By Paul Wickham Schmidt, Former Chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals
Good evening. Thanks so much for coming out tonight. As you know, I’m retired, so I no longer have to give my famous, or infamous, “super-comprehensive disclaimer.” However, I do want to hold my fellow panelists, ADDA, and anybody else of any importance whatsoever “harmless” for my following remarks.
They are solely my views, for which I take full responsibility. That’s right, no party line, no “bureaucratic doublespeak,” no BS. Just the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, of course as I define truth.
In my brief “5-4-1 program,” I’m going to tell you five horrible problems infecting justice and Due Process in today’s U.S. Immigration Courts; 4 needed reforms, and one solution.
First, the problems, with which I’m sure most of you are painfully familiar. This isn’t a “court system” as any right-thinking person would envision it.
First, unlike any normal court system, the chief prosecutor, the Attorney General selects, directs, and “supervises” the “judges.”Not surprisingly, over the last decade, over 90% of the judges have come directly from government or prosecutorial backgrounds. Well-qualified candidates from private practice, NGOs, and academia have effectively been excluded from participation in today’s immigration judiciary. As part of his “improper influence” over the Immigration Courts, the Attorney General has imposed, over the objection of all judges I’m aware of, demeaning and counterproductive “production quotas” that elevate productivity and expediency over quality, Due Process, and fundamental fairness.
Second, notwithstanding that, according to the Supreme Court, “everything that makes life worth living” might be at issue in Immigration Court, there is no right to appointed counsel. Therefore, DOJ has taken the absurd position that infants, toddlers, and others with no understanding whatsoever of our complicated legal, asylum, and immigration systems are forced to “represent themselves” in life or death matters against experienced ICE Counsel. The Government disingenuously claims that this complies with Due Process.
Obviously, these first two factors give the DHS a huge built in advantage in removal proceedings. But, sometimes that isn’t enough. Somehow, despite the odds being stacked against them, the individual respondent or applicant prevails. That’s when the “third absurdity” comes in to play.
The chief prosecutor, the Attorney General, can reach into the system and change any individual case result that he or she doesn’t like and rewrite the immigration law in DHS’s favor through so-called “certified precedents.”As you know, former Attorney General Sessions, a committed lifelong xenophobe and the self-proclaimed “king of immigration enforcement” exercised this authority often, more than the preceding two Attorneys General over the eight years they served. Sometimes he intervened even before the BIA had a chance to rule on the case or over the joint objections of both the individual and the DHS.
Fourth, this system operates under an incredible 1.1 million case backlog, resulting largely from what we call “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” or “ADR,” by DOJ politicos and their EOIR underlings.This largely self-created backlog continues to grow exponentially, even with a significant increase in judges, without any realistic plan for backlog reduction. In other words, under the “maliciously incompetent” management of this Administration, more judges have meant more backlog.
Even more disgustingly, in an attempt to cover up their gross incompetence, DOJ and EOIR have attempted to shift the blame to the victims— asylum applicants, migrants, their hard working often pro bono or low bono lawyers, and the judges themselves. Sophomoric, idiotic non “solutions” like “deportation quotas for judges,” limitations on legitimate continuances, demeaningly stripping judges of the last vestiges of their authority to manage dockets through administrative closing, and mindlessly re-docketing cases that should remain off docket have been imposed on the courts over their objections.
The result has been an increase in “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” the only thing that DOJ politicos and EOIR bureaucrats seem to excel in. How many of YOU have been victims of ADR?
Fifth, the Administration, DOJ, and EOIR use so-called “civil immigration detention” mostly in absurdly, yet intentionally, out of the way locations, to limit representation, coerce migrants into abandoning claims or appeals, and supposedly deter future migration, even though there is scant evidence that abusive detention actually acts as a deterrent.This is done with little or no effective judicial recourse in too many cases. Indeed, a recent TRAC study shows neither rhyme nor reason in custody or bond decisions in Immigration Court, even in those cases where the Immigration Judges at least nominally had jurisdiction to set bond.
Now, I’ve told you how due process and fairness are being mocked by DOJ and EOIR in a dysfunctional Immigration Court system where judges have effectively been told to act as “DOJ attorneys” carrying out the policies of their “partners” in DHS enforcement, supposedly a separate party to Immigration Court proceedings but now “driving the train.”
Here are the four essential reforms. First, and foremost,a return to the original “Due Process Focus” of the Immigration Courts: through teamwork and innovation be the world’s best courts guaranteeing fairness and Due Process for all. DOJ politicos and EOIR bureaucrats must be removed from their improper influence over this system that has turned it into a tool of DHS enforcement. Everything done by the courts must go through a “Due Process filter.”
Second, replace the antiquated, inappropriate, bloated, and ineffective “Agency-Style Structure” with a “Court-Style Structure” with sitting judges rather than DOJ politicos and EOIR bureaucrats in charge. Court administration should be decentralized through local Chief Judges, as in other systems, appointed competitively through a broad-based merit system and required to handle a case load. Sitting judges, not bureaucrats, must ultimately be in charge of administrative decisions which must be made in a fair and efficient manner that considers the legitimate needs of DHS enforcement, along with the needs of the other parties coming before the court, and results in a balanced system, rather than one that inevitably favors DHS enforcement over Due Process, quality, and fairness.
Third, create a professional administrative office modeled along the lines of the Administrative Office for U.S. Courts to provide modern, effective judicial support and planning.The highest priorities should be implementing a nationwide e-filing system following nearly two decades of wasted and inept efforts by EOIR to develop one, efforts that have once again been put “on hold” due to mismanagement. A transparent, merit-based hiring system for Immigration Judges, with fair and equal treatment of “non-government” applicants and a system for obtaining public input in the process is also a must. Additionally, the courts must be redesigned with the size of the dockets and public service in mind, rather than mindlessly jamming a 21st century workload into “mini-courts” designed for a long bygone era.
Fourth, a real Appellate Division that performs as an independent court, must replace the “Falls Church Service Center” a/k/a the BIA.The crippling Ashcroft purge-related bogus “reforms” that turned the BIA into a subservient assembly line must be eradicated. The BIA is a so-called “deliberative body” that is far removed from the public it serves and no longer deliberates in a publicly visible manner. The Appellate Division, not politicos and bureaucrats, must be responsible for promulgating precedents in controversial areas, insuring that the generous standards set forth in Cardoza-Fonsecaand Mogharrabiare made realities, not just lip service, and reining in wayward judges, the worst of whom have turned some areas into veritable “asylum and due process free zones” resulting in loss of public confidence as well as denial of Due Process and unfair removals.
Some will say that these reforms only deal with two of the five glaring problems — prosecutorial control and political interference. But, an independent, judge-run, Due Process focused U.S. Immigration Court where judges control their own dockets free from political interference and bureaucratic incompetence will be able to work with both private entities and the DHS to solve the problems leading to lack of representation, “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” and backlog building, and abusive use of immigration detention.
Naturally, all problems that have been allowed to fester and grow over decades of calculated indifference and active mismanagement won’t be solved “overnight.” Additional legislative fixes might eventually be necessary. But, fixing Due Process is a prerequisite that will enable other problems and issues to be constructively and cooperatively addressed, rather than just being swept under the carpet in typical bureaucratic fashion.
So, now the “One Solution:” Congress must create an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court.That’s exactly what the ABA Commission on Immigration recommended in a comprehensive study and report released yesterday.
Thus, the ABA joins the FBA, AILA, and the NAIJ, all organizations to which I belong, in recommending an Article I legislative solution. Significantly, after watching this Administration’s all-out assault on Due Process, common sense, truth, the rule of law, human decency, and best practices, the ABA deleted a prior “alternative recommendation” for an independent agency within the Executive Branch. In other words, we now know, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the Executive Branch is both unwilling and unable to run an independent court system in accordance with Due Process.
I highly recommend that you read the comprehensive ABA report in two volumes: Volume I is an “Executive Summary;” Volume II contains the “Detailed Findings.” You can find it on the ABA website or on immigrationcourtside.com my blog, which, of course, I also highly recommend.
In closing, we need change and we need it now! Every day in our so-called “Immigration Courts” Due Process is being mocked, fundamental fairness violated, and unjust results are being produced by a disastrously flawed system run by those with no interest in fixing it. Indeed, one of the stunning recommendations of the ABA is that no further judges be added to this totally dysfunctional and out of control system until it is fixed.
As the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Tell your elected representatives that you’ve had enough injustice and are sick and tired of being treated as actors in a repertory company specializing in “theater of the absurd” masquerading as a “court system.” Demand Article I now!
Thanks for listening! Join the New Due Process Army, do great things, and Due Process Forever!