn in the last two years?
The number of immigration judges who retired or separated during each of the following fiscal years (FY) is as follows: FY 2016, 13, and FY 2017 (through Sept. 15, 2017) 21. EOIR hired 56 immigration judges during FY 2016, and 64 immigration judges during FY 2017 (through Sept. 15, 2017).
How many open positions are there currently for immigration judges?
There are currently 329 immigration judges nationwide, out of EOIR’s current authorized level of 384.
Judge Marks discussed how she thinks the number of immigration judges should be doubled. Is there a goal by EOIR on how many new judges to hire?
As noted in EOIR’s FY 2018 budget request (available here: https://www.justice.gov/jmd/page/file/968566/download), the largest challenge facing the immigration courts is the growing pending caseload. The agency’s FY 2018 budget strategy is a sustained focus on increasing adjudicative capacity in order to meet EOIR’s mission to adjudicate immigration cases by fairly, expeditiously, and uniformly interpreting and administering the nation’s immigration laws.
To implement EOIR’s strategy, EOIR’s FY 2018 budget request includes a requested increase in immigration judge teams (each team consists of one immigration judge and five support staff) that would increase EOIR’s immigration judge corps to 449 and provide 225 additional full-time employees for mission support.”
Published at 5:45 AM EDT on Sep 25, 2017 | Updated at 6:43 PM EDT on Sep 22, 2017
No guys, I’m sorry! Much as I love you, and much as I realize that it was was a bunch of meddling politicos and out of touch bureaucrats, with lots of help from a willfully blind Congress, that created these problems over the past 15 years, it’s going to take more than politicos at the DOJ and bureaucrats in Falls Church to solve it.
Committing “to a multi-level strategy to maximize our adjudicatory capacity,” whatever that primo piece of bureaucratic gobbledygook might mean in plain English, isn’t going to cut it. Nor is just throwing more judges and more money at it going to do the trick.
And the answer certainly isn’t more truncation of due process and typical bureaucratic “haste makes waste bogus efficiencies and streamlining” which actually wastes massive amounts of time and money while not getting the job done. The courts are already in a due process crisis. “Speeding up the assembly line” or setting bogus production goals is not the answer. However, some “smart court administration” and “smart enforcement” are part of the solution. Sadly, it’s just not within the “skill set” of the group at DOJ and EOIR who are flailing away at court administration.
Nor, frankly, does it appear to be within the expertise of current DHS/ICE management without some Congressional oversight and accountability (things that have been remarkably absent in this Congress). Old saying: Garbage In = Garbage Out, and right now ICE Enforcement, Detention, and Legal Counsel Programs are in “Garbage Truck Mode.” If Congress doesn’t step in, I think the Article III Courts eventually will, if only as an act of self-defense. Nor is evading the Immigration Court system with unconstitutional proposals for expanding “expedited removals” the answer.
The DHS Enforcement System and the Immigration Courts are already squandering resources and wasting the taxpayers money at alarming rates. “Big-time reforms”must precede the injection of massive resources into a totally broken system. And that goes for putting some Congressional brakes on the “gonzo” enforcement now being carried out by DHS, and their mismanagement of the ICE Legal Program, which is a key part of the problem.
Next up: My Response: I take on the DOJ/EOIR Bogus “Strategy” and tell you what really needs to be done to restore due process to a broken court system.
Here’s an updated story from the I-Team on the human costs of the backlog and the mindless policies of the Trump ‘administration that are making things even worse. Includes comments from superstar local practitioner Christina Wilkes, Esq.:
“Deportation rates of undocumented immigrants have ticked up in the federal Immigration Court for the first time in eight years as President Donald Trump starts to make good on his promise to expel millions of people. But even as the Trump administration expands its dragnet, the court is so backlogged that some hearings are being scheduled as far in the future as July 2022.
The long delays come as immigration courtrooms struggle with too few judges, only 334 for a backlog of more than 617,000 cases, and scant resources on par with a traffic court, said Judge Dana Leigh Marks of San Francisco, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.
Delays are the longest in San Francisco, where the court is setting dates more than four years out. Courts in Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Seattle and Arlington, Virginia are right behind with dates in 2021.
Immigration law is complex and the overloaded judges are making decisions about men and women who may have been tortured or raped, their children abused or forced to witness horrible acts, or who fear they will be killed if they return home.
“I compare the immigration courts to traffic courts and the cases that we hear – they are death penalty cases.”
Judge Dana Leigh Marks
“I compare the immigration courts to traffic courts and the cases that we hear – they are death penalty cases,” said Marks, a judge for 30 years who was speaking in her capacity as association president. “And I literally get chills every time I say that because it’s an incredibly – it’s an overwhelming job.”
The backlog in Immigration Court, which unlike other courts is not independent but part of the U.S. Justice Department, has been growing for nearly a decade, up from about 224,000 cases in fiscal year 2009. The average number of days to complete a deportation case has risen from 234 in 2009 to a projected 525 this year.
A couple in Immigration Court in New York City for the first time on Sept. 21 came to the United States to escape violence in Ecuador, they said, overstaying a visa as they applied to remain permanently in 2013. They were expecting to finally to explain their circumstances to a judge, but instead they were out the door in less than five minutes with a return date in 2020.
“I don’t even know, how do I feel,” said the woman, who did not want to give her name. “I feel frustrated.”
The logjam began during the Obama administration as President Barack Obama boosted immigration enforcement while a divided Congress cut spending. The Justice Department saw a three-year hiring freeze from 2011 to 2013, which then became even worse when tens of thousands of women and children came across the border escaping violence in Central America.
“I don’t even know, how do I feel,” said the woman, who did not want to give her name. “I feel frustrated.
“The problem was years in the making but this administration is making it much, much worse,” said Jeremy McKinney of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Obama was famously called the “deporter-in-chief” after he not only targeted immigrants with criminal records for deportation but also instituted formal removal proceedings for an increased number of unauthorized border crossers, according to a January study by the Migration Policy Institute. At the same time, fewer people were crossing the border because of a better economy in Mexico and fewer jobs in the U.S. after the recession.
The focus on criminals — whose hearings, when they were detained, were either short or waived — resulted in quick deportations, McKinney said. The Trump administration is targeting a much broader group and includes people who might be eligible to stay and that puts more strain on the courts, McKinney said.
“They will arrest anyone that has a pulse and that they suspect is in the United States without permission regardless of if that person poses a risk to our community,” he said.
To clear the backlog, the Trump administration has proposed hiring 75 new Immigration Court judges plus staff, a number the House has reduced to 65, and it has considered expanding the use of deportations without court approval. In the meantime it has moved some judges closer the border temporarily, but that leaves behind even greater backlogs in their home courts.
But the job of an immigration judge is difficult and those in the courts warn that hires are not keeping up with departures. Long background checks dissuade many except for attorneys already working for the government from applying, they say.
The government is trying to quicken the process by resisting delays it formerly acceded to, McKinney said. For example, he said, government lawyers are now opposing a temporary halt to deportation cases to allow an immigrant who might be eligible to remain in the United States to take the steps that are necessary.
“So you’ve got people that are eligible for green cards but are not able to pursue it because suddenly the government is opposing the motion to close those cases,” he said.
And it is also reopening cases that were closed during the previous administration, a move that could add to the delays, McKinney said.
“They’re taking old cases and dumping those into current dockets that are already overflowing,” he said. “These individuals are ones that were previously determined that they were not priorities for deportation.”
One consequence of the logjam until recently had been that judges were deporting fewer immigrants. Last year, just 43 percent of all cases ended with a deportation removal, down from 72 percent in 2007.
That downward trend is beginning to reverse this year. The deportation rate rose slightly over the first 10 months of the 2017 fiscal year, to 55 percent, from 43 percent for all of the previous fiscal year. Among immigrants in detention, the deportation rate rose to 72.3 percent.
The outcome of a case can depend on the location of a court. Georgia has deported the vast majority of immigrants in court this year, New York ousted less than a third. Houston has expelled 87 percent of the immigrants, while Phoenix is at the low end with 20 percent.
You appear to be in Virginia. Not your state?
In Virginia, 56.0% of immigrants who go to court are deported.
See the rates of deportation in state immigration courts across the country:
Fiscal year 2017 (October through July); Source: TRAC
WHO ARE THESE IMMIGRANTS?
More than half of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States are from Mexico but their number has declined by about 1 million since 2007. They have been replaced by those fleeing violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, plus immigrants from elsewhere. They live mostly in California, Texas, Florida, New York and New Jersey though the state with the highest percentage of undocumented immigrants is Nevada.
Nearly 60 percent arrived in the U.S. before 2000 and a third have been here for more than 20 years. Eight million of the 11 million have jobs. They make up 5 percent of the country’s labor force, mostly in agriculture, construction and the hospitality industry. They are much younger and somewhat more male than the population as a whole.
The long delays in Immigration Court are jeopardizing some immigrants’ chances. They risk losing touch with witnesses they will need or the death of relatives who would enable them to stay. They may have children back in their home country who are in danger. And although they are entitled to lawyers, they must pay for them.
“And so it is very frustrating and stressful frankly for the litigants in our courts to be in that limbo position for such a long period of time,” Marks said.
The couple who fled violence in Ecuador has built a new life in the U.S. She is now a teacher, he works with hazardous materials and they have three American-born children. With no resolution of their case, they remain in that limbo.
“We’re stuck here,” she said.
Christina Wilkes, an immigration lawyer at Grossman Law in Rockville, Maryland, is representing a mother, identified as Z.A., who arrived with her daughter and son from El Salvador in 2014 after a gang tried to recruit the daughter.
In Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia the number of cases has more than tripled in past five years, with some cases taking more than four years to be heard.
The daughter’s application for permanent residency has been pending since the beginning of the year when a judge granted her asylum, Wilkes said. But the mother still does not have a date for a judge to hear her asylum case, though the facts for both are nearly identical.
“For her, where her likelihood of success is relatively high, it’s really frustrating because she wants a resolution,” Wilkes said.
Andres, whose last name NBC is witholding, left Guatemala in August 2014, because he was discriminated against there, he said. He speaks Mam, a Mayan language, and dressed in traditional clothing, both of which made him a target.
“Because I’m indigenous, that’s why they discriminated against me,” he said. “A policeman would beat me, and we don’t have any rights because they rule. The Spanish speakers are the ones who rule all parts of the country.”
He has a work permit, he said, and is employed in construction. But he has twice had his asylum hearing postponed in Immigration Court in San Francisco and says he is scared that as he waits for his new date in January he will detained and deported.
Those waiting to have their asylum cases heard find the reality that there currently aren’t enough judges and staff to handle the demand leaving some applicants forced to wait for years while their witnesses and key evidence disappear.
“Because that is happening where I live in Oakland,” he said.
Shouan Riahi, an attorney with the non-profit Central American Legal Assistance in Brooklyn, New York, said that the delays are causing particular problems for those seeking asylum. If a court date is set years in the future, they might not think it’s important to meet with a lawyer immediately or know they face a one-year deadline for asylum applications.
“So that creates a whole host of issues because a lot of people that are applying for asylum now are people who didn’t have their hearing scheduled within a year,” he said. “And never went to see an attorney because why would you if your case is in 2019 and now their cases are being denied because they haven’t filed for asylum within a year.”
Some judges are counting the delays as an exceptional circumstance and are accepting the applications as filed on time, but others are turning immigrants away. Riahi’s office is appealing those cases and he expects some to end up in federal circuit court.
Other who are getting caught up in the delays are children who have been neglected, abused or abandoned and are eligible for special immigrant juvenile status. In some courts they are being deported before they receive their visas, he said.
Paul Wickham Schmidt, a retired immigration judge who served in Arlington, Virginia, for 13 years, said that the delays do not serve due process or justice.
“It’s not fair either way,” he said. “It’s not fair to keep people with good claims waiting, but it’s not really fair that if people have no claim their cases sort of aimlessly get shuffled off also. That leads to loss of credibility for the system.”
ABOUT THE DATA
These stories are based on enforcement, budget and demographic data from the federal government and nonprofit groups.
Our primary source for information on operations of the Immigration Court was the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. TRAC, a nonprofit at Syracuse University, has collected and organized data from federal law enforcement agencies for decades and makes that data available to the public. Its website is trac.syr.edu. TRAC is funded by grants and subscription fees; NBC subscribed to TRAC during this project.
Information about the size and demographics of the undocumented immigrant population came from two primary sources: the Pew Research Center and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Both groups use a roughly similar technique, the residual method, to estimate the undocumented population, and reach similar estimates of its size. For a brief description of the residual method, go here.
Some of the best information on the immigrant population as a whole as well as historic perspective on immigration enforcement comes from the Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. It is available here. The most recent year for which statistics are available is 2015, though 2016 statistics should be provided shortly.”