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Jeffrey S. Chase, Sept. 14, 2019
"The late Maury Roberts, a legendary immigration lawyer and former BIA Chair, wrote in 1991: “It has always seemed significant to me that, among all the members of the animal kingdom, man is the only one who captures and imprisons his fellows. In all the rest of creation, freedom is the natural order.”1 Roberts expressed his strong belief in the importance of liberty, which caused him consternation at “governmental attempts to imprison persons who are not criminals or dangerous to society, on the grounds that their detention serves some other societal purpose,” including noncitizens “innocent of any wrongdoing other than being in the United States without documents.”2
The wrongness of indefinitely detaining non-criminals greatly increases when those being detained are asylum-seekers fleeing serious harm in their home countries, often after undertaking dangerous journeys to lawfully seek protection in this country. The detention of those seeking asylum is at odds with our obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which at Article 31 forbids states from penalizing refugees from neighboring states on account of their illegal entry or presence, or from restricting the movements of refugees except where necessary; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees at Article 9, para. 4 the right of detainees to have a court “without delay” determine the lawfulness of the detention order release if it is not.
In 1996, in response to an increase in asylum seekers at ports of entry, Congress enacted a policy known as expedited removal, which allows border patrol officers to enter deportation orders against those noncitizens arriving at airports or the border whom are not deemed admissible. A noncitizen expressing a fear of returning to their country is detained and referred for a credible fear interview. Only those whom a DHS asylum officer determines to have a “significant possibility” of being granted asylum pass such interview and are allowed a hearing before an immigration judge to pursue their asylum claim.
In 2005, the Board of Immigration Appeals issued a precedent decision stating that detained asylum seekers who have passed such credible fear interview are entitled to a bond hearing. It should be noted that the author of this decision, Ed Grant, is a former Republican congressional staffer and supporter of a draconian immigration enforcement bill enacted in 1996, who has been one of the more conservative members of the BIA. He was joined on the panel issuing such decision by fellow conservative Roger Pauley. The panel decision was further approved by the majority of the full BIA two years after it had been purged of its liberal members by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. In other words, the right to bond hearings was the legal conclusion of a tribunal of conservatives who, although they did not hold pro-immigrant beliefs, found that the law dictated the result it reached.
14 years later, the present administration issued a precedent decision in the name of Attorney General Barr vacating the BIA’s decision as “wrongly decided,” and revoking the right to such bond hearings. The decision was immediately challenged in the courts by the ACLU, the Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and the American Immigration Council. Finding Barr’s prohibition on bond hearings unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman issued a preliminary injunction blocking the decision from taking effect, and requiring bond hearings for class members within 7 days of their detention. The injunction additionally places the burden on the government to demonstrate why the asylum-seeker should not be released on bond, parole, or other condition; requires the government to provide a recording or verbatim transcript of the bond hearing on appeal; and further requires the government to produce a written decision with particularized determinations of individualized findings at the end of the bond hearing.
The Administration has appealed from that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On September 4, an amicus brief on behalf of 29 former immigration judges (including myself) and appellate judges of the BIA was filed in support of the plaintiffs. Our brief notes the necessity of bond hearings to due process in a heavily overburdened court system dealing with highly complex legal issues. Our group advised that detained asylum seekers are less likely to retain counsel. Based on our collective experience on the bench, this is important, as it is counsel who guides an asylum seeker through the complexities of the immigration court system. Furthermore, the arguments of unrepresented applicants are likely to be less concise and organized both before the immigration judge and on appeal than if such arguments had been prepared by counsel. Where an applicant is unrepresented, their ongoing detention hampers their ability to gather evidence in support of their claim, while those lucky enough to retain counsel are hampered in their ability to communicate and cooperate with their attorney.
These problems are compounded by two other recent Attorney General decisions, Matter of A-B- and Matter of L-E-A-, which impact a large number of asylum claimants covered by the lawsuit who are fleeing domestic or gang violence. Subsequent to those decisions, stating the facts giving rise to the applicant’s fear can be less important than how those facts are then framed by counsel. Immigration Judges who are still navigating these decisions often request legal memoranda explaining the continued viability of such claims. And such arguments often require both a legal knowledge of the nuances of applicable case law and support from experts in detailed reports beyond the capability of most detained, unrepresented, newly-arrived asylum seekers to obtain.
Our brief also argues that the injunction’s placement of the burden of proof on DHS “prevents noncitizens from being detained simply because they cannot articulate why they should be released, and takes into account the government’s institutional advantages.” This is extremely important when one realizes that, under international law, an individual becomes a refugee upon fulfilling the criteria contained in the definition of that term (i.e. upon leaving their country and being unable or unwilling to return on account of a protected ground). Therefore, one does not become a refugee due to being recognized as one by a grant of asylum. Rather, a grant of asylum provides legal recognition of the existing fact that one is a refugee. 3 Class members have, after a lengthy screening interview, been found by a trained DHS official to have a significant possibility of already being a refugee. To deny bond to a member of such a class because, unlike the ICE attorney opposing their release, they are unaware of the cases to cite or arguments to state greatly increases the chance that genuine refugees deserving of this country’s protection will be deported to face persecution
The former Immigration Judges and BIA Members signing onto the amicus brief are: Steven Abrams, Sarah Burr, Teofilo Chapa, Jeffrey S, Chase, George Chew, Cecelia Espenoza, Noel Ferris, James Fujimoto, Jennie Giambiastini, John Gossart, Paul Grussendorf, Miriam Hayward, Rebecca Jamil, Carol King, Elizabeth Lamb, Margaret McManus, Charles Pazar, George Proctor, Laura Ramirez, John Richardson, Lory D. Rosenberg, Susan Roy, Paul W. Schmidt, Ilyce Shugall, Denise Slavin, Andrea Hawkins Sloan, Gustavo Villageliu, Polly Webber, and Robert D. Weisel.
We are greatly indebted to and thankful for the outstanding efforts of partners Alan Schoenfeld and Lori A. Martin of the New York office of Wilmer Hale, and senior associates Rebecca Arriaga Herche and Jamil Aslam with the firm’s Washington and Los Angeles offices in the drafting of the brief.
Maurice Roberts, “Some Thoughts on the Wanton Detention of Aliens,” Festschrift: In Celebration of the Works of Maurice Roberts, 5 Geo. Immigr. L.J. 225 (1991).
Id. at 226.
UNHCR, Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status Under the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees at Para. 28."
Copyright 2019 Jeffrey S. Chase. All rights reserved.
Jeffrey S. Chase is an immigration lawyer in New York City. Jeffrey is a former Immigration Judge, senior legal advisor at the Board of Immigration Appeals, and volunteer staff attorney at Human Rights First. He is a past recipient of AILA's annual Pro Bono Award, and previously chaired AILA's Asylum Reform Task Force.