Gabriel Thompson & Leonardo Santamaria in Topic Magazine:
“Your Judge Is Your Destiny”
Agnelis L. Reese has presided over more than 200 hearings during the past five years as an immigration judge. Unique among her peers, she has rejected every single case.
Words by Gabriel Thompson
Illustrated by Leonardo Santamaria
Read the complete article at the link.
The Supreme Court set forth a generous view of asylum law — even a 10% chance of persecution is enough to qualify — in the 1987 case Cardoza-Fonseca v. INS, discussed in this article. Following the Supreme Court’s directive, the BIA in Matter of Mogharrabi adopted a generous “reasonable person” standard for asylum eligibility, assuring everyone that asylum could be granted “even where persecution is significantly less” than probable.
However, judges like Judge Agnelis Reese have a different idea: treat asylum as a “loophole” and abuse your power over individuals’ lives by looking for bogus ways to deny protection rather than grant it. As pointed out by this article, one of the “best” of these “legal gimmicks” is simply arbitrarily to decide not to believe anyone’s claim or to “nit-pick” memories in a way that would establish Judge Reese and others like her as “inherently not credible” if applied to them. Much like the Trump Administration as a whole.
However, this is about more than just one ill-qualified asylum judge. For 22 years, Judge Reese was allowed to abuse asylum seekers with her one-sided decision making. That spanned two entire Administrations, one of each party, and two partial ones. Yet the BIA, EOIR, the DOJ, and life-tenured Article III Court of Appeals Judges failed to intervene to force Judge Reese, and other like her, to either apply asylum law in the fair, reasonable, and generous manner it was intended or to find other jobs.
There are “other Judge Reeses” out there today screwing the most vulnerable among us with dishonest interpretations of asylum law and facts, particularly in the area of credibility and “nexus” to a “protected ground.” Now, however, instead of being “outliers,” they are the kinds of “shining example” judges who implement the Administration’s White Nationalist false narrative that all asylum seekers from all countries are “gaming the system” and ought to be rejected en masse, without fair and impartial adjudications, in some cases amounting to literately “death sentences” without anything approaching due process.
All this is going on right under the noses of life-tenured Article III Judges who are supposed to be enforcing Due Process and fundamental fairness by insuring that the Immigration Court system provides fair and impartial adjudications (it doesn’t), that the generous criteria set forth in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca and Matter of Mogharrabi are not just given “lip service” but are actually applied in every case (they aren’t), that credibility determinations are based on the record as a whole and all relevant factors (they aren’t), and that “mixed motive” for acts of persecution is properly considered and applied (it isn’t).
Of course, Congress and to some extent the voters are to blame for the current disgraceful parody of justice in our Immigration Courts. But, careers like that of Judge Reese are proof that the Article III Courts are also failing to live up to their statutory, constitutional, and human obligations and thus have become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.
I can only hope that some future legal historian will analyze in detail, naming names, the failure of the Article III Courts, up to and including the Supremes, to perform their functions with integrity and thereby to have prevented the legal, constitutional, and human tragedy and mockery of justice taking place every day in our broken Immigration Courts.
Unqualified, yet empowered, judges like Reese are a symptom, rather than the cause of, that broken system.
Just yesterday, four distinguished legal organizations sent a joint letter to Congress calling for the establishment of an independent U.S. Immigration Court in view of the demonstrated catastrophic failure of the current system to provide Due Process to asylum seekers and other migrants:
ABA signs joint letter to Congress on establishing an independent immigration court system
WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 9, 2019 —The American Bar Association has joined with three other legal organizations to call on Congress to establish a separate immigration court system that is independent of the U.S. Department of Justice.
ABA President Bob Carlson, along with the presidents of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Federal Bar Association and the National Association of Immigration Judges, will send a joint letter to Congress on July 11 stating that immigration courts “cannot meet the standards which justice demands” because they are not truly independent. This issue is particularly crucial as immigration courts struggle with crisis-level backlogs of almost 900,000 cases.
Under the current arrangement, immigration courts are part of the U.S. Department of Justice, and the judges in those courts are answerable to the U.S. Attorney General, who is also the nation’s chief prosecutor.
In their joint letter to Congress, the four organizations note that this inherent conflict of interest means that immigration judges are “particularly vulnerable to political pressure and interference.” In addition to the structural issues, the letter said that problems have “resulted in a severe lack of public confidence in the system’s capacity to deliver just and fair decisions in a timely manner.”
The lack of independence in the immigration court system was also addressed in the ABA’s recent updated report, “Reforming the Immigration System.” In the report, the organization urged removing the immigration courts from DOJ to ensure they are given the independence they need to be fair, impartial arbiters.
A telephone media briefing on the letter will be held Thursday, July 11, at 1pm ET/10am PT immediately following submission of the letter to Congress.
· Wendy Wayne, Chair, American Bar Association Commission on Immigration
· Jeremy McKinney, Second Vice President, American Immigration Lawyers Association
· Hon. Denise Noonan Slavin, former Immigration Judge and President Emeritus of the National Association of Immigration Judges
· Elizabeth Stevens, Chair, Federal Bar Association Immigration Law Section
· Greg Chen, Director of Government Relations, American Immigration Lawyers Association (Moderator)
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to receive dial-in information and the embargoed letter.