Trump puts his stamp on nation’s immigration courts | TribLIVE.com
Politics Election

Trump puts his stamp on nation’s immigration courts

Associated Press
1448722_web1_1448722-52f968598568483895ec202abb7225fe
AP
In this June 12, 2019, photo, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official gives direction to a person outside the building that houses ICE and the immigration court in Atlanta. The Trump administration has appointed more than 4 in 10 of the country’s sitting immigration judges in a hiring surge that comes as U.S. authorities seek to crack down on immigration.
1448722_web1_1448722-7f1680adf5774661b4ca912d62ee057c
AP
In this June 12, 2019, photo, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official assists people waiting to enter the building that houses ICE and the immigration court in Atlanta.The Trump administration has appointed more than 4 in 10 of the country’s sitting immigration judges in a hiring surge that comes as U.S. authorities seek to crack down on immigration.

LOS ANGELES — In just 2½ years, the Trump administration has put its stamp on the nation’s immigration court system, appointing more than 4 in 10 judges while dramatically expanding the bench and issuing new rules that make it harder for migrants to win their cases and stay in the country.

An Associated Press analysis shows that President Trump’s administration has appointed at least 190 immigration judges, accounting for 43% of the total.

The hires helped expand the immigration bench by more than 100 since September 2016; by comparison, President Barack Obama had a net gain of fewer than 50 judges from 2010 to 2016.

The AP analysis also found that Trump has continued a trend from past administrations in hiring large numbers of former military lawyers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorneys as judges. Nearly 1 in 5 sitting judges appointed under Trump was a military lawyer, and half previously worked for ICE.

The administration has ramped up staffing in a bid to reduce enormous delays in the overwhelmed immigration court system, which has nearly 900,000 cases. Immigrants seeking to stay in the country often wait years for a hearing, let alone a decision.

Critics say Trump’s selections are no coincidence at a time when the president is trying hard to curtail immigration, especially for the tens of thousands of Central Americans arriving at the border in hopes of winning asylum.

“My thinking is they want to bring in people who they think have the professional experience that will lead them to interpret the law in the way the attorney general wants it to be interpreted, which is, basically, Central American domestic violence and gang claims are not valid asylum claims,” said Jeffrey Chase, a former immigration judge.

Immigration judges — who are employed by the Justice Department, not the judicial branch — make critical decisions about who gets asylum and green cards to stay in the United States and who must return to their home countries, shaping the lives of immigrants and their families and the fate of Trump’s crackdown.

The judges have been taking a harder line under Trump than in the previous administration, denying 65 % of asylum cases during the 2018 fiscal year, compared with 55 % two years earlier, according to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

Last year, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidance narrowing the scope of asylum claims, though it was later blocked by a judge. Other new rules set performance targets for judges and bar them from shelving cases.

The number of immigration judges stood at 444 in April, according to records provided by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the courts. And the hiring is expected to continue. The administration wants to add 100 in the next fiscal year, said Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman for the office.

The latest additions include a Navy-deep sea diver who worked more than a decade as a military attorney, a Los Angeles prosecutor who tried federal drug cases and held posts in Nigeria and Pakistan, and an attorney who worked more than two decades for ICE.

Tapping military lawyers and immigration trial attorneys for these positions isn’t a new phenomenon. Of those appointed during the Obama administration who remain on the bench, about 13 % have military law experience and more than half worked for ICE, the AP’s analysis shows.

Mattingly said the system’s judges are hired through an open, merit-based process, and she rejected “insinuations that its judges lack integrity or competence based on the clients they may have represented prior to becoming judges.”

Judge A. Ashley Tabaddor, who heads the immigration judges’ union, said the group welcomes new hires to help with the massive dockets but worries they will feel more pressured by case quotas set by the courts. On computer screens, color-coded graphics constantly remind judges of how close they are to meeting or missing performance targets.

“We are now seeing a super majority with prosecutorial or military background experience,” said Tabaddor, whose group has long called for more diverse hires and wants the courts to become independent of the Justice Department. “Any court that wants to have the integrity and respect of the community needs to reflect the demographics of the community.”

Immigrant advocates have long pressed for more judges. Some have joined with the judges’ union in calling for independent immigration courts to reduce the administration’s influence.

Former Rep. Robert Goodlatte, a Republican who was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said more judges have long been needed to keep up with the surge in asylum cases. But the hires, he said, are only part of the solution so long as large numbers of migrants continue to arrive on the southern border.

“As long as those numbers are still exploding, even with the addition of the judges, they’ll still be bailing water, if you will,” said Goodlatte, himself a former immigration attorney.

Some immigration lawyers said they found the new judges to be more thoughtful than those who have managed the dockets for years. Others said they worry that less-experienced judges with military or government background are more likely to defer to federal authorities in their rulings.

Some critics have accused the Trump administration of letting politics affect hiring decisions. Heidi Burakiewicz, a Washington employment lawyer, said she represents four candidates for immigration judge and appeals board jobs who received offers during the Obama administration and saw them rescinded after Trump took office.

In Los Angeles, more than a dozen immigration judges have been added by the Trump administration, including Leon Francis, who worked for decades in the military as an attorney and judge.

Recently, Francis heard a Guatemalan woman recount how she came to the U.S. with her partner and year-old daughter after gang members tried to extort money from them at their grocery store. The partner was shot a month later, she said.

Francis asked why the couple didn’t report the threat to police or prosecutors. After a 50-minute recess, he turned down the woman’s asylum request, citing inconsistencies and a failure to prove the Guatemalan government was unable to protect her.

A few weeks earlier, Francis heard an Armenian woman describe how she and her husband flew to seek refuge on the U.S.-Mexico border after police in her homeland detained, beat and threatened her for joining anti-government rallies. After a 40-minute recess, he returned with a decision.

“You’ve won your case,” he said, “so congratulations.”

Categories: News | Politics Election
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.