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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. President Trump’s 101-Year Deportation Plan

    Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong had their five-year plans. Nikita Khrushchev had his seven-year plan. And now President Trump has a 101-year plan. That’s how long it will take to deport the country’s 11 million undocumented residents if current trends continue.


    Happy Birthday! Now, get the hell out of my country!


    The most recent statistics on case completions in Immigration Court show that the Trump Administration has issued an average of 8,996 removal (deportation) orders per month between February and June 2017 (and 11,000,000 divided by 8,996 cases/month = 1,222.8 months, or 101.9 years). That's up from 6,913 during the same period last year, but still well-below the peak period during the early days of the Obama Administration, when courts were issuing 13,500 removal orders each month.

    Of course, the Trump Administration has indicated that it wants to ramp up deportations, and to that end, the Executive Office for Immigration Review or EOIR--the office that oversees the nation's Immigration Courts--plans to hire more Immigration Judges ("IJs"). Indeed, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, the Attorney General (at least for now) announced that EOIR would hire 50 more judges this year and 75 next year.
    Assuming EOIR can find 125 new IJs, and also assuming that no currently-serving judges retire (a big assumption given that something like 50% of our country's IJs are eligible to retire), then EOIR will go from 250 IJs to 375. So instead of 101 years to deport the nation's 11 million undocumented residents, it will only take 68 years (assuming that no new people enter the U.S. illegally or overstay their visas, and assuming my math is correct--more big assumptions).

    But frankly, I'm doubtful that 68 years--or even 101 years--is realistic. It's partly that more people are entering the population of "illegals" all the time, and so even as the government chips away at the 11,000,000 figure, more people are joining that club, so to speak. Worse, from the federal government's point of view, there is not enough of a national consensus to deport so many people, and there is significant legal resistance to Mr. Trump's immigration agenda.

    In addition to all this, there is the Trump Administration's modus operandi, which is best characterized as malevolence tempered by incompetence. One statistic buried in the recent deportation numbers illustrates this point. In March 2017, judges issued 10,110 removal orders. A few months later, in June, judges issued 8,919 removal orders.

    This means that the number of deportation orders dropped by 1,191 or about 11.8%. How can this be? In a word: Incompetence (I suppose if I wanted to be more generous—which I don’t—I could say, Inexperience). The Trump Administration has no idea how to run the government and their failure in the immigration realm is but one example.

    There are at least a couple ways the Administration’s incompetence has manifested itself at EOIR.

    One is in the distribution of judges. It makes sense to send IJs where they are needed. But that’s not exactly what is happening. Maybe it’s just opening night jitters for the new leadership at EOIR. Maybe they’ll find their feet and get organized. But so far, it seems EOIR is sending judges to the border, where they are underutilized. While this may have the appearance of action (which may be good enough for this Administration), the effect—as revealed in the statistical data—is that fewer people are actually being deported.

    As I wrote previously, the new Acting Director of EOIR has essentially no management experience, and it’s still unclear whether he is receiving the support he needs, or whether his leadership team has the institutional memory to navigate the EOIR bureaucracy. Perhaps this is part of the reason for the inefficient use of judicial resources.

    Another reason may be that shifting judges around is not as easy as moving pieces on a chess board. The IJs have families, homes, and ties to their communities. Not to mention a union to protect them (or try to protect them) from management. And it doesn’t help that many Immigration Courts are located in places that you wouldn’t really want to live, if you had a choice. So getting judges to where you need them, and keeping them there for long enough to make a difference, is not so easy.

    A second way the Trump Administration has sabotaged itself is related to prosecutorial discretion or PD. In the pre-Trump era, DHS attorneys (the “prosecutors” in Immigration Court) had discretion to administratively close cases that were not a priority. This allowed DHS to focus on people who they wanted to deport: Criminals, human rights abusers, people perceived as a threat to national security. In other words, “Bad Hombres.” Now, PD is essentially gone. By the end of the Obama Administration, 2,400 cases per month were being closed through PD. Since President Trump came to office, the average is less than 100 PD cases per month. The result was predictable: DHS can’t prioritize cases and IJs are having a harder time managing their dockets. In essence, if everyone is a deportation priority, no one is a deportation priority.

    Perhaps the Trump Administration hopes to “fix” these problems by making it easier to deport people. The Administration has floated the idea of reducing due process protections for non-citizens. Specifically, they are considering expanding the use of expedited removal, which is a way to bypass Immigration Courts for certain aliens who have been in the U.S. for less than 90 days. But most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants have been here much longer than that, and so they would not be affected. Also, expansion of expedited removal would presumably trigger legal challenges, which may make it difficult to implement.

    Another “fix” is to prevent people from coming here in the first place. Build the wall. Deny visas to people overseas. Scare potential immigrants so they stay away. Illegally turn away asylum seekers at the border. Certainly, all this will reduce the number of people coming to America. But the cost will be high. Foreign tourists, students, and business people add many billions to our economy. Foreign scholars, scientists, artists, and other immigrants contribute to our country’s strength. Whether the U.S. is willing to forfeit the benefits of the global economy in order to restrict some people from coming or staying here unlawfully, I do not know. But the forces driving migration are powerful, and so I have real doubts that Mr. Trump’s efforts will have more than a marginal impact, especially over the long run. And even if he could stop the flow entirely, it still leaves 11 million people who are already here.

    There is an obvious alternative to Mr. Trump’s plan. Instead of wasting billions of dollars, harming our economy, and ripping millions of families apart, why not move towards a broad legalization for those who are here? Focus on deporting criminals and other “bad hombres,” and leave hard-working immigrants in peace. Sadly, this is not the path we are on. And so, sometime in 2118, perhaps our country will finally say adieu to its last undocumented resident.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  2. "Us Versus Them" in Immigration Court

    There’s a quote attributed to legendary DC-lawyer Jake Stein that has helped define my practice as an attorney: “I’ve never litigated a case where I wasn't better friends with my opposing counsel at the end of the case than at the beginning.”
    Though it may be satisfying, beating up opposing counsel probably violates the Rules of Professional Conduct.
    His philosophy may be Old School and--in these days, where being nice to someone you disagree with has become all too rare--almost radical, but I’ve taken it to heart. I try to maintain a congenial and trusting relationship with the DHS attorneys who sit across from me in court. As a result, I believe my clients are better off—and so am I.


    The former President of the DC Bar, Tim Webster, touched on this issue last year in an article about the “Balkanization of Lawyers.” What he meant was that we lawyers tend to fall into opposing camps, Us versus Them, and never the twain shall meet. In Immigration World, that means attorneys who represent immigrants and asylum seekers, on the one hand, and government attorneys, on the other.


    Mr. Webster laments the division of our profession in this manner, and points out that it is often bad for our clients, who benefit when lawyers are able to “work cooperatively with opposing counsel towards a consensual resolution” of their cases. Perhaps Mr. Webster’s observation is more applicable to civil cases, where a negotiated monetary settlement is the norm, but I think it also applies in Immigration Court. When we have a cooperative relationship with DHS, we are often able to reach better resolutions for our clients. DHS attorneys are more likely to give us the benefit of the doubt, and more likely to stipulate to part (or sometimes all) of a case.


    Mr. Webster also argues that the idea of us-versus-them stands in opposition to our core values as attorneys. Under the Rules of Professional Conduct, we are required to be honest and fair--to the client, to other attorneys, and to the tribunal (and also to other people we encounter in the course of our work). When we view opposing counsel or Judges as “the enemy,” it becomes easier to justify behavior that risks violating our obligations under the Rules, which can harm our clients (and land us in hot water).


    Unlike perhaps some areas of law, immigration law has a strong ideological component. Many of the attorneys who represent immigrants do so because they believe in human rights and they want to keep families together. For such attorneys—and I include myself among them—our work represents an expression of our moral and/or religious values. In other words, it’s more than just a job; it’s a mission.


    Does this make it harder for us to work cooperatively with opposing counsel (DHS)? Is it more urgent that we do so? For me, the answer to both these questions is yes. When our clients’ lives and futures are on the line, it can be very difficult to maintain a cordial relationship with a government attorney who is fighting to have that client deported. But even in the hardest-fought case, there is value in maintaining lines of communication. For example, even where the DHS attorney will not compromise and is fighting all-out for removal, there still exists the possibility of stipulating to evidence and witnesses, and of a post-order stay of removal. Severing the connection does not serve the client (though it may satisfy the ego), and certainly won’t help future clients, and so to me, there is little value in burning bridges, even when I believe DHS’s position is unjust.


    All that said, there is no doubt that we will often disagree with our opposing counsel, and that we will fight as hard as we can for our clients. This is also a duty under the Rules of Professional Conduct (zealous advocacy), and for many of us, it is an expression of our deeply held belief in Justice.


    With the ascension of the Trump Administration, and its more aggressive approach towards non-citizens, I believe it is more important than ever for us lawyers to keep good relationships with our DHS counterparts. While some government attorneys are glad to be “unleashed” and to step-up deportation efforts, many others are uncomfortable with the Administration’s scorched-Earth strategy. These DHS attorneys (and I suspect they are the majority) take seriously their obligation to do justice; not simply to remove everyone that ICE can get their hands on.


    While the environment has become more difficult, I plan to continue my Old School approach. It works for me, it has worked for my clients, and I think it is particularly crucial in the current atmosphere. We lawyers--the immigration bar and DHS--should continue to lead by example, and continue to maintain the high ethical standards that our profession sets for us. In this way, we can help serve as a counter-balance to our country's leaders, whose divisive, ends-justify-the-means approach has no use for the basic principles of morality or comity that have long served our profession and our democracy.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  3. Interview with an Immigration Judge: John F. Gossart, Jr.

    In 2014, Immigration Judge John F. Gossart, Jr. retired after more than 30 years on the bench. Judge Gossart sat in Baltimore, where he was well-known and well-liked by attorneys on both side of the aisle (I myself had many cases with him), and his absence is still felt in his Court. Aside from his judicial work, Judge Gossart was (and is) an adjunct professor of law and a legal educator in the wider community. The Asylumist caught up with Judge Gossart to ask about his career, some memorable moments, and his opinions on the issues of the day in Immigration Court:


    A photo of the official photo of Judge John F. Gossart, Jr. (it's the best we could do!).
    Asylumist: How did you get to be an IJ? And why was this position interesting for you?


    John F. Gossart: I came to immigration law totally by accident. I wanted to work for the Department of Justice, in public sector law, and I applied for a position there. While I was waiting, I hung my own shingle and practiced law out of my house. When DOJ hired me to work at INS (the Immigration and Naturalization Service), I couldn’t even spell immigration.


    My first position there was as a Naturalization Attorney. At the time, applicants for naturalization had to file their petitions in U.S. District Court and present two character witnesses. I would interview the petitioner and the witnesses, and make recommendations about whether the applicant should be permitted to naturalize. I remember one Judge in the Eastern District of Virginia—“Roarin” Orin Lewis—who roared at all the attorneys. In those days, homosexuals were ineligible to naturalize because they were considered “sexual deviants.” I argued for a grant of naturalization for an admitted homosexual because he abstained from sexual activities. The petition was denied by Judge Lewis. In another case involving two Russian “swingers” who had admitted to adultery, Judge Lewis called me into his chambers and read me the riot act. The two were consenting adults, but that didn’t matter to Judge Lewis. He denied the case. At the time, the statute held that persons who committed adultery lacked good moral character.


    Then, after a stint as Deputy Commissioner of Naturalization, I became a trial attorney for INS. Eight years later, I had the opportunity to become an Immigration Judge. On October 30, 1982, I was appointed an IJ by Attorney General William French Smith.


    As an IJ, I rode circuit and heard cases in many locations: Baltimore, DC, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Buffalo, Hartford. I loved the job. I enjoyed the challenge and I loved dealing with people. One concern for me was that the private bar might view me as a prosecutor in a judge’s robe. On the other hand, sometimes when I ruled in favor of the respondent, people at INS complained that I had “crossed over.” In fact, I don’t think I played favorites; I just tried to follow the law. My mantra was to be “Fair, Firm, Decisive.”


    Asylumist: Are there any cases that you worked on that were particularly memorable?


    JFG: I was the IJ in two Nazi war criminal cases. In the case of George Theodorovich, the trial lasted 3½ weeks. He was a Ukrainian police officer who came to the U.S. under an executive order. He denied all charges and claimed that the case against him was a Russian plot. I went to the Russian embassy to review documents, and at trial, several Survivors testified. I entered a 154-page decision (my longest decision) where he was found deportable. He appealed to the BIA. While the case was on appeal, Theodorovich fled the U.S. and went to Paraguay.


    Asylumist: As an IJ, what are some common problems that you see when lawyers present cases?


    JFG: Dr. Stanley Sinkford, a renowned doctor and professor at Howard Medical School, always told his medical students, “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance,” meaning it is usually a lack of preparation that leads to problems. Some lawyers become too comfortable with their role; they think they can come into court and wing it. Also, proper vetting of clients and—more importantly—witnesses is very important. You cannot meet the witnesses 30 minutes before the hearing and hope everything goes well. I’ve also seen instances where the lawyer did not know the applicable law. This was a particular problem among lawyers who dabble in immigration law. A number of attorneys came before me who thought that the IJ has equity powers. They would ask the court to allow the respondent to stay in the U.S. even where there was no basis to allow him to stay. I fear that such lawyers portray this idea to their client—that the IJ can let you stay, even without a legal basis for relief.


    Asylumist: How do you handle cases where you feel that the applicant may have relief, but lawyer errors and/or ineffective assistance of counsel might cause the alien to lose?


    JFG: As an IJ, you almost never want to admonish an attorney in public; it is better not to be on the record or in the presence of the client. I have talked to lawyers in chambers, however. I’ve told them, “If you are not familiar with law, you need to become familiar. You have a duty to do your best for your client.” Also, if I am aware that the client appears eligible for another form of relief, I will ask why the attorney is not pursuing it. Attorneys appreciate that a Judge is willing to talk to them in private.


    Asylumist: Have you had cases where your gut tells you to rule one way, but the evidence requires that you rule the opposite way? How do you deal with that?


    JFG: That is when a judge feels stressed, alone, and badly about the decision he must render. Such decisions are difficult; I suppose that’s why we’re paid the big bucks. But we are judicial officers, and we are required to follow the law. It’s been said by the Supreme Court in Knauf v Shaughnessy, “Judicially we must tolerate what personally we regard as a legislative mistake,” but that is our role as an administrative judge. Your gut may tell you one thing, and you may have sympathy for the person in front of you, but unless that person satisfies the requirements for relief under the law, you cannot get to discretion, and you cannot provide equitable relief. As a Judge, we have to make these kinds of difficult decisions. It is what the law requires. Ultimately, to do justice, you have to read, know, and follow the law.


    Asylumist: Over the past couple years, we’ve heard reports about the problem of IJ burnout. Was that a factor for you? How did you protect yourself?


    JFG: I was constantly assessing myself, and I remained on-guard for burnout. Whenever necessary, I took a recess from court, or I took a day off. My colleagues were very supportive in this regard; it was helpful to have someone to vent to.


    EOIR recently held a conference in Washington, DC—the first live conference in five years. Such events are very important. Judges are able to bond with colleagues. They brought a psychologist to discuss stress.


    Asylumist: What do you think EOIR could do differently to better support IJs and make the system more efficient?


    JFG: First, we need more judges and this should be done promptly. Preferably, we need candidates with a strong immigration or judicial background. More than 50% of the IJ bench is currently eligible for retirement. So we need regulations for phased retirement and we need to implement the Moving Ahead for Progress Act. This Act would permit IJs to work part time, which is something many IJs are interested in.


    Also, we should institute senior status for IJs, so retired IJs could return to the bench to help with the workload. I had proposed this idea several years ago, but personnel felt it would be difficult to do. However, in the last year, EOIR has instituted a recall program, which allows Department of Justice attorneys with sufficient experience to fill temporary judgeships. This program seemingly targets BIA staff attorneys and OIL attorneys; it has not been extended to retired IJs. The Immigration Judges’ Association has been advocating for senior status as well, so retired IJs could return to help address the backlog or cover for a Judge who is absent. Imagine how efficient it would be for someone like me to step in and work for a week or a month while another IJ was on detail or leave. We have a number of IJs who are retired. They have decades of experience and are willing and able to do this.


    In addition, we need to provide courts with adequate support staff, and IJs need more administrative time to keep up with motions, read case law, and stay on top of the profession. Judges also need more training—one live conference in five years is not adequate.


    I would also like to see implementation of the sanction recommendation that was part of the 1996 statutes. This would give IJs more authority to sanction attorneys for misconduct. They could impose fines. Some lawyers need this type of lesson as a wakeup call. If we are to implement a sanction process, it should apply equally to private attorneys and government counsel. DHS had wanted sanctions only against the private bar, but IJs generally oppose that idea—you have to treat both sides the same.


    Asylumist: The definition of a particular social group (“PSG”) has expanded pretty significantly in the last 20 years, mostly through litigation. What is your opinion of this? How do “flood gate” arguments influence IJ thinking regarding PSGs?


    JFG: Since the 1980 Act came into effect, it has been litigated and litigated. I think this is healthy. PSG is the most difficult provision of the statute; other protected categories are more self-explanatory.


    As to the flood gate argument, as an IJ, we cannot have that as a factor for consideration.


    One area I struggled with was PSG cases involving domestic violence. We are still waiting for the government to issue regulations to help guide us. Maybe domestic violence cases would be better addressed through legislation instead of trying to fit them into a PSG, especially when we have such little guidance. Such cases are difficult because they are often very sympathetic. Perhaps it might be better to pass legislation to benefit the abused, rather than to try to figure out how to craft this group of abused individuals into a particular social group.


    Asylumist: It seems fairly common for cases referred from the Asylum Office to the Court to be granted by IJs. Do you think this is a systematic problem? Might there be some sort of "fix" that could take place between EOIR and the Asylum Offices?


    JFG: To do that, you would have to change the administrative asylum process, and this is a question of resources. When an asylum case is presented to the Asylum Office, there are no witnesses, there are time constraints, the applicants must bring their own interpreters (who may be good—or not). It is an imperfect system.


    When the case is referred to Court, many applicants get a lawyer—and that makes a big difference. Attorneys know what evidence to include, they present witnesses, they can get a psychological evaluation. This evidence is often not presented at the Asylum Office. The system we have in Court is a more perfect system. But of course, we like the Asylum Office. Every case they grant is one less case on the Court’s docket.


    If you don’t want applicants to get two bites at the apple, you can require asylum applicants who are out of status to go directly to Court.


    Asylumist: Do you have any thoughts on how to reduce the backlog?


    JFG: DHS could better prioritize which cases are prosecuted. We could have more pre-trial hearings. Why have a lengthy hearing if DHS won’t oppose the case in the end? There could also be more stipulations and more administrative closures. Of course, there is always the issue of Monday-morning quarterbacking. What if a person whose case is admin closed commits a crime? The government does not have the resources to prosecute all cases, but how do we know which cases to pursue? I do think if DHS had more time for stipulations, it would ultimately save time for everyone.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  4. Postcard from the Apocalypse: November 29, 2019

    BEGIN TRANSMISSION:

    If you’re reading this, maybe there’s still hope. Today is November 30, 2019. Dawn. Yesterday, the world came to an end.

    This is how the Immigration Court backlog ends.
    I am one of the few survivors. The very few. And I am sending this transmission back in time by Tachyon beam in a desperate attempt to avert the apocalypse and to save humanity. By my calculation, this message should be received in July 2015. Back then, in your present, it was not too late. Things could have—could still—turn out differently.

    What happened? Nuclear war? Environmental degradation? Rapture? No. Such disasters, we could have dealt with. It was something at once more horrifying and more mundane. More innocent, yet more insidious. Small, yet massive. You get the idea.


    “What was it, then?!” you plead. Listen well, my friend, and I will tell you the tale of November 29, 2019. On that day, the U.S. Immigration Court system collapsed upon itself, creating a singularity--a black hole, if you will--that absorbed everything in its path: First it took foreigners. No one seemed to mind. Then it took hippies, Libertarians, bachelorettes, and then people who enjoy listening to the Redirect immigration podcast (seriously, though, you should be listening to that). Finally, it took everyone and everything else. Now, all that's left is me and a few others. We don’t have much time.


    It all began innocently enough: Immigration Courts started scheduling a dozen or so aliens for hearings at the same time and place. Didn’t they know that this violates a basic law of physics and, as it turns out, a basic law of Immigration Court—No two aliens can occupy the same hearing space at the same time! Read your Archimedes, people! Isaac Newton! Anybody?


    Oh, the powers-that-be at EOIR (the Executive Office for Immigration Review) didn’t think it was a big deal. They were violating the alien’s due process rights, but only a little. And it was for a good cause—efficiency, so what did it matter? But then they got arrogant. Master Calendar Hearings with 40, 50, 60 or more people. Half a dozen respondents on the same transcript, answering charges and conceding removability en masse. Due process protections eroding. But so slowly that no one noticed. The lawyers, the aliens, all of us became complacent. We let it happen.


    And then things got worse. In 2014, Immigration Judges started scheduling scores, then hundreds, then thousands of aliens to appear on a single day—November 29, 2019. They claimed this was some sort of “holding” date; that the cases would be rescheduled. Lies! Instead of making the hard journey up Mt. Sinai to seek justice, they worshipped below at the idols of efficiency and budget cuts. Who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind!


    Before anyone really understood what was happening, tens of thousands of immigrants were scheduled to appear in Immigration Court on that fateful day, November 29, 2019 (may it be obliterated from memory). Throughout November, they gathered. They came by themselves or with their families. Small children without parents. Old people. People who had lived in the U.S. for years and people who were fresh off the hovercraft (hovercrafts were very popular in 2019). They filled the Immigration Court waiting rooms and spilled into the hallways. Masses of people, huddled together. Waiting. Soon, the court buildings were full, but still they came.


    EOIR saw what was happening. They could have stopped the madness. They could have rescheduled the cases. But they didn’t. Why? Was it a conspiracy that reached to the highest levels of government? Or had some scheduling clerk gone rogue? I suppose we’ll never know, and anyway, it doesn’t much matter.


    The more the foreigners gathered, the more they came. It was exponential, logarithmic, seismic. Soon, it wasn't only people facing deportation. People with TPS started showing up. They were followed by conditional residents who were still married (miracle of miracles). Then there were people with valid visas, still in lawful status: B's, TN's, and L's, Q's and R's, H1-B's and E's, all varieties of A's and J's, and even the odd I or C visa holder. I knew we were in trouble by the time the lawful permanent residents began showing up. And when U.S. citizens started arriving, it was clear that something terrible would happen.


    And then it did. The collective gravity of all those people began feeding on itself, swallowing everything and everyone in its path--a black hole. But like I say, if you're reading this, there's still hope. There is a simple solution to the Immigration Court backlog. It's so obvious, that it's a wonder no one noticed it before. All you have to do is...


    ERROR ERROR ERROR END TRANSMISSION

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  5. Immigration Court: The Other Backlog and What to Do About It

    I've written quite a bit in these pages about the backlog at the Asylum Offices, but today I want to focus on another backlog--in the Immigration Courts--and what can be done to improve the situation. The Court backlog has been a bit off my radar; I suppose because the Immigration Courts have always been slow, and so delay in that realm was the norm. But the fact is, the delays in Court have gotten worse. My furthest case is currently set for March 2019. I expect to travel to the Court in my hovercraft.
    Maybe aliens can hire Doc Brown to get them to their Individual Hearings more quickly.

    The basic problem for the Courts, and across the government, is money. Resources are limited and now, with a Congressional leadership hostile to immigration, it seems less likely that the budget for EOIR--the Executive Office for Immigration Review; the agency that oversees the Courts--will be expanded (though a new, anti-immigration bill pending in the House would create 50 new Immigration Judge positions). However, there are some reforms that could be implemented that would not require additional money from the government.


    Below are a few suggestions. Some might require Congressional action; others would not. Given the current situation, something needs to be done. Perhaps some of these ideas would help alleviate the Court backlog:


    - Impose Costs: Criminal and civil courts routinely impose costs and fines on people in the system, so why shouldn't Immigration Courts do the same? There generally is only one reason that a person would have a case before an Immigration Judge--he violated the immigration law. Maybe the violation wasn't his fault (think referred asylum seekers), and so a fine or payment of costs is not warranted, but the IJ can make this determination. The Immigration Court system is expensive, and it seems fair that people who are in the system because they violated the law should help pay for it. And of course, this money could be used to help improve the system.


    - Premium Processing: Certain application before USCIS allow for premium processing. The applicant pays additional money and receives a faster decision (though not necessarily a better decision). Maybe the Immigration Courts could create some type of premium processing so that an alien could pay additional money to speed up her case. I have written about this idea in the context of the Asylum Office. The people who pay the premium processing fee would benefit the most from this plan, but the infusion of money into the system should benefit everyone.


    With regard to the imposition of costs and premium processing, it seems a reasonable question to ask: Is this fair to people who cannot afford to pay? I suppose it is not, but America is not really a fair place. We are a liaise faire capitalist democracy. Every man for himself, and all that. We routinely fine the poor for being poor, and while I don't like imposing costs in the immigration context, it is a way to improve the system for everyone--even those who cannot pay.


    One last point here. Maybe one way to ease the burden would be to spread out the cost. If an alien is fined or forced to pay costs (to pay for the court, DHS, his own detention, etc.), those costs could be paid over time. Instead of receiving a green card, for example, the alien could receive a conditional green card that must be renewed every two years. As long as he continues to pay his debt, the card will be renewed.


    - Empower DHS: DHS attorneys are overworked and lack the resources necessary to properly do their jobs. Adding additional staff to the various Trial Attorneys offices would allow DHS to review cases in advance. This would allow attorneys like me to file applications for relief in advance. DHS could then review the applications and--where appropriate--agree to the relief. Of course, DHS would not agree to relief in all cases, but in many cases, relief is not contested. If we could agree on relief in advance, we could remove the case from the Court's docket, thus freeing space for other cases. Indeed, perhaps this could be combined with premium processing, so that the alien can pay a fee to DHS to review her case (and DHS could use this money to hire more staff). Maybe DHS could even meet with the alien to further explore whether relief is appropriate. If, after examining the case, DHS determines that relief is appropriate, it could inform the Court, which would then grant the relief without a hearing.

    There has been some (tepid) movement in this direction, with prosecutorial discretion, but that does not go far enough. Aliens who are eligible for substantive relief do not want prosecutorial discretion; they want their cases granted. If DHS had the resources to review and decide cases in advance, it would help alleviate the backlog before the Immigration Courts.

    - Pre-Master Calendar Hearings: Let's face it, Master Calendar Hearings ("MCH") are a huge waste of time. Why not require any alien who enters the system to attend a pre-MCH with a member of the Court staff (not an IJ). The pre-MCHs could be arranged by language group, so that everyone attending speaks the same language and the Court staff member could be fluent in that language (or have an appropriate interpreter). At the pre-MCH, the aliens would watch a video--in their own language--explaining the system and their rights (basically what the IJ repeats to pro se aliens 31 times each MCH). The staff member could answer basic questions and encourage the pro se aliens to find lawyers (basically what the IJ does 31 times each MCH). Aliens who will not use a lawyer can be scheduled for an in-person MCH, like what we have now. Aliens who say they will hire a lawyer will be given a deadline for the lawyer to enter her appearance (see the next suggestion for more on lawyers and MCHs). If the deadline passes, the alien will need to attend an in-person MCH.


    - e-Master Calendar Hearings: EOIR now requires all attorneys to register and obtain an EOIR ID Number. As far as I can tell, EOIR does nothing with these ID numbers. However, it (supposedly) is a first step towards electronic filing. Federal courts across the United States require electronic filing, and I see no reason that the Immigration Courts should not do the same. Once an attorney enters her appearance, she should be able to go on-line and plead to the allegations and charges in the Notice to Appear (the charging document in Immigration Court). She should also indicate the relief sought. If there is some reason that the lawyer needs to see the IJ, she can request to appear at a regular MCH. But for the large majority of cases, all the pleadings and requests for relief could be done on-line. How, you ask, would this be an improvement over the current system, where lawyers can file written pleadings? At least in my experience, written pleadings are a huge pain in the tuchus. IJs often ignore them until the last minute, and we have to repeatedly call the Court to see whether the IJ will rule on them. So they really are not worth the trouble. If there was an easy electronic system that actually worked, and we could avoid MCHs, attorneys would be much inclined to use that system. It would save Court and DHS time, and it would also save attorney time and perhaps reduce costs for the alien.


    OK, I suppose that is more than enough for now. If anyone at EOIR wants to hire me to implement these changes, you know where to reach me...

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
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