DUE PROCESS: 9th Cir. Might Be Afraid Of Trump, But U.S. Immigration Judge Scott Simpson Isn’t!


Kate Morrissey
Reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune

Kate Morrissey reports for the San Diego Union-Tribune and LA Times:

Judge orders U.S. to hold asylum seeker

Doubtful about his mental state, jurist prevents migrant from being sent to Mexico.

By Kate Morrissey

SAN DIEGO — An immigration judge has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to keep a Honduran asylum seeker in the United States while he waits for his court proceedings, instead of returning him to Mexico again under a Trump administration program.

Judge Scott Simpson said that after evaluating the man’s mental competence in a special hearing on Friday, he found that the man would need safeguards in his case to ensure due process. He ordered one put in place immediately: to remove the man from a program known officially as Migrant Protection Protocols and more widely as “Remain in Mexico.”

“I find that he lacks a rational and factual understanding of the nature of the proceedings,” Simpson said in issuing his order.

This is the first time that a judge has made such a ruling since the program was implemented in January, according to advocates who have been monitoring immigration court proceedings.

The program requires certain asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to wait in Mexico while their cases progress in immigration court. The man has been waiting in Tijuana as part of the program for several months.

A Customs and Border Protection guide for officials implementing the program says that migrants with known physical or mental health issues should not be included.

“It’s a big deal that a judge recognized that there was a predatory nature to having put this person in the ‘Migrant Persecution Protocols,’ ” said Ian Philabaum of Innovation Law Lab, calling the program a name used by some immigrant rights advocates. “He wasn’t going to have a chance, and now he gets a chance.”

At the man’s first hearing in March, Simpson quickly became concerned that the man might have a mental competency issue that would make him ineligible for the program or require other protections. He ordered DHS to evaluate the man’s mental state.

Simpson asked government attorneys at each hearing after that whether the man’s mental state had been evaluated and whether the government believed he should continue to be included in the program.

Each time, the government attorney responded that the man should continue in MPP.

Still skeptical, Simpson told Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorney Dan Hua to be prepared to give details Friday about DHS’s evaluation of the man before he was returned to Mexico. When the judge came into court Friday morning, Hua was not able to answer that question.

“The government’s inability to provide that information is simply not excusable,” Simpson said. He gave Hua 30 minutes to find out answers.

Hua said immigration officials at the port of entry had evaluated the man each time he’d come to court, meaning that as of Friday, he’d been evaluated four times.

The attorney could not produce evidence showing what the evaluation observed or what standard it used when the judge pressed for more details.

Philabaum said that fact was significant.

“That assessment of the mental competency was performed on four different occasions, and on four different occasions, according to the U.S. government attorney, their assessment was he was perfectly competent to proceed with his immigration case representing himself,” Philabaum said. But in the man’s “first hearing, it took the immigration judge approximately two minutes to realize there was an issue of competency here.

“Whatever type of standard that CBP has instituted to assess the competency of an individual to be eligible, according to the immigration judge today, it has failed.”

DHS officials, CBP officials and Department of Justice officials did respond to a request for comment.

Simpson decided to do his own evaluation of the man’s mental state under an immigration court precedent known as the Matter of MAM.

He listed the rights that the man has, such as the right to present evidence and the right to question witnesses. He asked if the man understood his rights.

“Um, yes. I need more,” said the man through a Spanish interpreter. “I need more because here I only have some letters, some birth certificates. They’re not translated into English yet.”

“Sir, I’m the immigration judge in your case. It’s my job to decide whether you can stay in the United States,” Simpson said. “In your own words, tell me who am I and what’s my job.”

“I cannot understand you,” the man responded.

In the end, the man was only able to appropriately respond to simple questions such as the date and what city he was in. He told the judge he had not had much schooling and couldn’t read or write.

ICE later confirmed the man is pending transfer to the agency’s custody. He could be taken to an immigration detention facility or released “on parole” into the U.S. to a sponsor while he waits for his next hearing.

Simpson said that depending which option the government chooses, other safeguards may be necessary, including providing an attorney for him if he’s detained.

Morrissey writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


Every day the human carnage mounts as the 9th Circuit continues to “sponsor” Trump’s illegal, deadly, and unconstitutional “Remain in Mexico Program.” Interesting how a few non-life-tenured Immigration Judges in San Diego and one courageous U.S. District Judge in the Southern District of California seem to be the only Federal officials interested in either the rule of law or the Due Process Clause of our Constitution. Go figure! 

Congrats to Judge Scott Simpson for standing up for the rule of law and the rights of the most vulnerable in the face of massive dereliction of duty by those higher up the line.

Sadly, unlike the 9th Circuit, Judge Simpson lacks authority to enjoin further violations of the law and human rights by the Trump Administration. How many more human beings will suffer, be wronged, and perhaps die as a result of the 9th Circuit’s complicity in scofflaw behavior having little or nothing to do with protecting our borders or any other legitimate policy end and everything to do with punishing and dehumanizing those who seek justice under our laws.?





Priscilla Alvarez reports for CNN:

San Diego (CNN)Twelve asylum seekers required to stay in Mexico for the duration of their immigration hearings presented themselves one by one before an immigration judge over nearly four hours Wednesday. Each case appeared to raise a similar set of questions about the new policy for Judge Jonathen Scott Simpson, and the hearing culminated in a dose of skepticism from the judge.

“Several things cause me concern,” Simpson said toward the end of the hearing, as he weighed whether four asylum seekers who weren’t present should be removed in absentia.
The migrants who appeared at the San Diego immigration court on Wednesday fall under the Migrant Protection Protocols program, informally known as “Remain in Mexico.” The program, which was initially rolled out in January at the San Ysidro port of entry, roughly 18 miles from the court, requires some asylum seekers to stay in Mexico to await their immigration hearings. Immigration and Customs Enforcement manages transportation to and from the border and court appearances.
The requirement that some of those seeking asylum stay in Mexico as they await their US court dates marks an unprecedented change in US asylum policy. As such, it has raised a host of questions among lawyers, advocates and now, immigration judges.
As of March 12, the US had returned 240 migrants to Mexico under these protocols.
The first spate of hearings, which got underway this month, have underscored outstanding issues with the new program, including the challenge of obtaining legal representation while in another country and providing notification of court dates to an individual without a fixed address. They have also revealed glitches in the system, in which conflicting dates are causing confusion among migrants over when to appear at a port of entry for a court appearance.
The largest group to attend court so far came Wednesday. The 12 asylum seekers — five with attorneys, seven without — participated in a master calendar hearing, the first hearing in removal proceedings.
In one case, a man seeking asylum who did not have a lawyer said he had been provided with a list of legal service providers by the government but had trouble understanding it.
“I was confused,” he told the judge. “I don’t know how to read and write. It becomes difficult.” He added: “In Mexico, it’s even more complicated. It’s more complicated than if I were here.”
“I understand it’s more difficult,” Simpson replied. “It’s not lost on me.”
All asylum seekers whose cases were scheduled for Wednesday were set up with merits hearing dates, where individuals provide evidence to substantiate their claims to remain in the US, or are given additional time to find legal representation. The dates were scattered among April, May and July.
In some instances scheduling issues arose, as Simpson explained that his afternoons for the next several months are dedicated to master calendar hearings for Migrant Protection Protocols. Merits hearings, therefore, would need to be scheduled for the mornings.
Given that asylum seekers must wait in Mexico, however, and therefore need time to be processed by US Customs and Border Protection before going to their hearings, mornings were out of the question.
“Immigration officers need four hours,” said Robert Wities, an ICE attorney.
“I can’t do an entire master calendar in the afternoon and merits hearing,” Simpson responded, later asking the ICE attorneys to explain in writing why it wouldn’t be possible for the asylum seekers to attend morning hearings.
In February, a coalition of immigrant advocacy groups asked a federal judge for a restraining order that would block the Trump administration from forcing asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while their cases make their way through the immigration courts. The hearing on the motion is scheduled for this Friday.
In the meantime, the administration may clarify or resolve those issues in the future in documents provided to the immigration court. But for now, immigration hearings for those asylum seekers waiting in Mexico are set to move forward.
Can you imagine what would happen if the ICE Assistant Chief Counsel Robert Wities told a U.S. District Judge when he or she could or couldn’t schedule hearings? What if a private attorney said he or she would only appear in the afternoon? What kind of “court system” doesn’t give its own judges flexibility to set their own court schedules in the manner they believe will be most fair, effective, and efficient? Why has the statutory contempt of court authority that Congress conferred on U.S. Immigration Judges more than two decades ago never been implemented by the DOJ?
A real court would examine both the legality and the procedures that the DHS unilaterally, and apparently incompetently, put in place for their “Stay in Mexico” program. Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein’s rewriting of the oath of office notwithstanding, U.S. Immigration Judges, like other Federal employees, swear an oath to uphold our Constitution (e.g., Due Process) not an oath of loyalty to the Attorney General, the  President, or the DOJ.