WashPost LEAD EDITORIAL BLASTS SESSIONS’S ATTACK ON INDEPENDENCE OF U.S. IMMIGRATION JUDGES — Time For Congressional Action To Preserve Due Process!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/sessionss-plan-for-immigration-courts-would-undermine-their-integrity/2017/10/22/ce000df6-b2aa-11e7-9e58-e6288544af98_story.html?utm_term=.2ee43b5a7979

October 22 at 6:39 PM

ATTORNEY GENERAL Jeff Sessions decried the state of the immigration courts in remarks Oct. 12 before the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, lamenting “rampant abuse and fraud” in asylum applications. As part of Mr. Sessions’s push for an overhaul of the immigration system, the department also plans to begin evaluating immigration judges on the basis of how many cases they resolve. This proposal would do little to fix the United States’ backlogged immigration courts and much to undermine their integrity.

The Trump administration hinted at the plan in a wish list of immigration policies, alongside commitments to constructing President Trump’s promised border wall and withholding federal grants from so-called sanctuary cities. According to reporting by The Post, government documents show that the Justice Department “intends to implement numeric performance standards to evaluate Judge performance.” Such a metric would probably involve assessing judges based on how many cases they complete or how quickly they decide them — a plan that the National Association of Immigration Judges has called a “death knell for judicial independence.”

Unlike other federal judges, immigration judges are technically Justice Department employees. Currently, the collective bargaining agreement between Justice and the judges’ association forbids evaluating judges based on quotas. But the association says the Executive Office of Immigration Review is working now to remove that language from the contract.”

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Read the complete editorial at the link.

Note the “progression” by the DOJ: From “performance evaluations would interfere with judicial independence,” to “performance evaluations won’t involve production quotas,” to “judges are just ‘oyster shuckers in robes!'”

Performance evaluations by the DOJ are just as inappropriate and unnecessary for U.S. Immigration Judges now as they were back in 1983 when EOIR was established. The only difference is the plan by Sessions and his politico cronies to co-opt the U.S. Immigration Courts and use them as an enforcement tool in his xenophobic crusade against immigrants, asylum seekers, due process, and the American justice system.

I actually was part of the NAIJ “negotiating team” that negotiated the current procedures and standards for judicial performance evaluations. We were assured over and over by “EOIR Management” that “case quotas” were not part of the plan and that “management recognized” the need for decisional independence in the Immigration Judge corps.

PWS

10-23-17

 

U.S. IMMIGRATON JUDGES: QUOTAS WILL SPELL THE END OF DUE PROCESS IN IMMIGRATION COURT!

HERE ARE TWO POSITION PAPERS PREPARED BY THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF IMMIGRATION JUDGES (“NAIJ”) THE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING ORGANIZATION THAT REPRESENTS ALL U.S. IMMIGRATION JUDGES  (FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a Retired Member of the NAIJ)

NAIJ HAS GRAVE CONCERNS REGARDING IMPLEMENTATION OF QUOTAS ON IMMIGRATION JUDGE PERFORMANCE REVIEWS, October 18, 2017

“The imposition of quotas or deadlines on judges can impede justice and due process. For example, a respondent must be given a “reasonable opportunity” to examine and present evidence. Section 240(b) (4) (B) of the Act. Given that most respondents do not speak English as their primary language and much evidence has to be obtained from other countries, imposing a time frame for completion of cases interferes with a judge’s ability to assure that a respondent’s rights are respected.

Not only will individuals who appear in removal proceedings potentially suffer adverse consequences, but also the public’s interest in a fair, impartial and transparent tribunal will be jeopardized by implementation of such standards.

THE SOLUTION

While it cannot be denied that additional resources are desperately needed immediately, resources alone cannot solve the persistent problems facing our Immigration Courts. The problems highlighted by the response to the recent “surge” underscores the need to remove the Immigration Court from the political sphere of a law enforcement agency and assure its judicial independence. Structural reform can no longer be put on the back burner. Since the 1981 Select Commission on Immigration, the idea of creating an Article I court, similar to the U.S. Tax Court, has been advanced.xvi In the intervening years, a strong consensus has formed supporting this structural change.xvii For years experts debated the wisdom of far-reaching restructuring of the Immigration Court system. Now “[m]ost immigration judges and attorneys agree the long term solution to the problem is to restructure the immigration court

system….” xviii

The time has come to undertake structural reform of the Immigration Courts. It is apparent that until far-reaching changes are made, the problems which have plagued our tribunals for decades will persist. For years NAIJ has advocated establishment of an Article I court. We cannot expect a different outcome unless we change our approach to the persistent problems facing our court system. Acting now will be cost effective and will improve the speed, efficiency and fairness of the process we afford to the public we serve. Our tribunals are often the only face of the United States justice system that these foreign born individuals experience, and it must properly reflect the principles upon which our country was founded. Action is needed now on this urgent priority for the Immigration Courts. It is time to stop the cycle of overlooking this important component of the immigration enforcement system – it will be a positive step for enforcement, due process and humanitarian treatment of all respondents in our proceedings.

6

NAIJ CONCERNS RE QUOTAS

AILA Doc. No 17102062.  (Posted 10/20/17)

We realize that immediate action is needed, and that a structural overhaul and creation of an Article I Court, while the best and only durable solution, may not be feasible right now. However, Congress can act easily and swiftly resolve this problem through a simple amendment to the civil service statute on performance reviews. . Recognizing that performance evaluations are antithetical to judicial independence, Congress exempted Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) from performance appraisals and ratings by including them in the list of occupations exempt from performance reviews in 5 U.S.C. § 4301(2)(D). This provision lists ALJs as one of eight categories (A through H) of employees who are excluded from the requirement of performance appraisals and ratings.xix To provide that same exemption to Immigration Judges, all that would be needed is an amendment to 5 U.S.C. § 4301(2) which would add a new paragraph (I) listing Immigration Judges in that list of exempt employees.

We urge you to take this important step to protect judicial independence at the Immigration Courts by enacting legislation as described above.

Thank you.

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION, CONTACT

THE HONORABLE A. ASHLEY TABADDOR, PRESIDENT NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF IMMIGRATION JUDGES C/o Immigration Court
606 S. Olive Street, 15th Floor

Los Angeles, CA 90014 (310)709-3580 ashleytabaddor@gmail.com www.naij-usa.org

Read the complete memo at this link:

NAIJ2

 

Threat to Due Process and Judicial Independence Caused by Performance Quotas on Immigration Judges

“15) If EOIR is successful in tying case completion quotas to judge performance evaluations, it could be the death knell for judicial independence in the Immigration Courts. Judges can face potential termination for good faith legal decisions of which their supervisors do not approve.

16) In addition, Circuit Courts will be severely adversely impacted and we will simply be repeating history which has proven to be disastrous. One need only remember the lasting impact of Attorney General Ashcroft’s “streamlining” initiative at the Board of Immigration Appeals.

17) The United States Government Accountability Office issued its report entitled “IMMIGRATION COURTS-Actions Needed to Reduce Case Backlog and Address Long-Standing Management and Operational Challenges Report to Congressional Requesters” in June 2017, GAO-17-438, (GAO Report). This GAO Report contains a section entitled, “Comprehensive Performance Assessment Could Help EOIR Identify Effective Management Approaches to Address the Case Backlog;” however, nowhere is the suggestion made that numerical or time based criteria be added to performance evaluations for immigration judges. AILA Doc. No 17102061. (Posted 10/20/17)

18) There is no reason for the agency to have production and quantity based measures tied to judge performance reviews. The current court backlog cannot be attributed to a lack of Immigration Judge productivity. In fact, the GAO report shows that Immigration Judge related continuances have decreased (down 2 percent) in the last ten years. GAO Report at 124. The same report shows that continuances due to “operational factors” and details of Immigration Judges were up 149% and 112%, respectively. GAO Report at 131, 133. These continuances, where Judges were forced to reset cases that were near completion in order to address cases that were priorities of various administrations, have a much greater impact on case completion rates. 19) The imposition of quotas or deadlines on judges can impede justice and due process. For example, a respondent must be given a “reasonable opportunity” to examine and present evidence. Section 240(b) (4) (B) of the Act. Given that most respondents do not speak English as their primary language and much evidence has to be obtained from other countries, imposing a time frame for completion of cases interferes with a judge’s ability to assure that a respondent’s rights are respected.”

Read this entire memorandum at the following link:

NAIJ1

 

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Folks, Due Process is “on the run” at the U.S. Immigration Courts. If Congress doesn’t take at least some corrective action to protect quasi-judicial independence, our U.S. Immigration Courts will no longer be able to provide fair and impartial adjudication in accordance with Constitutional requirements. Today, the statutory and Constitutional rights of immigrants are under attack. Tomorrow it could be YOUR Constitutional rights. Who is going to speak up for YOUR RIGHTS if YOU are indifferent to the rights of others?

PWS

10-21-17

ASSEMBLY LINE “JUSTICE” IS “INJUSTICE” — U.S. Immigration Judges Are NOT “Piece Workers,” & Fair Court Decisions Are Not “Widgets” That Can Be Quantified For Bogus “Performance Evaluations!” — Are Three Wrong Decisions “Better” Than One Right Decision?

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/10/13/doj-immigration-judges-assembly-line/

Katie Shepherd writes in Immigration Impact:

“The Department of Justice (DOJ) is reportedly intending to implement numerical quotas on Immigration Judges as a way of evaluating their performance. This move would undermine judicial independence, threaten the integrity of the immigration court system, and cause massive due process violations.

As it currently stands, Immigration Judges are not rated based on the number of cases they complete within a certain time frame. The DOJ – currently in settlement negotiations with the union for immigration judges, the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) – is now trying to remove those safeguards, declaring a need to accelerate deportations to reduce the court’s case backlog and ensure more individuals are deported.

This move is unprecedented, as immigration judges have been exempt from performance evaluations tied to case completion rates for over two decades. According to the NAIJ, the basis for the exemption was “rooted in the notion that ratings created an inherent risk of actual or perceived influence by supervisors on the work of judges, with the potential of improperly affecting the outcome of cases.”

If case completion quotas are imposed, Immigration Judges will be pressured to adjudicate cases more quickly, unfairly fast-tracking the deportation of those with valid claims for relief. Asylum seekers may need more time to obtain evidence that will strengthen their case or find an attorney to represent them. Only 37 percent of all immigrants (and merely 14 percent of detained immigrants) are able to secure legal counsel in their removal cases, even though immigrants with attorneys fare much better at every stage of the court process.

If judges feel compelled to dispose of cases quickly decreasing the chances that immigrants will be able to get an attorney, immigrants will pay the price, at incredible risk to their livelihood.

The Justice Department has expressed concern in recent weeks about the enormous backlog of 600,000 cases pending before the immigration courts and may see numerical quotas as an easy fix. Just this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called on Congress to tighten up rules for people seeking to “game” the system by exploiting loopholes in a “broken” and extremely backlogged process. However, punishing immigration judges with mandatory quotas is not the solution.

The announcement, however, has sparked condemnation by immigration judges and attorneys alike; in fact, the national IJ Union maintains that such a move means “trying to turn immigration judges into assembly-line workers.”

Tying the number of cases completed to the evaluation of an individual immigration judge’s performance represents the administration’s latest move to accelerate deportations at the expense of due process. Judges may be forced to violate their duty to be fair and impartial in deciding their cases.”

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The backlog problems in U.S. Immigration Court have nothing to do with “low productivity” by U.S. Immigration Judges.

It’s a result of a fundamentally flawed system created by Congress, years of inattention and ineffective oversight by Congress, political interference by the DOJ with court dockets and scheduling, years of “ADR,” and glaringly incompetent so-called judicial management by DOJ. There are “too many chefs stirring the pot” and too few “real cooks” out there doing the job.

The DOJ’s inappropriate “Vatican style” bureaucracy has produced a bloated and detached central administrative staff trying unsuccessfully to micromanage a minimalist, starving court system in a manner that keeps enforcement-driven politicos happy and, therefore, their jobs intact.

How could a court system set up in this absurd manner possibly “guarantee fairness and due process for all?” It can’t, and has stopped even pretending to be focused on that overriding mission! And what competence would Jeff Sessions (who was turned down for a Federal judgeship by members of his own party because of his record of bias) and administrators at EOIR HQ in Falls Church, who don’t actually handle Immigration Court dockets on a regular basis, have to establish “quotas” for those who do? No, it’s very obvious that the “quotas” will be directed at only one goal: maximizing removals while minimizing due process

When EOIR was established during the Reagan Administration the DOJ recognized that case completion quotas would interfere with judicial independence. What’s changed in the intervening 34 years?

Two things have changed: 1) the overtly political climate within the DOJ which now sees the Immigration Courts as part of the immigration enforcement apparatus (as it was before EOIR was created); and 2) the huge backlogs resulting from years of ADR, “inbreeding,” and incompetent management by the DOJ. This, in turn, requires the DOJ to find “scapegoats” like Immigration Judges, asylum applicants, unaccompanied children, and private attorneys to shift the blame for their own inappropriate behavior and incompetent administration of the Immigration Courts.

In U.S. Government parlance, there’s a term for that:  fraud, waste, and abuse!

PWS

10-17-17

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.

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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.”

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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

 

 

 

 

ATTENTION RETIRED U.S. IMMIGRATION JUDGES — EOIR ANNOUNCES PLANS TO RECRUIT REHIRED ANNUITANTS FOR 58 COURT LOCATIONS!

Attached is the text of an e-mail forwarded to me by Hon. Dana Leigh Marks, President of the National Association of Immigration Judges, which has been very active in working with EOIR to tap into the resource of retired U.S. Immigration Judges:

From: Swanwick, Daniel (EOIR)
Sent: Monday, August 14, 2017 3:17 PM
To: Marks, Dana (EOIR) <Dana.Marks@EOIR.USDOJ.GOV>; Slavin, Denise (EOIR) <Denise.Slavin@EOIR.USDOJ.GOV>
Cc: Mart, H. Kevin (EOIR) <H.Kevin.Mart@EOIR.USDOJ.GOV>; Scheinkman, Rena (EOIR) <Rena.Scheinkman@EOIR.USDOJ.GOV>; Maggard, Print (EOIR) <Print.Maggard@EOIR.USDOJ.GOV>; Cheng, Mary (EOIR) <Mary.Cheng@EOIR.USDOJ.GOV>; Keller, Mary Beth (EOIR) <MaryBeth.Keller@EOIR.USDOJ.GOV>
Subject: Reemployed Annuitant IJs
Dear Judges Marks and Slavin:
We are happy to report that the Agency will be posting an advertisement very soon seeking to hire retired IJs.  We know this is something NAIJ has wanted for a long time, and we are excited about the prospects of having retired IJs back on board to assist with our critical mission.  While the specifics of the advertisement are still in flux, we expect to advertise for all 58 court locations, as well as the Falls Church VTC location.  Selectees will be hired as intermittent employees, which likely will allow for flexibilities in their schedules to account for the their personal preferences, as well as to meet varying needs of the Agency.  Selectees also will be expected to be available to travel, as necessary, to meet the mission.  Retired IJs will be hired pursuant to the Reemployment of Annuitants regulation (5 C.F.R. § 837), as well as accompanying OPM guidance,available at, https://www.chcoc.gov/content/reemployment-civilian-retirees-under-national-defense-authorization-act-fiscal-year-2010-1.  To assist NAIJ and potential applicants in understanding the impact of returning as a reemployed annuitant, the Agency has prepared the attached reference sheet.
We appreciate your efforts in spreading the word to retired IJs that this advertisement will be posted shortly.  We will circle back with you when we have more specific information about when the advertisement will be posted.
Thank you,
Dan
Daniel L. Swanwick
Attorney Advisor
Office of the Chief Immigration Judge
5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 2500
Falls Church, VA  22041
703-605-1381
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Sounds like a smart idea! Congrats to the NAIJ and EOIR for working together to make it happen.
PWS
08-14-17

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

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

Jonathan Blitzer writes in The New Yorker:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PWS

06-21-17

WALTER PINCUS IN THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS: The Coming Immigration Court Disaster!

http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/03/01/trump-us-immigration-waiting-for-chaos/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NYR Dennett immigration reform Chopin&utm_content=NYR Dennett immigration reform Chopin+CID_c0a3091a06cff6ddbb541b093215f280&utm_source=Newsletter&utm_term=US Immigration Waiting for Chaos

“One thing however is clear. Trump’s recent efforts to use blunt executive power to close our borders and prepare the way for deporting large numbers of undocumented immigrants are confronting far-reaching problems. Not only is there opposition from federal judges, the business sector, civil liberties groups, and others. There is also a major roadblock from another quarter: our already broken system of immigration laws and immigration courts.

The nation’s immigration laws needed repair long before Trump came to office. Even without the measures taken by the new administration, immigration courts face a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases, while the existing detention system is plagued, not just by arbitrary arrests, but also by deep problems in the way immigrant detainees are handled by our courts, one aspect of which is the subject of a Supreme Court challenge.

But will the potential Trump excesses—driven by the president’s fear mongering about immigrant crimes and the alleged potential for terrorists to pose as refugees—be enough to light a fire under a Republican-led Congress that has for years balked at immigration reform?

. . . .

For better or worse—and it may turn out to be worse if Congress continues to refuse to act—the Trump administration’s determination to enforce current laws has pushed long-standing inequities in immigration justice onto the front pages.

Take the matter of those immigration judges, who now number some three hundred and are scheduled to grow substantially under the Trump administration. In April 2013, the National Association of Immigration Judges issued a scathing report pleading for omnibus immigration reform. Describing the morale of the immigration judge corps as “plummeting,” the report found that “the Immigration Courts’ caseload is spiraling out of control, dramatically outpacing the judicial resources available and making a complete gridlock of the current system a disturbing and foreseeable probability.”

The judges also noted that, “as a component of the DOJ [Department of Justice], the Immigration Courts remain housed in an executive agency with a prosecutorial mission that is frequently at odds with the goal of impartial adjudication.” For example, the judges are appointed by the Attorney General and “subject to non-transparent performance review and disciplinary processes as DOJ employees.” As a result, “they can be subjected to personal discipline for not meeting the administrative priorities of their supervisors and are frequently placed in the untenable position of having to choose between risking their livelihood and exercising their independent decision-making authority when deciding continuances”—the postponement of a hearing or trial.

The immigration judges writing this complaint were working under the Obama administration Justice Department, with Eric Holder as attorney general. What will their situation be like with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a believer in tighter immigration controls, as their boss?

As it is now, an immigration judge’s job is exhausting. They carry an average load of 1,500 cases, but have minimal staff support. In the 2013 report, the immigration judges noted that they have no bailiffs, no court reporters, and only one quarter of the time of a single judicial law clerk. The backlog of immigration cases in the United States now stands at roughly 542,000. Most important, the immigration judges claim some 85 percent of detained immigrants appearing before them are unrepresented by counsel.

Meanwhile, another pending lawsuit highlights a different long-running problem concerning our nation’s immigration judges. In June 2013, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, along with Public Citizen and the American Immigration Council (AIC) filed a case in federal district court in Washington, D.C., seeking documents that would disclose whether the federal government adequately investigated and resolved misconduct complaints against immigration judges.

Such complaints have been widespread enough that the Justice Department reports annually on the number. In fiscal 2014, the latest figures published, there were 115 complaints lodged against 66 immigration judges. Although 77 were listed as resolved, the outcomes are not described.”

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This timely article was brought to my attention by my good friend and former colleague retired U.s. Immigration Judge (NY) Sarah Burr. Walter Pincus is a highly respected national security reporter. He’s not by any means an “immigration guru.”

As I have pointed out in previous blogs and articles, this problem is real! In the absence of sensible, bipartisan immigration reform by Congress, which must include establishing an independent immigration judiciary, our entire Federal Justice System is at risk of massive failure.

Why? Because even now, immigration review cases are one of the largest, if not the largest, components of the civil dockets of the U.S. Courts of Appeals. As due process in the Immigration Courts and the BIA (the “Appellate Division” of the U.S. Immigration Courts) deteriorates under excruciating pressure from the Administration, more and more of those ordered removed will take their cases to the U.S. Courts of Appeals. That’s potentially hundreds of thousands of additional cases. It won’t be long before the Courts of Appeals won’t have time for anything else but immigration review.

In my view, that’s likely to provoke two responses from the Article III Courts. First, the Circuits will start imposing their own minimum due process and legal sufficiency requirements on the Immigration Courts. But, since there are eleven different Circuits now reviewing immigration petitions, that’s likely to result in a hodgepodge of different criteria applicable in different parts of the country. And, the Supremes have neither the time nor ability to quickly resolve all Circuit conflicts.

Second, many, if not all Courts of Appeals, are likely to return the problem to the DOJ by remanding thousands of cases to the Immigration Courts for “re-dos” under fundamentally fair procedures. Obviously, that will be a massive waste of time and resources for both the Article III Courts and the Immigration Courts. It’s much better to do it right in the first place. “Haste makes waste.”

No matter where one stands in the immigration debate, due process and independent decision making in the U.S. Immigration Courts should be a matter of bipartisan concern and cooperation. After all, we are a constitutional republic, and due process is one of the key concepts of our constitutional system.

PWS

03/02/17