Ses­sions would get tough on im­mi­gra­tion

He could make nu­mer­ous changes as at­tor­ney gen­eral

Baltimore Sun - - TRUMP TRANSITION - By Brian Ben­nett

WASH­ING­TON — Tougher i mmi­gra­tion judges. More pros­e­cu­tion of low-level im­mi­gra­tion-law vi­o­la­tions. And a cut-off of some law en­force­ment funds to cities that don’t hew to a harsher im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy.

Even with­out chang­ing a sin­gle law, these are some of the ma­jor changes in im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy that Sen. Jeff Ses­sions could pur­sue if he is con­firmed as U.S. at­tor­ney gen­eral.

While most en­force­ment of im­mi­gra­tion law rests with agen­cies in the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, of­fices in the Jus­tice Depart­ment also play a ma­jor role in ad­min­is­ter­ing im­mi­gra­tion law.

But Ses­sions also will have broad dis­cre­tion to change im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies un­der other laws.

“He can have a tremen­dous im­pact,” said John Sandweg, who was act­ing di­rec­tor of Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment in 2014.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral “has com­plete con­trol over the im­mi­gra­tion courts and whether to use crim­i­nal prose­cu­tions against im­mi­grants,” he said.

Im­mi­gra­tion judges are cho­sen by the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fice for Im­mi­gra­tion Re­view. The of­fice sets stan­dards for hir­ing and vet­ting judges, and for the train­ing and in­struc­tions they re­ceive on how to in­ter­pret im­mi­gra­tion law.

“Most peo­ple don’t re­al­ize we are not tech­ni­cally judges,” Dana Leigh Marks, pres­i­dent of the National As­so­ci­a­tion of Im­mi­gra­tion Judges, said from San Francisco, where she has presided over im­mi­gra­tion cases since the 1980s.

“In terms of our tech­ni­cal em­ploy­ment sta­tus, we are at­tor­ney em­ploy­ees of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, which we be­lieve does make us much more vul­ner­a­ble to po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence than we would be in an in­de­pen­dent court struc­ture,” Marks said.

When i mmi­gra­tion judges are hired, they can be fired for any rea­son dur­ing a two-year pro­ba­tion­ary pe­riod. Af­ter that, they are pro­tected from dis­missal by the same rules that shield other civil ser­vants.

Im­mi­gra­tion courts have been un­der­staffed for more than a decade, cre­at­ing a huge back­log of cases in Los An­ge­les, San Francisco, Hous­ton and New York.

In all, 522,000 de­por­ta­tion cases are pend­ing in im­mi­gra­tion courts, and cases may take three or four years to re­solve in the most backed-up ju­ris­dic­tions.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion re­cently hired 61 im­mi­gra­tion judges, Marks said, bring­ing the to­tal to 294. But that is far be­low the 374 judges Congress has autho­rized.

Many judges are ex­pected to re­tire in the next few years. That could al­low Ses­sions to hire dozens of new judges who agree with his hard-line views.

For­mer aides to Ses­sions were in­stru­men­tal in ad­ding tough im­mi­gra­tion pro­pos­als to the GOP plat­form at the Repub­li­can National Con­ven­tion in July, in­clud­ing cut­ting fed­eral fund­ing to cities that don’t co­op­er­ate with i mmi­gra­tion agents, and in­creas­ing penal­ties for mi­grants con­victed of il­le­gally re-en­ter­ing the U.S. Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump is said to be of­fer­ing the post of at­tor­ney gen­eral to Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, R-Ala., one of Trump’s clos­est and most con­sis­tent al­lies.

As the na­tion’s top law en­force­ment of­fi­cer, Ses­sions could im­ple­ment those poli­cies.

He would over­see the Bureau of Jus­tice As­sis­tance, which re­im­burses lo­cal jails for hold­ing fed­eral pris­on­ers un­der the State Crim­i­nal Alien As­sis­tance Pro­gram.

In Se­nate speeches, Ses­sions has re­peat­edly called for cut­ting those funds to push lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to identify mi­grants in the coun­try il­le­gally and hand them over to fed­eral agents.

Trump’s tran­si­tion pol­icy team has drawn up plans to pres­sure so-called sanc­tu­ary cities — in­clud­ing Los An­ge­les and Chicago — to help im­mi­gra­tion agents identify those here il­le­gally.

“The is­sue of sanc­tu­ary cities is sub­stan­tially in the hands of the at­tor­ney gen­eral,” said Mark Kriko­rian, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, a think tank in Wash­ing­ton that ad­vo­cates for lower im­mi­gra­tion lev­els.

Un­der Ses­sions, Jus­tice Depart­ment lawyers could try to get fed­eral court orders for lo­cal of­fi­cials to co­op­er­ate with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion agents.

“First thing you do is you file suit, then you get a judge to is­sue an in­junc­tion” to force cities to stop their poli­cies, said Kriko­rian, who has sub­mit­ted pol­icy pro­pos­als to Trump’s ad­vis­ers.

“The nu­clear op­tion is you crim­i­nally pros­e­cute city coun­cil mem­bers and su­per­vi­sors for il­le­gally har­bor­ing il­le­gal aliens, which they are,” Kriko­rian said.

CAROLYN KASTER/AP

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