Federal Judges Blast Immigration Court Decisions
Biased. Incoherent. Below the minimum standards of justice.
Those are some of the harsh words federal appeals courts judges are using to describe the decisions of immigration judges in asylum and related cases.
The Times says part of the problem is the increase in immigration cases lodged in federal appeals courts since former Attorney General John Ashcroft issued new guidelines in 2002 that limited immigration courts' abilities to hear appeals.
In the courts in New York and California, nearly 40 percent of federal appeals involved immigration cases.
The specific criticisms levied at the immigration judges' decisions tells me something different -- many of these judges are not qualified to be judges in any court. Example:
Judge Marsha S. Berzon of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, said a decision by Nathan W. Gordon, an immigration judge, was "literally incomprehensible," "incoherent" and "indecipherable." A crucial sentence in Judge Gordon's decision, she said, "defies parsing under ordinary rules of English grammar." Judge Gordon ordered Ernesto Adolfo Recinos de Leon returned to Guatemala, notwithstanding Mr. Recinos's testimony that he would be persecuted there for his political activities.
The Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit, Mary Schroeder, calls the judges "very unevenly qualified, and they work under very bad conditions."
Granted, the caseload of the immigration judges may be a problem. 215 judges handle 315,000 cases a year. But that's no reason to tolerate judges who are unfamiliar with the language and culture of the people whose fates they are deciding, particularly when, as in immigration judge Gordon's case, there is a risk the person will be sent back to a country that might torture them. One Miami immigration judge, while insisting she is familiar with the culture of the relevant countries, says:
Immigration law can be life-or-death decisions in terms of whether you're going to send someone back to a place where they may be killed," Judge Slavin said. "I have over 1,000 cases on my docket. Most of us do about four decisions a day. In Texas, on the border, you might get 10 a day."
A second big factor in the review system is the reduction of the role of the Immigration Board of Appeals which was implemented by Ashcroft as a streamlining measure:
Judges at the top and bottom of the system blame the administrative body between them, the Board of Immigration Appeals, for the surge in appeals and the mixed quality of the decisions reaching the federal appeals courts. The board is meant to act as a filter, correcting erroneous or intemperate decisions from the immigration judges and providing general guidance. The losing party can appeal the board's decision to the federal courts.
But the board largely stopped reviewing immigration cases in a meaningful way after it was restructured by Mr. Ashcroft in 2002, several judges said. Mr. Ashcroft reduced the number of judges on the board to 11 from 23. "They just hacked off all the liberals is basically what they did," said Ms. Rosenberg, who served on the board from 1995 to 2002.
So all Ashcroft did was to transfer the case load from one appeals court to another. At least in the federal appeals courts, there is an opportunity for meaningful review. It sounds like all the immigrants get in the immigration court system is the shaft.
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