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Former IJs Speak Out on Limited Access to Courts

December 12, 2019 (1 min read)

The "Round Table of Former Immigration Judges" filed this letter with EOIR.

Former BIA Chairman Paul W. Schmidt comments:

"Public access is critical to Due Process and Fundamental Fairness in Immigration Court. In the Arlington Immigration Court, we were constantly “under observation” by reporters, Congressional staff, NGOs, students, Senior Executives from DOJ and DHS, Asylum Officers, OIL Attorneys, EOIR Headquarters and BIA staff, ORR staff, and other members of the public. We welcomed it. All of us viewed it as a “teaching opportunity” and a chance to demonstrate “Due Process in action” and to communicate our judicial philosophies and expertise in the law to others. It was an important “public education” opportunity. 

Indeed, when I taught “Refugee Law & Policy” as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law “Court Observation” was a required assignment. The same was true of many of my teaching colleagues at the many law schools in DC and Virginia.

Far from “disruptive” or “distracting,” I found that public observation actually improved everyone’s performance, including my own. Everyone in the courtroom got into “teaching mode,” willing and eager to demonstrate the importance of their roles in the justice system. Counsel on both sides would often remain for a few minutes after the case to discuss their respective roles and how they came to choose immigration law as a career (of course, being careful not to discuss particular case facts).

Indeed, one of the most meaningful items of “feedback” I got from an observer (paraphrased) was: “I expected something much more openly adversarial and hostile. I was surprised by the degree of cooperation, mutual respect, and teamwork by everyone in the courtroom including counsel, the witnesses, the interpreter, and the judge to complete the case in the time allotted and to inform the judge’s decision. Everyone seemed to be working toward a common goal of resolution, even though they had different roles and views on the right outcome.” 

Of course that was then. I’ve been told that most Immigration Courts these days are much more “openly hostile territory” particularly for respondents and their counsel. All the more reason why we need more, rather than less, in person court observation.

Many thanks to our friend and Round Table colleague Judge Ilyce Shugall for bringing this festering problem “out in the open.”"