Immigration Law

EOIR Eliminates Annual Training for Immigration Judge Corps - Paul Wickham Schmidt

Paul Wickham Schmidt, Apr. 13, 2017 - "Reliable sources have now confirmed what I reported in this blog earlier this week (http://wp.me/p8eeJm-Ge): the DOJ has eliminated the U.S. Immigration Court’s only formal annual training. U.S. Immigration Judges have been ordered to schedule cases during the week normally reserved for advanced training, continuing judicial education, and professional development.

This news couldn’t come at a worse time for the beleaguered U.S. Immigration Courts. Dozens of new U.S. Immigration Judges have been appointed in the last year, most of whom have never met their judicial colleagues across the nation.

Moreover, this would be their only opportunity beyond some brief “basic training” to pursue continuing judicial education in this complex, controversial, and ever-changing field. It’s also an opportunity to “catch jump” on what all the Circuit Courts of Appeals are doing, as well as to hear from BIA Appellate Immigration Judges about developments at the Board. Additionally, it is a key opportunity to address the disturbing, continuing problem of inexplicable discrepancies in asylum adjudication (84% grant rate in one Immigration Court; 2% grant rate in another) within the Immigration Court system.

Some of the training at the Annual Conference is statutorily required, such as updates under the International Religious Freedom Act, which, perhaps ironically, often highlights the persecution faced by Christian groups in China and the Middle East, a subject on which the Administration has expressed concern. Other sessions cover ethics training required by DOJ regulations.

In addition, the DOJ considers U.S. Immigration Judges to be “DOJ attorneys.” As a consequence, judges are required to maintain “active” status in at least one state bar, even though they perform only quasi-judicial duties and therefore would be eligible for “active judicial status” in many states.

The Annual Conference usually meets the “mandatory CLE” requirements of various state bars. But, when there is no Annual Conference, individual judges must take leave from the bench to complete the coursework required by their respective state bars. Therefore, Immigration Judges are off the bench learning about state real estate transactions and changes in tort law, when they could instead be advancing their knowledge in immigration and refugee law as well as “best judicial practices” in Federal Courts.

I get frequent reports of cratering morale among Immigration Judges and court staff, increases in the already extraordinary levels of stress, and impending retirements of some of the best and most experienced judges. Some Immigration Judges returning from details to hastily thrown together so-called “Immigration Courts” in DHS detention centers were shocked, upset, and angered to see with their own eyes that individuals with viable claims for relief, most of them asylum or related protection, were being “duressed” by the coercive conditions and atmosphere in DHS detention to abandon their claims and take “final orders of removal,” just to be out of detention. And, the Administration is just getting started on its plans for “Incarceration Nation.”

Lawyers report that they show up at Immigration Court with clients and witness in tow prepared for merits cases which have been pending for years, only to find out that the cases have been rescheduled to a dates several more years in the future, without advance notice, so that the Immigration Judges can be detailed to a detention centers in other parts of the country.

When is Congress finally going to step in and provide some meaningful oversight of the unfolding due process disaster in U.S. Immigration Courts? Regardless of where one stands on the philosophical issues surrounding immigration enforcement, providing due process and complying with constitutional, statutory, and international treaty obligations, including reasonable access to counsel (which is not available in most DHS detention center locations), should be a bipartisan priority.

Isn’t it time for a bipartisan group of GOP legislators concerned about the billions of dollars being mindlessly poured into immigration enforcement and Democrats who are concerned about due process getting together and holding the Trump Administration accountable for what’s really happening in our Immigration Courts?"