Category: Deportation Defense

DOJ Wants Deportation Case Quotas to Speed Up the Removal System

Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to instill “numeric performance standards” on our nation’s federal immigration judges.  The immigration courts are currently processing 600,000 cases, which is three times as many cases on the books in 2009.

The National Association of Immigration Judges called the move “unprecedented” and calls Sessions’s plan the “death knell for judicial independence.”

Dana Leigh Marks, who served as an immigration judge for 30 years, said the Sessions plan constituted a “huge, huge, huge encroachment on judicial independence.”

“It’s trying to turn immigration judges into assembly-line workers,” she claimed.

Sessions also claimed last week that frivolous and/or fraudulent asylum claims were also responsible for slowing things down in the Executive Office for Immigration Review (the formal name given to the immigration courts).

The judges’ union argues that the current contract that it has with the government prevents them from being rated based on the number of cases that they complete or the total time it takes for a final decision.

(Just as a point of reference, immigration judges are not actual Article 3 federal judges, but rather administrative law judges and part of the Department of Justice itself).

The Department of Justice is now trying to ignore that language and to compel cases to start moving.

One thing that Sessions is ignoring is that while Congress has allocated significant resources for capturing and detaining undocumented immigrants, the same amount of resources has not been allocated to the immigration courts themselves.

There simply are not enough judges.  Currently, our office is getting court dates two and three years away due to the backlog.  An average non-detained case takes two years or more to be decided.

President Trump apparently plans to request an additional 370 immigration judges, which would double the current number.

While a stated goal of an efficient immigration system is understandable, blaming immigration judges for the delay is simply wrong.  Immigration judges have enormous caseloads and are already stretched to the limit.  Most judges have more than 2,000 open cases.

The fact of the matter is that these judges are often making life-or-death decisions for the immigrants before them.  Literally, life-or-death.  Do we really want them just running the cases through as quickly as possible?

Seems like a really bad idea.

When Do I Appeal a Bad Decision from the Immigration Judge?

To appeal a decision made by the immigration judge (“IJ”), you must affirmatively reserve that right when asked by the IJ if you plan to appeal. It’s safest to reserve your right to appeal, even if you aren’t sure whether you want to appeal. It doesn’t mean you have to appeal, but it leaves the option open for you to do so.

If you choose to appeal, the appeal must be received by the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) within 30 days of the IJ’s decision or else it’s automatically denied. The board does not observe the “mailbox” rule.

In other words, it’s not sufficient to have proof of postage that you sent the appeal before the 30-day deadline, if it doesn’t actually arrive by that 30-day deadline. Timeliness is ultimately based on the time stamp placed on the document upon its arrival at BIA.

When filing an appeal, make sure you have the correct filing deadline. The 30-day rule counts the day of the IJ’s decision as day 0. The day following the IJ’s decision is day 1 and so forth. Make sure to calculate your deadline correctly. You don’t want to miss your deadline because you miscounted!

The 30-day deadline also applies to DHS appeals. If you win a cancellation of removal or other type of defensive application, the government must appeal its decision within the 30-day window. Otherwise, its appeal is also automatically denied.

Finally, It’s best not to wait until the last minute to file. There can be unexpected delays, unfavorable weather conditions, etc. Such delays are not tolerated by the BIA (although if the cause of the delay was unavoidable because of a natural or man-made disaster, you can file a motion asking the BIA to make an exception).

So, file ahead of time and don’t miss your deadline!

DACA’s Fifth Year Anniversary, But Will the Program Survive?

This week marked the five year anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Under DACA, young people brought to the United States as minors have been able to halt their deportation temporarily and to obtain work authorization cards.

These work cards have allowed them to obtain drivers’ licenses and social security numbers.  It has also allowed them to work or to attend college.

President Barack Obama implemented DACA without an actual law being passed by Congress.  The basis of DACA was Obama’s belief that federal immigration officials had limited resources and could only deport so many people.

So Obama wanted the Department of Homeland Security to focus on criminals and people who had repeatedly entered the U.S. without authorization.  Although many immigration advocates criticized Obama for his agency’s definition of what constituted a “criminal” and felt that the definition was applied too broadly, thousands of young people benefited from the DACA program.

Recent estimates indicate that some 800,000 young people from around the world have benefitted from the deferred action program.

But because DACA was based on an executive order and not on legislation passed by Congress, it has always depended upon the willingness of the executive to maintain the program.

Enter Donald J. Trump.  Trump campaigned on a harsh anti-immigrant platform, promising to terminate the DACA program.

But so far, he has not.

Those who follow immigration policy point to his appointment of immigration hard-liner Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and Trump’s meetings with Kris Kobach, a noted xenophobe and anti-immigrant politician, as signs that DACA may be through.

By leaving DACA alone, Trump has angered his base, many of whom supported him based on his anti-immigrant stance and his promise to deport as many people as possible.

The Texas Attorney General is trying to challenge the DACA program’s legality in federal court and Trump can always cancel the program unilaterally.

Last month, Republicans and Democrats in Congressed reintroduced the Dream Act, a bill to give undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children a path to citizenship, but the White House immediately shot it down. There are also bipartisan bills in the House and Senate that would provide temporary protections, but it’s unclear whether those could pass or if they would be signed into law.

Undocumented Dad Nabbed by ICE while Dropping Daughter Off at School Gets Another Chance

Last week, the Board of Immigration Appeals vacated a deportation order entered against Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez.  Romulo’s case drew nationwide attention after a YouTube video surfaced of his daughter weeping after his arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In February, Avelica-Gonzalez was taken into custody by ICE while he was dropping off his daughters at school.

Here is the video taken in the moments after the man was taken into custody.

He has been held at the Adelanto Detention Facility in San Bernardino County since he was taken into custody.

Romulo has lived in the U.S. for 25 years, but had no way to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the States.  He has two misdemeanor convictions – one for receiving stolen car tags and one for driving under the influence.

Avelica-Gonzalez has four children who are U.S. citizens, according to National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). He was working as a cook at the time of his arrest.

“He should not be imprisoned just for trying to live a better life and stay with his family,” Avelica-Gonzalez’s 13-year-old daughter, Fatima, said in a prepared release.

Fatima is the daughter who videotaped her father’s arrest.

Avelica-Gonzalez’s immigration lawyer has successfully gotten those convictions vacated and the Board of Immigration Appeals then granted his request for an emergency stay of deportation while it reviewed his case.

His legal team has requested that ICE release Romulo while the deportation case proceeds.  A new bond hearing is set for August 30, 2017.

ICE has a long-standing policy instructing agents to  avoid conducting enforcement activities at so-called “sensitive locations” such as churches, hospitals and schools, unless absolutely necessary. But Avelica-Gonzalez’s arrest at his daughter’s school sparked renewed concerns that ICE is loosening that policy — an accusation that federal officials have denied.

With regards to the latest BIA decision in AVelica-Gonzalez’s case, Department of Justice spokesman Kenneth Gardner said officials had no official comment about the decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals. “The decision speaks for itself,” Gardner wrote in an email.

As Trump Eases Enforcement Priorities, Undocumented Immigrants Feel the Squeeze

If you want to understand what it feels like when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) comes to get an undocumented immigrant, read this article in Newsweek.

As a candidate for President, Donald Trump promised to round up the “bad hombres.”  His Attorney General has routinely called for stricter enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws.  John F. Kelly, the head of Homeland Security, has similarly promised that until Congress changes our immigration policies, his agency would enforce the laws on the books to the fullest extent possible.

Enter Jonatan Palacios, an undocumented man from Honduras.  Back in 2008, he was ordered deported by an immigration judge.  ICE recently found Mr. Palacios and took him in to immigration custody.

In an interview with Newsweek, Palacios said “I was so panicked.  I was trying to think through every little detail. Eventually, there was nothing else we could do and I just got out of the car, gave Lillie a hug and went with them.”

Immigration lawyers across the country explain that since Trump came into office, ICE has moved sharply away from the Obama-era policy of deporting criminals first.  Now, all undocumented immigrants are at risk.

Under Obama, agents were required to follow a specified list of priorities. Under Trump, ICE can investigate any undocumented immigrant they deem to be a “risk to public safety or national security” —a deliberately vague mandate, say immigration experts, that gives individuals in the agency a lot of leeway to make their own choices.  For better or worse.

This is contrary to candidate Trump’s promise to focus on “bad hombres.”

It should also spark a debate about what our nation’s immigration process should look like.

Do we really want to deport millions of people who have lived in the U.S. without proper authorization for years and years but who have committed no crimes?

Or, given the limited financial resources that ICE and other law enforcement agencies have, do we want to prioritize those who violate the laws?

In addition, the current approach under Donald Trump appears hostile, mean-spirited and destined to break up thousands of families.

 

 

Indian Doctors Face Deportation Due to Paperwork Error

Two Indian physicians who reside in Houston, Texas, face imminent deportation from the United States due to a paperwork error.

Dr. Pankaj Satija is a neurologist who helped found the Pain and Headache Centers of Texas.  His wife, Dr. Monnika Ummat, have resided in the U.S. for many, many years.  Dr. Ummat is also a neurologist.  She specializes in treating epilepsy at Texas Children’s Hospital.  They are the parents of 2 U.S. citizens, 7-year-old Ralph and 4-year-old Zoeey.

The pair faced removal last week after immigration officials refused to extend Dr. Satija’s and Dr. Ummat’s temporary permission to stay in the U.S.  The decision by Homeland Security may cause dozens of Texans who suffer from neurological disorders to be without their doctors.

“I have 50 patients today and 40 patients tomorrow,” said Dr. Satija. “I’m just concerned they’ll be left in a lurch. They could land up in the emergency room.”

The Houston Methodist Hospital System sponsored Dr. Satija for a green card (lawful permanent resident status) in 2008.  Dr. Ummat would be eligible to adjust status as his spouse.  But because the couple are from India and because USCIS has a nearly decade-long backlog for Indian professionals to adjust status, they have not yet received their LPR status.

The couple regularly renewed their travel documents and work authorizations.  But last year, their permission to travel abroad was extended for only one year instead of two years, which had typically been what they received.  Later snafus by Customs and Border Patrol contributed to the confusion.

The couple never noticed the problem.  Then Dr. Satija’s brother called from India to tell him that their father had been admitted into intensive care and was gravely ill.  The entire family flew to India.

When they returned to the U.S., they learned that they had left the U.S. on expired advance parole documents (the formal name for the travel documents).

CBP allowed the couple to enter the U.S. on deferred inspection, which means they were allowed in but would have to explain how they believed they were entitled to stay at a later date.

When they brought their paperwork back to CBP, they were initially told that everything would be okay.  But the next day, they were told “[s]omebody up there has decided you have to leave the country in the next 24 hours.”

According to the Houston Chronicle, in two expansive immigration memos the Trump administration issued in February, it directed the nation’s three main immigration agencies to “sparingly” use the practice of parole, though it hasn’t yet detailed the new regulations.

At the end of last week, DHS did agree to give the couple another 90 days to try and sort out the situation.

This story demonstrates a few themes we talk about at the Hacking Law Practice on a regular basis.

First, it is absolutely ridiculous that we have an immigration system that takes nine years for a pair of super-qualified doctors from India to get lawful resident status.

Second, it is absurd that we are even talking about the possibility of deporting these people who serve sick Americans every day of their lives.

Third, immigrants are awesome and help this country every day.

 

U.S. Army Veteran to be Deported

Miguel Perez is not a U.S. Citizen.

His two children are.

Despite this, he is scheduled to be deported due to a conviction for selling drugs.

Perez served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

He enlisted for not one, but two, tours.  According to his family, Perez “was blown out of his Jeep in Kandahar” and suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the blast.

He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  He started self-medicating with alcohol and he then turned to drugs.  That led to the selling of drugs.

Sadly, he had the opportunity to become a U.S. citizen after serving in the Army, but he didn’t understand how the process worked.  He thought that simply serving in the military resulted in him automatically becoming a U.S. citizen.

America has done a poor job of taking care of the women and men who fought in George Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan/. Problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs are legendary.

We provide little funding for treating the psychological injuries of war.

But when a man or a woman volunteers to pickup a gun and defend this country, we should be there for that soldier when they return.  If they make a mistake and commit a crime, go ahead and punish them.

But in this huge political push to see who can out-tough other politicians when it comes to immigrants, real people get caught up in the system.

We abandoned this man to the streets after he fought for us. This is deplorable what the government is now trying to do.

We believe that if you serve our nation honorably and come back to the United States that you should not be deported. A black letter rule that would prohibit us from deporting women and men who put on our country’s uniform.

Miguel Perez is running out of options. He has already been ordered de-or Ted by the immigration judge.  He is seeking relief in the Board of Immigration Appeals and has asked for members of Congress to assist him.

Will we leave this blood brother behind?  After what we a

Immigrant Justice – Arbitrary and Capricious

Arbitrary (adj.) – subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one’s discretion.

Capricious (adj.) – subject to, led by, or indicative of a sudden, odd notion or unpredictable change; erratic.

When I attended law school, the professors taught us that justice was supposed to be distributed evenly.  We learned how precedent – prior decisions – was to dictate how judges decide matters in real time.

They also taught us that the law was NOT supposed to be arbitrary or capricious.  The law should not turn on the tendencies of a particular judge, but rather applied uniformly across the country.

The law should not be left to the “individual will” of a judge.  The law should not be “unpredictable” or “erratic.”

I think of these old law school lessons whenever I see statistics regarding the granting or denial of asylum relief in our nation’s immigration courts.

Asylum cases involve a claim by a foreign national that if he or she return to their home country that they will be persecuted for something about them that they can’t or should not have to change – their religion, their nationality, their race, their political opinion or their membership in a particular social group.

One would hope that if we took the same asylum case and presented it to an immigration judge in Cleveland and in Phoenix and in Seattle, the same result would be reached.

But the statistics from our nation’s 58 deportation courts show that this is definitely not the case.

Generally, the approval rate for asylum court cases is about 48 percent.  But after the recent surge of asylum cases stemming from the violence in Central America, the numbers in our nation’s immigration courts are all over the map.

According to a recent piece in The Washington Post, the approval rate for asylum at the New York immigration court is 84 percent.  The approval rate in Chicago is 45 percent.  But in Houston, only 9 percent of asylum seekers obtain relief.  The number in Atlanta is even worse – amazingly, the immigration judges in Atlanta only approve 2 percent of the cases that appear before them.  Two percent!

This is no way to run an immigration system.  Asylum is one of the most important forms of immigration relief that there is.  These judges are literally making life and death choices.  Due to the overworked and overloaded immigration court system, the judges have very little time to review these cases.

How in the world can immigration judges in New York approve 84 percent of the cases, but judges in Atlanta only 2?

The Executive Office for Immigration Review and the Board of Immigration Appeals must make uniformity in the rule of law a guiding principal and reign in these judges with ridiculously low approval rates.

Too much is at stake.

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Immigration Judges Are Overworked, Stressed Out

The United States currently has 277 immigration judges across the nation. This represents the highest number of judges in our nation’s history.

Despite this, immigrants facing deportation face delays of years and years before having their day in court.  Several months ago, the number of pending deportation cases reached their highest number ever – in excess of 500,000 pending cases.

Our office routinely receives individual hearing dates (basically, the trial associated with whether the immigrant stays in the U.S. or is forced to return home) that are set two or three years into the future.

The immigration judges have a union and that union has repeatedly asked Congress for increased funding for more law clerks and resources to help with the backlog.  Most of these requests have not been granted.

The failure of Congress to provide more financial support for our nation’s immigration judges has resulted in judges having to make literal life-or-death decisions in a matter of minutes, simply to keep the deportation machine moving.  A recent New York Times article makes clear that:

the conditions that immigration judges work under — fast paced, high pressure and culturally charged — make some misjudgments all but inevitable.

Immigration judges are experiencing high levels of burnout.  Turnover is the result which only slows cases down even more.

The head of the immigration judges’ union recently spoke about the difficulties in having to make such important decisions with limited information which usually rests on the credibility of the people testifying in front of them.  The judges try to combat their own internal prejudices, but often find that a difficult thing to do in such a fast-paced environment.

More than 40 percent of immigrants come to court without a lawyer, but even when lawyers are involved, experts say that immigrants who are educated, articulate and white have an easier time gaining the court’s sympathy.  That is not fair.

Our system of justice should work better than this.

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New Border Chief to Address Internal Corruption, High Number of Fatal Shootings

There is a new sheriff in town.

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Actually, we are referring to a new chief of the U.S. Border Patrol agency.  Mark Morgan, a former FBI supervisor, recently became the head of the agency charged with securing our nation’s borders.

Morgan is the first “outsider” to ever take the helm of Border Patrol and people are beginning to take notice.

Border Patrol has faced a series of setbacks and public relations black eyes in recent years.  Claims of an overly confrontational approach that has resulted in multiple fatal shootings, a long history of internal corruption and a lack of accountability in investigating misconduct have persisted.

Morgan spoke of the perceived environment at Border Patrol – “it was a culture of not getting out and talking about issues, not being transparent about the process that drove the perception there was a culture problem.”  Morgan toured half of the 20 Border Patrol outposts that cover the 6,000 miles of our Canadian and Mexican borders and spoke with front line agents at each of those locations.

He has also implemented new “use-of-force” policies to train new recruits in de-escalating mechanisms to try and cut down on the number of fatalities along the border.  An improved review system for officer involved shootings is also being implemented.

“The piece we need to get better at when a shooting happens is, what happens now?  I don’t think we were very good at all about making decisions like whether the use of force was within our guidelines.”

Morgan is a civil servant as opposed to a political appointee so it is expected that he will stay in the role no matter the outcome of the November presidential election.  During a recent Congressional hearing, Morgan was asked what he thought of Mr. Trump’s grand plan for a border wall.  He noted that the federal government already spends a tremendous amount of money on the existing border security fences and that a wall “isn’t the answer.”