DOJ PLANS TO CUT U.S. IMMIGRATION COURT BACKLOG IN HALF BY 2020 — CONTINUES TO PRESS BOGUS CLAIM THAT BACKLOGS DRIVEN BY PRIVATE ATTORNEYS — THE TRUTH: BACKLOGS DRIVEN PRIMARILY BY POOR DECISIONS BY CONGRESS (E.G., USG SHUTDOWN) & “AIMLESS DOCKET RESHUFFLING” BY THE DOJ OVER THE PAST THREE ADMINISTRATIONS, INCLUDING THIS ONE!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration/doj-details-plan-to-slash-immigration-court-backlog/2017/11/03/03fcef34-c0a0-11e7-959c-fe2b598d8c00_story.html

Maria Sacchetti reports in the Washington Post:

“The Department of Justice said Friday it is aiming to slash the massive immigration court backlog in half by 2020 by adding judges, upgrading technology and refusing to tolerate repeated delays in deportation cases.

Officials, who briefed reporters on condition that they not be identified by name, said the effort is part of the Trump administration’s broad plan to more efficiently handle cases of undocumented immigrants, who number 11 million nationwide.

The administration has reversed Obama-era policies that allowed prosecutors to indefinitely postpone low-priority cases, which the Justice Department officials said allowed some immigrants to delay “inevitable” deportations. In other cases, they said, immigrants who deserved to win their cases were delayed for years because of the backlog.

The immigration court backlog has tripled since 2009, the year former president Obama took office, to more than 630,000 cases in October.

“That is what this administration is committed to, getting this done right, ensuring that we’re never in this place again,” a Justice Department official said. “Really and truly, when you look at the numbers . . . it reflects the fact that the last administration likely wasn’t as committed to ensuring that the system worked the way that Congress intended it to.”

The agency, which oversees the administrative immigration courts, said it plans to hire new immigration judges, use technology such as videoconferencing, and increase judges’ productivity by setting case-completion guidelines, though officials would not give details.

The department also will have a “no dark courtrooms” policy, the officials said, explaining that there are at least 100 courtrooms nationwide that are empty every Friday because of judges’ alternate work schedules. The Justice Department is tapping retired judges to fill those courts.

The immigration court overhaul comes as the Trump administration is carrying out policies that could generate even more cases in coming months. Arrests and deportations from the interior of the United States are rising sharply, and the Trump administration has ended Obama-era protections for some undocumented immigrants, including 690,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.

By Monday, the Trump administration is also expected to say if it will renew temporary protected status for thousands of longtime immigrants from Honduras and Nicaragua whose permits expire next year.

The Justice Department officials said they are no longer widely using certain protections for undocumented immigrants, including a tool known as prosecutorial discretion that allowed the government to set aside low-priority deportation cases.

DOJ officials criticized immigration lawyers, saying they “have purposely used tactics designed to delay” immigration cases. As of 2012, the officials said, there were an average of four continuances for each case before the court.

Gregory Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the administration’s plan to cut the backlog would “undermine judicial independence” in the immigration courts.

“This administration has been extremely hostile toward the judiciary and the independence of immigration judges, as well as other judges,” Chen said.

Speeding up cases depends partly on congressional funding. It also rests partly on the actions of immigration judges, who have expressed concerns about due process for immigrants, many of whom are facing deportation to some of the world’s most violent countries. Immigrants are not entitled to a government-appointed lawyer in these courts and often handle cases on their own.

The Justice officials would not comment on reports that they will impose case-completion quotas on judges, which raised an outcry from the judges’ union. But the officials said they would give judges clear standards to complete cases and add more supervisors.

Officials say they are already seeing results from efforts this year to improve efficiency. From February to September, judges ordered 78,767 people to leave the country, a 33 percent jump over the same period in 2016. The total number of final decisions, which includes some immigrants who won their cases, is 100,921.”

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

THE GOOD:

  • Using retired U.S. Immigration Judges to fill in while Immigration Judges are on leave or otherwise scheduled to be out of court is a good idea. Indeed, the National Association of Immigration Judges (“NAIJ”) has been pushing this idea since the Clinton Administration with no results until now. Additionally, finally taking advantage of the available “Phased Retirement Options” for the the many Immigration Judges nearing retirement could also be helpful.
  • Over time, hiring additional Immigration Judges could be helpful, at least in theory. But, that depends on whether the hiring is done on a merit basis, the new judges are properly trained, and they have the space, equipment, and support staff to function. The DOJ/EOIR’s past record on accomplishing such initiatives has been beyond abysmal. So, it’s just as likely that additional hiring will harm the Immigraton Courts’ functioning as it is that it will help.

THE BAD:

  • “Productivity standards” are totally inappropriate for an independent judiciary. They are almost certain to infringe on due process by turning judges into “assembly line workers.”  Moreover, if hiring is done properly, judges should be self-motivated professionals who don’t need “Micky Mouse performance evaluations” to function. While it might be helpful to have some “periodic peer review” involving input from those appearing before the courts and judges of courts reviewing the judges’ work, such as takes place in some other independent judicial systems, that clearly isn’t they type of system this Administration has in mind.
  • More use of Televideo is problematic. In person hearings are definitely better for delivering due process. The EOIR Televideo equipment tends to be marginal from a technology standpoint. “Pushing the envelope” on Televideo could well force the Article IIIs to finally face up and hold at least some applications of this process unconstitutional.
  • More “Supervisory Judges” are totally unnecessary and a waste of resources. In the “EOIR World,” Supervisory Judges often don’t hear cases. Moreover, as noted previously, professional judges need little, if any, real “supervision.” The system might benefit from having local Chief Judges (“first among equals”), like in other independent judicial systems, who can address administrative issues with the Court Administrator and the public, But, judges don’t need supervision unless the wrong individuals are being selected as judges. And, as in the U.S. District Courts, local Chief Judges should carry meaningful case loads.
  • Every other court system in the U.S., particularly the U.S. District Courts, rely on heavy doses of “Prosecutorial Discretion” (“PD”) by government prosecutors to operate. By eliminating PD from the DHS Chief Counsels, then touting their misguided actions, this Administration has  guaranteed the ultimate failure of any backlog reduction plan. Moreover, this stupid action reduces the status of the DHS Assistant Chief Counsels. There is no other system I’m aware of where the enforcement officials (“the cops”) rather than professional prosecutors make the decisions as to which cases to prosecute. PD and sensible use of always limited docket time is part of the solution, not the problem, in the Immigration Courts.

THE UGLY:

  • The DOJ and EOIR continue to perpetuate the myth that private attorneys are responsible for the backlogs. No, the backlogs are primarily the result of Congressional negligence multiplied by improper politically motived docket manipulation and reschuffling to meet DHS enforcement priorities by the last three Administrations, including this one! This Administration was responsible for unnecessarily “Dark Courtrooms” earlier this year in New York and other heavily backlogged Immigration Courts.
  • Although not highlighted in this article, EOIR Acting Director James McHenry recently admitted during Congressional testimony that EOIR has been working on e-filing for 16 years without achieving any results! Thats incredible! McHenry promised a “Pilot Program” in 2018 with no telling when the system will actually be operational. And DOJ/EOIR has a well-established record of problematic and highly disruptive “technology rollouts.”

THE INCREDIBLE:

  • As usual, the DOJ/EOIR “numbers” don’t add up. EOIR “touts” compleating approximately 100,000 cases in the 7-month period ending on August 31, 2017. That’s on a pace to complete fewer than 200,000 cases for a fiscal year. But, EOIR receives an average of at least 300,000 new cases each year (even without some of the “Gonzo” Enforcement by the Trump DHS).  So, EOIR would have to “pick up the pace” considerably just to keep the backlogs from growing (something EOIR hasn’t done since before 2012). Not surprisingly, TRAC and others show continually increasing backlogs despite having more judges on board. To cut the backlog from 640,000 to 320,000 (50%) by 2020, the courts would have to produce an additional 160,000 annual completions in 2018 and 2019! That, in turn, would require completing a total of at least 460,000 cases in each of those years. That’s an increase of 230% over the rate touted by DOJ/EOIR in the Post article. Not going to happen, particularly since we’re already more than one month into FY 2018 and Congress has yet to authorize or appropriate the additional resources the DOJ wants!

WHAT’S CLEAR:

  • The DOJ hocus pocus, fake numbers, unrealistic plans, political scheming, cover-ups, blame shifting, and gross mismanagement of the U.S. Immigration Courts must end!
  • Unless and until Congress creates an independent, professionally managed Article I Immigration Court, any additional resources thrown into the current Circus being presided over by Jeff Sessions’s DOJ would be wasted.

PWS

11-04-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TAL KOPAN AT CNN: HOMAN PROMISES MORE DHS “GONZO” ENFORCEMENT AT WORKSITES!

http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/17/politics/ice-crackdown-workplaces/index.html

Tal reports:

“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.
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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.
Oh yeah, we also happen to have extremely low unemployment. That probably means that no “other U.S. workers” are going to be rushing in to fill those jobs supposedly vacated by Homan’s operations. Been there, done that too — never saw it work successfully in the long run — particularly since the Trumpsters seem determined to cut off or diminish legal work visa opportunities.
PWS
10-17-17

BREAKING: TAL KOPAN AT CNN: REBUTTAL — DOJ/EOIR CLAIM (WITHOUT MANY SPECIFICS) THAT “SURGE’ OF DETAILED JUDGES TO S. BORDER INCREASED OVERALL PRODUCTIVITY BY 2,700!

http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/04/politics/immigration-courts-judges/index.html

Tal reports:

“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.
Stay tuned!
PWS
10–04-17

 

NBC4 NY: FRAUD, WASTE, & ABUSE AT USDOJ — “ADR” EXPOSED! — TRUMP ADMINISTRATION KNOWINGLY RAN UP U.S. IMMIGRATION COURT BACKLOGS WITH UNNEEDED REASSIGNMENT OF IMMIGRATION JUDGES TO S. BORDER — DOJ Politicos Caused 276% Jump In NY Court Adjournments! — Then, DOJ Tried To Cast False Blame On Immigration Attorneys, Judges, & Obama Administration For Wasteful Adjournments That Sessions’s Politicos Had ORDERED — More Of My Interview With NBC Investigative Reporter Jodie Fleischer As Nationwide Expose Widens! — Stop The Abuse Of Due Process & Public Purse For Political Ends! — America Needs An Independent U.S. Immigration Court NOW!

Here’s the TV clip:

http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Immigration-Court-New-York-Judge-Investigation-448498463.html

Here’s the story:

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?

PWS

10-04-17

 

 

 

 

BREAKING: I-TEAM 4 UNCOVERS HARD EVIDENCE THAT TRUMP ADMINISTRATION POLICIES ARE MAKING IMMIGRATION COURT BACKLOGS WORSE! — “ADR” Rips Off Taxpayers While Denying Due Process! — See More Of Award-Winning Investigative Reporter Jodie Fleischer’s Interview With Me!

Here’s the video and graphs:

http://www.nbcwashington.com/investigations/Federal-Records-Show-New-Immigration-Policies-Delay-Local-Cases-Increase-Court-Backlog-449104633.html

Here’s the story:

“By Jodie Fleischer and Rick Yarborough

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
Follow us: @nbcwashington on Twitter | NBCWashington on Facebook

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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.

PWS

10-03-17

 

 

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 IMMIGRATON COURT BACKLOG EXPOSED BY NBC 4 DC’S I-TEAM — By Paul Wickham Schmidt, United States Immigration Judge (Retired)

  • 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!

 

Second, EOIR makes the totally disingenuous statement that: “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.”

 

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!

PWS

09-26-17

 

READ THE DOJ/EOIR’S (HIGHLY BUREAUCRATIC) RESPONSE TO THE NEWS 4 I-TEAM — The DOJ/EOIR “Plan” Is “No Plan” Because They Are Clueless As To How To Solve The Self-Created Court Backlog Problem Without Stomping All Over Due Process!

jhttp://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/US-Department-of-Justice-Executive-Office-for-Immigration-Review-Responses-to-I-Team-Immigration-Backlog-Report-446936203.html

“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.”

Source: U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review Responses to I-Team Immigration Backlog Report – NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/US-Department-of-Justice-Executive-Office-for-Immigration-Review-Responses-to-I-Team-Immigration-Backlog-Report-446936203.html#ixzz4toZyt2D9
Follow us: @nbcwashington on Twitter | NBCWashington on Facebook

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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.
PWS
09-26-17

SEE PT. II OF NBC4’S “CRISIS IN THE IMMIGRATION COURTS” FEATURING INTERVIEWS WITH ME — Understand Why This System Must Be Changed NOW!

Here’s a link to the video of Jodie Fleischer’s “Late Night Report on the Crisis in the Immigration Courts” from last night’s 11PM Version of News 4:

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Massive-Immigration-Case-Backlog-Takes-Years_Washington-DC-447835143.html

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.”

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Here’s a link that will get you a version where all the links graphs,  and charts work: http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/national-international/Immigration-Crisis-in-the-Courts-446790833.html

Next up, the EOIR/DOJ response!

PWS

09-26-16

HERE’S PT. I OF NBC4’s “CRISIS IN THE IMMIGRATION COURTS,” FEATURING JUDGE DANA LEIGH MARKS & ME DISCUSSING BACKLOGS!

SEE THE I-TEAM’S JODIE FLEISCHER’S REPORT HERE (PT I):

http://www.nbcwashington.com/investigations/Crisis-in-the-Courts-DMV-Immigration-Courts-Scheduling-Hearings-for-2021-446917903.html

“Crisis in the Courts: DC-Area Immigration Courts Scheduling Hearings for 2021

“Immigration is clearly an issue that divides the nation. Who should be allowed to stay in the US? Who should have to go?

Whether you support immigration or oppose it, the backlog in our nation’s immigration courts will disturb you.

People who shouldn’t be here, get to stay for years and build a life while they wait. And those who do legally deserve to stay may have family in danger back home, while their cases face delay after delay.

The News4 I-Team spent months working with NBC investigative teams across the country to examine our nation’s immigration case backlog.

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 quality of their lives are deeply affected by whether or not they’re allowed to stay,” said National Association of Immigration Judges President Dana Leigh Marks, adding that the decisions are incredibly tough.

They often involve people who faced violent assaults, religious persecution, even government oppression and torture in their home country.

“The cases that we hear, they are death penalty cases,” said Marks. “A lot of people tell us that they fear for their very life if they’re sent back to their home country.”

And by the time many of them make it into a courtroom, their definition of “home” has likely changed.

‘I Consider Myself American’

Jonathan Claros was born in El Salvador, but his home is now Montgomery County, Maryland.

“I consider myself American. I know some people are against that,” he said.

At 29, he’s been here almost half his life. He taught himself English, graduated from high school in Gaithersburg and works in construction.

“This country is made of immigrants,” Claros said. “It doesn’t matter what color they are, or race or ethnicity.”

What does matter is whether you come here legally.

Just last month, ICE deported Jonathan’s brothers, the youngest was a 19-year-old soccer star who was set to start college on a scholarship.

“They came here when they were little. They know better this country than where they were born,” Claros said.

Their parents and sister are all in Maryland and equally worried about the current state of the U.S. immigration system.

“What they’re doing right now for me is, you know, it’s devastating,” Claros told the News4 I-Team. “A lot of families have been separated from their loves.”

Three years ago he married a U.S. citizen and filed paperwork to get legal status.

“It’s been kind of hard; it’s been almost a year waiting for an answer,” he said of the delay.

US Immigration by the NumbersUS Immigration by the Numbers

An overview of immigration in the U.S., by the numbers.

(Published Monday, Sept. 25, 2017)

‘It’s a Disaster. I Think It’s Moving Toward Implosion’

 The nationwide backlog of immigration cases topped 617,000 this summer. The courts in Arlington and Baltimore handle all of the cases for D.C., Maryland and Virginia — more than 58,000 of them as of July. And that doesn’t even include immigrants who are here illegally and completely undocumented.

The News4 I-Team found a new immigrant walking into the Arlington court today could have to wait until December 2021 for a hearing; that’s the second longest delay in the nation.

“It’s a disaster. I think it’s moving toward implosion,” said Judge Paul Wickham Schmidt, who retired last year from Arlington’s immigration court, after 13 years on the bench.

“We probably had 9 to 10,000 each on our dockets,” said Schmidt. “I think sometimes we minimize the difficulty of having your life on hold.”

He said the system is painfully slow for several reasons, and the first is really basic: The entire system operated on paper. With no way to e-file cases or review briefs or documents online.

“They don’t let you see the inside of an immigration court. If they did, they’d clean it up! But there are files piled all over: They’re in the corridors, they’re all over the desks, they’re under desks,” said Schmidt, who can speak freely since he’s retired.

He said judges have to physically be in their offices to review files, which is especially difficult with a new administration policy that reassigns some judges to hear cases at the border.

That leaves courtrooms empty back in their home court and a full docket of cases that get pushed to the back of the line.

During the delay, witnesses who could help the immigrant’s case might disappear, and attorneys and judges could move or retire, causing more delay.

“The cases that are actually ready to go are being put to the end, and the judges are being assigned to cases of recently arrived individuals, many of whom haven’t had time to get lawyers. So I think it’s a misuse of resources,” said Schmidt.

He said there aren’t enough attorneys to keep the system moving, and having representation significantly impacts someone’s chance of staying.

The new administration has also eliminated prosecutors’ discretion to dismiss or delay thousands of low priority cases: People who haven’t committed a crime or have family members who are citizens.

“There’s only so much judge time,” said Schmidt, “and if you use it for people who are low priorities, then there’s some other person who isn’t getting a hearing.”

He added that with political priorities constantly shifting, judges should have control over which cases to call first.

‘People Are Being Hurt by These Delays’

“Unfortunately despite our best efforts, there are people being hurt by these delays, and they can be avoided if we would get sufficient resources,” said Judge Marks.

She said the court needs twice as many judges to tackle that backlog. But right now, the court’s budget and its management are within the Department of Justice, which is another major issue for the judges association.

“The way to assure stakeholders, the people who come before us, that they are being treated fairly is that we should be taken out of the Department of Justice and made a neutral court system,” said Marks.

She said Congress needs to look at the whole system and take action so the political climate surrounding immigration doesn’t impact whether or when people get their day in court.

“It is not a Democratic or Republican issue,” said Marks. “If you want to have increased focus on the border courts, fine. But build courts, hire judges and put them there before you start that program.”

The Justice Department told the News4 I-Team it’s committed to increasing the number of judges; an additional 65 judge positions are already budgeted for next year.

But that still doesn’t solve the problem of dozens of vacant positions, and sitting judges retiring.

There’s also an agency-wide review already underway which aims to identify ways to increase efficiency, through changes to court procedures and technology.

The DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which manages the court system, says its mission is to fairly, expeditiously and uniformly interpret and administer the nation’s immigration laws.

‘You’re Not Going to Get Every Single One Right’

Like Jonathan Claros, nearly half of all of the immigrants caught in the backlog in our area are from El Salvador — more than 28,760 people. But Judge Schmidt said the courts do not treat all nationalities equally.

“The law is sort of tough on Central American cases. Some of them can make it, some of them don’t,” said Schmidt, “An Ethiopian with an asylum claim, they almost always get granted.”

The court data shows the location also factors into whether an immigrant has a better chance of being able to stay.

The national average is just over 56 percent. Here in the D.C. area, it’s 61 percent. Los Angeles is 70 percent.

“Clearly, the attitudes of the judges and how they feel about asylum law has quite a bit to do with it,” said Schmidt, “If I were an immigrant, I’d rather be in California than Atlanta, Georgia. Any day.”

In one Georgia court, only 13 percent of people are allowed to stay in the U.S.

Schmidt said the appellate boards also lack consistency in their decisions.

“As a result, judges don’t get the guidance they need. The board doesn’t crack down on judges who are way out of line with what the law should be,” he said, adding that immigrants deserve to know their fate sooner.

Our system simply doesn’t allow for that.

Schmidt said with the volume of cases, the gravity of his difficult decisions was often emotional.

“You’re not going to get every single one right, and you think about the lives that you might have destroyed that you could have saved, and of course that weighs on you,” he said.

Jonathan Claros said he still believes in the American dream. He’s just worried his family’s heartache will keep growing while he waits for an answer.

“Everybody’s afraid,” he said. “They go out, but they don’t know if they are going to come back home again. It’s hard to live like that.”

Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, shot and edited by Steve Jones.

Source: Crisis in the Courts: DC-Area Immigration Courts Scheduling Hearings for 2021 – NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com/investigations/Crisis-in-the-Courts-DMV-Immigration-Courts-Scheduling-Hearings-for-2021-446917903.html#ixzz4tjp7to2P
Follow us: @nbcwashington on Twitter | NBCWashington on Facebook”

See Part II on News4 at 11:15 tonight!

PWS

09-25-17

MUST SEE TV FROM PBS: Judge Dana Leigh Marks Explains The Dire Backlogs In U.S. Immigration Courts & Why They Are Becoming Worse Every Day!

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/dire-immigration-court-backlog-affects-lives/

Click the above link to see John Yang of PBS interview United States Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks of the U.S. Immigration Court in San Francisco, speaking in her capacity as President of the National Association of Immigration Judges (“NAIJ”).

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a “retiree member” of the NAIJ.

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

As this interview shows, this problem has been building steadily under the past three Administrations. However, the “gonzo enforcement” policies of the Trump Administration, combined with “ADR” (“Aimless Docket Reschuffling”) caused by poorly planned, and in many cases unneeded, details of Immigration Judges from backlogged “home dockets” to obscure detention centers along the Southern Border in response to Trump’s Executive Orders on enforcement, made worse by constant threats to mindlessly throw DACA individuals and TPS holders into the already overwhelmed system have greatly and unnecessarily aggravated an already bad situation.

Judge Marks points out that nearly 40% of the current U.S. Immigration Judiciary, including all of the most experienced judges, are eligible or nearly eligible to retire. That would mean a whopping 140 new Immigration Judge hires in a short period of time in addition to filling the current approximately 50 vacancies and any other positions that might become available. That adds up to approximately 200 new judicial vacancies, not counting any additional positions that Congress might provide.

No Administration has been able to competently hire that many new judges using a proper merit selection process. Indeed, the last Administration, using a system that could hardly be viewed as ”merit based,” took an astounding average of nearly two years to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Immigration Court! That’s amazing considering that these are administrative judges who do not require Senate confirmation.

The total unsuitability of the U.S. Justice Department to be administering the U.S. Immigration Courts has been demonstrated not only in terns of misuse of the courts for politicized law enforcement objectives, but also in terms of poor planning and stunningly incompetent judicial administration.

We need an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court, and we need it now!

PWS

09-20-17

 

 

ZOE TILLMAN ON BUZZFEED: Administration Has Nowhere To Hide As Stats Show Immigration Court Backlog Careening Out Of Control On Their Watch: Head Of Judges Assn Says Judges Are “canaries in the coal mine . . . still gasping for air.!”

https://www.buzzfeed.com/zoetillman/the-backlog-of-cases-in-immigration-courts-has-hit-a-record?utm_term=.gsZy1Gdqr#.pqmop3XAD

Zoe reports:

“The backlog of cases in US immigration courts has continued to worsen amid the Trump administration’s border crackdown, new statistics show.

As of the end of July, there were 617,527 cases pending in immigration courts. It’s the first time this number has crossed the 600,000 mark, according to information released on Thursday by the Transactional Records Action Clearinghouse, or TRAC, a research center at Syracuse University that tracks US government data.

The immigration court system, which is an arm of the US Department of Justice, has been grappling with growing caseloads for years. Immigration judges and lawyers have reported case delays stretching years out. But the latest numbers show a large jump in 2017. When Trump took office in January, there were approximately 540,000 pending cases.

“It is still overwhelming to the immigration judges,” said Judge Dana Leigh Marks, an immigration judge in San Francisco and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. “The levels of caseload are higher than we’ve ever seen before.”

. . . .

As of Aug. 14, there were 334 immigration judges nationwide — 54 have been hired since Trump took office. The office is authorized by Congress to have 384 judges. Marks said that a large number of judges are eligible to retire, which could cut into any progress that DOJ makes in hiring new judges. New judges also don’t move as quickly as experienced ones, she said.

Under a Jan. 25 executive order on immigration enforcement, the Justice Department said in August that it had mobilized more than 100 immigration judges to hear cases at Department of Homeland Security detention facilities, either in-person or by video teleconferencing. Between Feb. 1 and July 31, immigration judges had issued nearly 28 percent more deportation orders as compared to the same time period last year, DOJ said.

Marks said that immigration judges had been warning officials about the backlog for years, and would continue to do so.

“The canaries in the coal mine are still gasping for air,” she said.”

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

Read Zoe’s entire report at the link.

The DOJ is: clueless. planless, incompetent, and totally unqualified to manage a system of the size and importance of the current US Immigration Court consistently with due process. Systemically, knowingly running a system that engages in Aimless Docket Reshuffling (“ADR”), puts long pending cases that can be tried at the end of the line (many years out), while engaging in unnecessary detention and hustling more recent arrivals through without a reasonable chance to obtain representation or present their claims for relief, indeed sometimes without any hearings at all, is already a “default” on due process. Greater reliance on already outdated and overwhelmed “televideo court equipment” will further compromise due process. Even now, as most Immigration Judges and attorneys who have to use EOIR Televideo courts will tell you, the system is NQRFPT (“Not Quite Ready For Prime Time”).  Jamming more cases into it is asking for a complete breakdown.

I’m actually somewhat surprised that no group has found a way to bring a class action seeking to shut down the entire Immigration Court System and the DHS Administrative Removal System until improvements are made so that they comply with due process.  Sort of like the litigation that eventually required some prison systems to come into compliance with constitutional norms. In some cases, this is even worse than prisons, since many individuals in immigration detention haven’t been convicted of any crimes; they are just asserting their statutory and constitutional rights to have a fair adjudication of their ability to remain in the US.

Also, how is a system that treats its own judges as “canaries gasping for breath in the coal mine” going to deliver on due process for those individuals expecting it from those same judges? It isn’t.

And Congress should not get off the hook either. This problem has been growing very publicly for years over several Administrations while Congress has failed to deliver on proposals for an independent US Immigration Court that have been kicking around for more than a decade!

None of the DOJ’s statements deal with the real solution here: use of prosecutorial discretion “PD” on a widespread basis to resolve most of these cases and take them off the Immigration Courts’ docket. That needs to be followed by serious negotiations with Congress for: 1) a realistic legalization program, 2) an increase in legal immigration to put our immigration laws more in line with the actual market conditions that are bringing, and will continue to bring, more immigrant workers to the US, and an independent Immigration Court where the capacity to adjudicate cases consistently with due process is a primary consideration in both DHS’s deciding how many cases to place on the docket and how individual judges manage their individual dockets. That’s simply making changes to bring the Immigration Court system and the immigration laws into line with the rest of the U.S. legal system and our overall needs to maintain and administer a much more robust and inclusive legal immigration system that wouldn’t waste money on impractical walls and on “gonzo” immigration enforcement ands unnecessary detention.

 

PWS

09-01-17

 

 

 

 

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

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

Tory Johnson writes in Immigration Impact:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PWS

06-14-17

 

US IMMIGRATION COURT CHAOS — NEW TRAC STATS PROVE MY CASE: 79 More IJs + ADR** + No Plan + Arbitrary DHS Enforcement = More Backlog — Administration On Track To Top 600,000 Pending Cases By Fall — Due Process Disaster — Some Hearings Being Set For 2022 (That’s Halfway Through The NEXT Administration) !

** ADR = “Aimless Docket Reshuffling”

http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/468/

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse
==========================================

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Greetings. During the past 18 months, a total of 79 new judges have been appointed to the Immigration Court. Despite this spurt in hiring, it has not made a dent in the court’s mountainous backlog. Instead, the backlog along with wait times have steadily increased.

As of the end of April 2017, the number of cases waiting for a decision had reached an all-time high of 585,930. Nine courts that account for a quarter of this backlog currently require some individuals to wait for more than four additional years before a hearing is scheduled. The Immigration Court in San Francisco with nearly 42,000 backlogged cases has some cases waiting for more than five additional years – as much as 1,908 days longer – for their July 21, 2022 hearing date.

These extraordinary wait times imply that some individuals are not scheduled to have their day in court until after President Trump’s current four-year term in office has ended. And we are only a little more than 100 days into his four-year term.

How quickly a case can be heard varies by court location, and the priority assigned to the case. Individuals detained by ICE are generally given priority and their cases are heard more quickly. Thus, there is tremendous variation in scheduled wait times from an average of 22 days for the Immigration Court hearing cases in the Cibola County Correctional Center in Minnesota, to 1,820 average days for individuals heard by the Immigration Court sitting in Chicago, Illinois.

These findings are based upon the very latest case-by-case court records – current through the end of April – that were obtained under the Freedom of information Act and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

To see the full report, including the backlog and wait until hearings are scheduled for individual Immigration Court hearing locations, go to:

http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/468/

In addition, many of TRAC’s free query tools – which track new DHS filings, court dispositions, the handling of juvenile cases and much more – have now been updated through April 2017. For an index to the full list of TRAC’s immigration tools go to:

http://trac.syr.edu/imm/tools/

If you want to be sure to receive notifications whenever updated data become available, sign up at:

http://tracfed.syr.edu/cgi-bin/tracuser.pl?pub=1&list=imm

or follow us on Twitter @tracreports or like us on Facebook:

http://facebook.com/tracreports

TRAC is self-supporting and depends on foundation grants, individual contributions and subscription fees for the funding needed to obtain, analyze and publish the data we collect on the activities of the U.S. federal government. To help support TRAC’s ongoing efforts, go to:

http://trac.syr.edu/cgi-bin/sponsor/sponsor.pl

David Burnham and Susan B. Long, co-directors
Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse
Syracuse University
Suite 360, Newhouse II
Syracuse, NY 13244-2100
315-443-3563

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

Wow! The Trump Administration has proved to be incompetent at just about everything except offending allies, paving the way for dirtier air and water, undermining civil rights, busting more vulnerable individuals, most of whom are doing the US no particular harm (actually most are “plusses” for America), and keeping judges, lawyers, and reporters busy.

Can this Congress, even this GOP-controlled version, just stand by and let an incompetent Executive Branch run an important judicial system into the ground? Stay tuned.

Thanks to Nolan Rappaport for alerting me to this report.

PWS

06-11-17

“AIMLESS DOCKET RESHUFFLING” (“ADR”) IN NEW YORK — NPR’s Beth Fertig Exposes Due Process/Management Abuses By Obama & Trump Administrations!

http://www.wnyc.org/story/why-new-yorks-immigration-court-even-busier-fewer-judges-under-trump/

Fertig reports:

“There are 29 immigration judges assigned to court rooms in the Federal Building in Lower Manhattan. But as the number of pending cases grew from about 70,000 in January to nearly 80,000 this spring, more and more people have been coming to court only to discover they don’t have judges.

On a Tuesday morning in May, Alin Guifarro expected to attend a hearing with his 18-year-old son, Jose David Rodriguez. The teen came from Honduras last year to join his father and is trying to get legal status in the U.S.

But when they went to the 12th floor and scanned the long list of names with appearances scheduled that day, Guifarro saw his son’s case wasn’t assigned to a judge. Confused, he went to the clerk’s office and was told he would eventually get a letter in the mail about a new court date.

Guifarro was frustrated. “I came over here driving 2 ½ hours for nothing,” he said, referring to his journey from his home in Mastic, Long Island.

This father and son aren’t the only ones whose immigration cases have been postponed lately.

“In the last two months this has happened every week,” said Bryan Johnson, an immigration lawyer based on Long Island. Many of his clients are seeking asylum, and he said some have already been waiting a couple of years. With extra delays, he said, “if they have children who are abroad, that will delay family unification or spousal unification if their spouse is abroad.”

On a single day in May, when almost 400 hearings were scheduled to take place in immigration court, WNYC counted 60 people who didn’t have judges.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review runs the nation’s immigration courts. It says staffers typically mail a notice if a judge is out or a case is delayed, but they don’t always go out in time. As for why people are coming to court without judges, the agency explained that they are technically assigned to ”visiting judges.” But it acknowledged these judges don’t actually exist.

“The concept of ‘visiting judges’ is for internal case management,” said E.O.I.R. spokesman John Martin. “When judges retire, or temporarily stop hearing cases due to illness, the New York City Immigration Court will assign these dockets to a ‘visiting judge’ in order to maintain continuity of these cases. As new immigration judges are hired and officially placed at their respective immigration court locations, these ‘visiting judge’ dockets in those locations are reassigned to them.”

Even after a recent hire, New York City has only 29 immigration judges, compared to 31 at this time last year.

The backlog in immigration courts isn’t new. There are almost 600,000 pending cases, nationally. The problem started well before President Donald Trump took office.”

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

Read Beth’s complete article at the link.

A recent GAO report highlighted and quantified endemic management issues with the DOJ’s stewardship over the U.S. Immigration Courts, particularly in hiring new Immigration Judges which takes an astounding average of 742 days. http://wp.me/p8eeJm-Uh

Then, there are the retirements. It’s hardly rocket science that an aging workforce in high-stress jobs might retire in large numbers. I ran “Immigration Judge retirements” into my search engine and got 9 articles, right off the bat. Try it yourself.

Additionally, there is the practice of both Administrations of mindlessly jamming more new cases in the front of the system without a rational plan for completing the ones already in it. That’s followed by reassigning Immigration Judges (like they were assembly line workers) from existing dockets of cases scheduled for final hearings to new dockets of Not Quite Ready For Prime Time (“NQRFPT”) cases. And to cap it off, Secretary Kelly, egged on by Jeff Sessions, has told DHS agents to arrest anyone the feel like arresting without any regard for reasonable priorities or space on already overcrowded court dockets!

And, while we’re at it, let’s stuff more non-criminals into dangerous, expensive, and unneeded immigration detention, thereby turning them into self-created emergency situations, rather than thinking creatively about cheaper, more humane, and more effective methods of getting non-dangerous folks through the system in a reasonable manner.

And you gotta love imaginary “visiting judges.”  Visiting from where, “The Twilight Zone?” Almost as good as “warehousing” tens of thousands of cases on a single day in November 2019. No wonder that once in extreme frustration I referred to this administrative morass as “Clown Court!”🤡

No, it’s not all the fault of EOIR bureaucrats, most of whom mean well and are simply caught up in a “built for failure” system. But, it is the fault of the DOJ whose politicized management of the Immigration Courts has been a disaster since the beginning of this century. And, even if you removed politics from the equation, the DOJ obviously lacks the basic administrative competence to run a complicated, high volume court system. Ultimately, Congress must assume the responsibility for allowing this travesty to continue to exist. An independent Immigration Court outside the Executive Branch is long overdue.

But, other than that, it’s a great system!

Stay tuned! Tomorrow, Beth will tell us what judges pulled off their existing dockets find when they get to their “detail courts.” I can’t wait to hear what she found out!

PWS

06-05-17

 

 

TRAC: U.S. Immigration Court Backlog Careens Toward 600,000 — No End In Sight!

==========================================
Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse
==========================================FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEGreetings. During the past 18 months, a total of 79 new judges have been appointed to the Immigration Court. Despite this spurt in hiring, it has not made a dent in the court’s mountainous backlog. Instead, the backlog along with wait times have steadily increased.As of the end of April 2017, the number of cases waiting for a decision had reached an all-time high of 585,930. Nine courts that account for a quarter of this backlog currently require some individuals to wait for more than four additional years before a hearing is scheduled. The Immigration Court in San Francisco with nearly 42,000 backlogged cases has some cases waiting for more than five additional years – as much as 1,908 days longer – for their July 21, 2022 hearing date.

These extraordinary wait times imply that some individuals are not scheduled to have their day in court until after President Trump’s current four-year term in office has ended. And we are only a little more than 100 days into his four-year term.

How quickly a case can be heard varies by court location, and the priority assigned to the case. Individuals detained by ICE are generally given priority and their cases are heard more quickly. Thus, there is tremendous variation in scheduled wait times from an average of 22 days for the Immigration Court hearing cases in the Cibola County Correctional Center in Minnesota, to 1,820 average days for individuals heard by the Immigration Court sitting in Chicago, Illinois.

These findings are based upon the very latest case-by-case court records – current through the end of April – that were obtained under the Freedom of information Act and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

To see the full report, including the backlog and wait until hearings are scheduled for individual Immigration Court hearing locations, go to:

http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/468/

In addition, many of TRAC’s free query tools – which track new DHS filings, court dispositions, the handling of juvenile cases and much more – have now been updated through April 2017. For an index to the full list of TRAC’s immigration tools go to:

http://trac.syr.edu/imm/tools/

If you want to be sure to receive notifications whenever updated data become available, sign up at:

http://tracfed.syr.edu/cgi-bin/tracuser.pl?pub=1&list=imm

or follow us on Twitter @tracreports or like us on Facebook:

http://facebook.com/tracreports

TRAC is self-supporting and depends on foundation grants, individual contributions and subscription fees for the funding needed to obtain, analyze and publish the data we collect on the activities of the U.S. federal government. To help support TRAC’s ongoing efforts, go to:

http://trac.syr.edu/cgi-bin/sponsor/sponsor.pl

David Burnham and Susan B. Long, co-directors
Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse
Syracuse University
Suite 360, Newhouse II
Syracuse, NY 13244-2100
315-443-3563
_______________________________________________

Thanks to Dan Kowalski of LexisNexis for bringing this to my attention.
Just hiring more U.S. Immigration Judges will not solve this problem. There is a huge mismanagement issue at the U.S. Department of Justice!
PWS
05-16-17