ILW.COM - the immigration portal Immigration Daily

Home Page

Immigration Daily


Processing times

Immigration forms

Discussion board



Twitter feed

Immigrant Nation


CLE Workshops

Immigration books

Advertise on ILW

VIP Network




Connect to us

Make us Homepage



Immigration Daily

Chinese Immig. Daily

The leading
immigration law
publisher - over
50000 pages of
free information!
© 1995-
Immigration LLC.

View RSS Feed

Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum


  1. Your Affirmative Asylum Case Was Denied. Now What? (Part 2: Immigration Court and Beyond)

    This is part 2 of a posting about what happens if the Asylum Office denies your affirmative application. Read part 1 here.

    The view from the Judge's seat in Immigration Court.

    If the Asylum Office denies your asylum case and you are no longer “in status,” you will be referred to an Immigration Court. When you get the denial (which they politely call a Referral), it will contain a short letter with a (usually) boilerplate explanation about why the case was not granted. Along with the letter, you will receive a Notice to Appear (“NTA”), which explains why the U.S. government believes it can deport you. If you have dependent family members, each of them should also receive an NTA (assuming they are all out of status).

    The NTA contains allegations and charges. The allegations usually begin, “(1) You are not a citizen or national of the United States; (2) You are a citizen and national of [your country]; (3) You entered the United States on [date and place],” and then they state why you are removable. Often, the alien is removable because she remained in the United States longer than permitted. Other times, the alien entered the U.S. unlawfully (without inspection) or fraudulently (using a fake passport, for example). Some people are removable due to criminal convictions or other immigration violations. Read the NTA and make sure all of the allegations are correct.

    The NTA also contains one or more charges. The charges indicate the section of the law (the Immigration and Nationality Act or INA) that the government can use to deport you. One common charge is under INA § 237(a)(1)(B), where the person is removable for having “remained in the United States for a time longer then permitted.” Other charges could relate to an unlawful or fraudulent entry, or to a criminal conviction.

    Finally, the NTA will tell you where to go to Immigration Court. Usually, these days, the NTA does not tell you when to go to court. Instead, it says, “TBD,” which means “To Be Determined.” If your court date is TBD, you will receive a notice in the mail with the date of your first hearing. It is important to keep your address updated with the Immigration Court. Use form EOIR-33, and don’t forget to send an extra copy to the DHS Office of the Chief Counsel (the prosecutor).

    Also, you can call the Court phone system to check the status of your case and learn whether you have an upcoming hearing. The phone number is 800-898-7180. It is a computer; not a person. Once it answers, follow the instructions and enter your Alien number. After the computer spells your name and you confirm, you can push 1 for your next court date. I recommend you call once a week, just in case you don’t receive the written notice (if you miss your court date, the judge will likely order you deported).

    The wait time for the first court date depends on the court and the judge—it could take a few weeks or a few months (or sometimes longer).

    Once you are scheduled for court, you will be assigned a judge. The 800-number will tell you the name of your judge. You can learn more about your judge at TRAC Immigration (information is not available for newer judges).

    The first hearing is called a Master Calendar Hearing (“MCH”). Many people attend that hearing, and you have to wait your turn. When it is your turn, if you have a lawyer, the Immigration Judge (“IJ”) will take “pleadings.” This is when you (through your attorney) admit or deny the allegations and charges in the NTA. After that, the IJ will usually schedule you for an Individual Hearing (also called a Merits Hearing).

    If you do not have an attorney with you at the MCH, the IJ will usually give you a continuance to find an attorney. If that happens, you will be scheduled for another MCH. In generally, the IJs really want you to find a lawyer, as it makes their job easier and it significantly increases the likelihood that your case will be approved.

    For most referred asylum applicants, the NTA is correct and the person will admit the allegations, concede the charges of removability, and request asylum, Withholding of Removal, and relief under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. However, in some cases, the NTA is not correct. Also, some applicants can seek other relief, such as Cancellation of Removal or adjustment of status based on a familial relationship (or something else). One job of the attorney is to explore what types of relief you might be eligible for.

    Also, at the MCH, the IJ will ask you to designate a country of removal. In other words, the IJ wants to know where to send you if you lose your case. For most asylum applicants, we decline to designate a country of removal. The DHS attorney (the prosecutor) will usually designate the country of citizenship.

    If you admit the allegations, concede the charge(s), and indicate what relief you are seeking, the IJ will usually schedule you for an Individual Hearing, which is your trial. If you decline to accept the first Individual Hearing date the IJ offers you, or if you take a continuance to find a lawyer, it could prevent you from obtaining a work permit (if you don’t already have one—if you already have a work permit, you do not need to worry about this). If you think this could be a problem in your case, ask your lawyer. If you do not have a lawyer, ask the IJ.

    The wait time between the MCH and the Individual Hearing varies by court and by judge. It might be a few days or weeks (for a detained alien), or it could be several years. Supposedly, for asylum cases referred to Court under the new last-in, first-out system, IJs will be scheduling quick Individual Hearing dates. We’ll have to wait and see how that works out.

    The Individual Hearing is your trial. It is where you present evidence, and where you and your witnesses testify. At the end of the Individual Hearing, the IJ will usually make a decision—give you asylum, give you some other type of relief, or order you deported. Sometimes, a case requires more than one Individual Hearing. Other times, the IJ will send the decision by mail.

    If lose your Individual Hearing, you can appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”). If you win your asylum case, DHS can appeal (thankfully, that is not so common). You do not appear in-person for the appeal. Instead, you (or hopefully, your lawyer) will submit a brief, and the BIA will read it and make a decision in your case. Either the BIA will dismiss the appeal, meaning the IJ’s decision was correct and will remain in force, or it can alter or reverse the IJ’s decision. In the latter instance, the case will normally be returned to the IJ to correct the error, and issue a new decision.

    An appeal with the BIA typically takes about six months or a year, but it depends on the case.

    If you lose at the BIA, you can file a Petition for Review with the appropriate federal appellate court, and if you lose there, you can try to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Very, very few cases make it that far. Also, if you lose at the BIA, whether or not you go to federal court, you are no longer eligible for a work permit based on a pending asylum case, and you can be deported (typically, ICE will not deport someone with a pending federal case, but they have the legal authority to do so unless the federal court issues an order “staying” removal). For the vast majority of aliens, if you lose at the federal appellate level, that is the end of the line.

    In my experience, it is a bit easier to win an asylum case in Immigration Court as compared to the Asylum Office. But it is much more difficult to win at the BIA, and even more difficult to win at the federal appellate level.

    So this is the basic process that most cases follow if they are denied at the Asylum Office. There are some exceptions and different paths (most notably Motions to Reopen and/or Reconsider), but the majority of applicants will follow this process. If your case is rejected by the Asylum Office, it becomes even more important to have a lawyer assist you. If you can't afford a lawyer, check this posting for some helpful resources. And remember, losing at the Asylum Office is frustrating and upsetting, but it is by no means the end of the road. Keep fighting, and hopefully, you will have a good result in the end.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  2. Your Affirmative Asylum Case Was Denied. Now What? (Part 1)

    It’s getting more and more difficult to win an asylum case at the Asylum Office. So if your case is not approved, what happens?

    For asylum seekers and pizza lovers, this guy is bad news.

    For affirmative asylum cases, there are two possible negative outcomes at the Asylum Office level: Denial and Referral.

    Denials occur only if you are “in status,” meaning you have some other type of non-immigrant status aside from the pending asylum case. Under the old system (that existed from December 2014 to January 2018), where cases were interviewed in the order received, very few applicants were “in status” by the time of their asylum decision. This is because the cases took years, and very few non-immigrant visas allow an alien to remain lawfully in the U.S. for that long (some exceptions might be the F, J, and H1b visas).

    Now, under the new system of last-in, first-out (which is pretty much the same as the pre-December 2014 system), we can expect many newly-filed cases to receive decisions much more quickly, so more applicants will be “in status” when they receive a decision.

    If the decision is "yes," then you receive asylum with all the accompanying benefits. But if the decision is "no" and you are still “in status,” the Asylum Office will give you a letter, called a Notice of Intent to Deny or NOID. The NOID provides a fairly detailed explanation of why your case is being denied, and it gives you 16 days to file a response. In the response, you can include new evidence and explain why the Asylum Office should grant your case.

    In the last few years, we have rarely seen NOIDs. However, before December 2014, we would see them now and again. Most often, we saw them when a new client came into the office seeking help with a response. The problem for a busy attorney is that the NOIDs give so little time to respond (16 days) and usually a few days had already passed before the person came for help.

    My experience with NOIDs is that the Asylum Office pays attention to the responses. I'd guess that we were successful in getting asylum for about 50% of the people who came to us with such letters. The lesson here is that if you get a NOID, you should do your best to respond. In some cases, it may be impossible to get the Asylum Office to reverse its decision. But as they say, you've got to play to win, so if you get a NOID, make sure to respond--you may turn an "intent to deny" into a grant.

    If you respond to the NOID and the Asylum Office still decides to deny your application (and assuming your status did not expire in the interim), you will receive a final denial. This means that your case is now over, and you can remain in the United States until your period of lawful stay ends. At that point, you are supposed to leave or seek some other status.

    The problem for many asylum seekers, however, is that they do not want to return home (they are asylum seekers, after all). Even though the Asylum Office has denied their case, they want an opportunity to present the case to an Immigration Judge. This makes sense, as many cases denied at the Asylum Office are granted in court. As I'll discuss in Part 2 (spoiler alert!), asylum cases denied by the Asylum Office are referred to Immigration Court if the applicant is out of status. But if you are denied and you are "in status," what can you do?

    If you received a final denial in your asylum case and you want to go to court, you have to re-apply for asylum at the Asylum Office. The procedure for a second application is different than for a first (check the I-589 instructions). Essentially, you submit a new application directly to the local asylum office, rather than file with a USCIS Service Center (initial asylum applications are sent to the Service Centers).

    In theory, for a second application, the Asylum Office will only consider events that occurred after the first application. In other words, they typically will not revisit the first asylum application. Instead, you need to present something new if you want them to grant your case. It's pretty rare that some new evidence arises between a first and second asylum application, and so the second application is likely to be denied. If the second application is denied, and you are now out of status, your case will be referred to an Immigration Judge, who will look at both your asylum cases.

    Given this cumbersome system of having to file a second case, some applicants prefer to file for asylum when their status is expired or close to expiring (but keep in mind the one-year filing deadline). These applicants do not want to leave the U.S., and they prefer to go directly to court if their case is denied. This is certainly a reasonable plan. However, I do think it is important to consider the pros and cons of this approach.

    On the plus side, if your denial arrives after your status has expired, you will go from the Asylum Office directly to court, so your case may move a bit faster. Also, of course, you get the chance to present your claim to an Immigration Judge. On the negative side, in order to make this happen, you have to wait until your status has expired (or is close to expiring) before you file your case. Some people may not like this delay. Also, you will not receive a NOID, and so you will only have a vague idea about the reason for the denial (when a case is referred to court, the Asylum Office does not give a detailed explanation of the reasons). Finally, you will not have an opportunity to rebut the Asylum Office's reasons for denying your case, which means you lose an opportunity to win the case after the NOID is issued. For me, there is no correct answer here. The time frame of when you choose to apply depends on which path you prefer.

    Of course, if you are out of status and receive a denial from the Asylum Office, your case will go to an Immigration Judge. But that is a topic for another day. Stay tuned....

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  3. 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:
  4. "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:
  5. 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:
Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Put Free Immigration Law Headlines On Your Website

Immigration Daily: the news source for legal professionals. Free! Join 35000+ readers Enter your email address here: