Watch­dog: De­por­ta­tion cases lagged un­der Obama

What once took month, took nearly one year to fin­ish

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Un­der the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, it took an im­mi­gra­tion judge less than a month to fin­ish the av­er­age de­por­ta­tion case. Near the end of Pres­i­dent Obama’s ten­ure, that time had soared to nearly a year, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port Thurs­day from the gov­ern­ment’s chief watch­dog that un­der­scores the im­mi­gra­tion mess the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion left.

Even worse, the time it took to de­port im­mi­grants who weren’t held in cus­tody but in­stead re­leased into the com­mu­nity on a prom­ise to re­turn jumped from an av­er­age of 96 days in 2006 to 535 days in 2015.

The long de­lays meant not only that un­de­serv­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants re­mained in the U.S. longer than they should have, but it could have ru­ined cases for those who had a good chance to re­main. And even in cases where a de­serv­ing im­mi­grant was al­lowed to re­main, they may have suf­fered long de­lays in re­uni­fy­ing with fam­ily, the GAO said.

All sides — the im­mi­grants, Home­land Se­cu­rity lawyers and the im­mi­gra­tion judges them­selves — be­gan to ask for more con­tin­u­ances, fur­ther de­lay­ing the cases.

And with nearly 40 per­cent of judges at the Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fice of Im­mi­gra­tion Re­view (EOIR) al­ready el­i­gi­ble for re­tire­ment, the prob­lems could be­come even more acute, the GAO said.

“The dou­bling of the im­mi­gra­tion courts’ back­log over the last decade to more than 437,000 cases at the be­gin­ning of fis­cal year 2015 poses chal­lenges to EOIR in meet­ing its mis­sion to ad­ju­di­cate im­mi­gra­tion cases by fairly, ex­pe­di­tiously and uni­formly ad­min­is­ter­ing and in­ter­pret­ing fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion laws,” the GAO con­cluded.

“The ef­fects of the case back­log are sig­nif­i­cant and wide-rang­ing, from some re­spon­dents wait­ing years to have their cases heard to im­mi­gra­tion judges be­ing able to spend less time con­sid­er­ing cases,” the in­ves­ti­ga­tors said.

An­drew “Art” Arthur, a former im­mi­gra­tion judge who’s now a res­i­dent fel­low at the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, a proen­force­ment think tank, said ag­ing judges and other fac­tors play a role. But he said the chief rea­son for the spike is Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion poli­cies.

Mr. Obama’s 2012 de­por­ta­tion amnesty for Dream­ers, dubbed DACA, or De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals, cre­ated tens of thou­sands of cases where pre­vi­ously de­portable il­le­gal im­mi­grants now had an ar­gu­ment to stay.

And in 2014, with Cen­tral Amer­i­can chil­dren and fam­i­lies stream­ing across the bor­der, the Obama Jus­tice Depart­ment is­sued a new memo shift­ing the pri­or­i­ties for im­mi­gra­tion court cases, push­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of cases to a lower pri­or­ity.

Cou­pled with an over­all less strict at­ti­tude on en­force­ment, it cre­ated an im­pres­sion among il­le­gal im­mi­grants that if they could de­lay their cases long enough they might be able to find a way to stay per­ma­nently, Mr. Arthur said.

“There was a gen­eral idea that if you kept your case go­ing long enough that some kind of re­lief would ap­pear for you,” he said.

Mr. Arthur also said im­mi­gra­tion judges and Home­land Se­cu­rity’s trial at­tor­neys may have suf­fered from the same de­mor­al­iza­tion that Bor­der Pa­trol and in­te­rior en­force­ment agents and of­fi­cers suf­fered un­der Mr. Obama, be­liev­ing their hands were tied by an ad­min­is­tra­tion un­in­ter­ested in en­forc­ing the laws.

“You start see­ing so many cases that you start to burn out. Why do I have loy­alty to my docket if no­body else cares,” Mr. Arthur said.

Pres­i­dent Trump has al­ready rec­og­nized the prob­lems with the im­mi­gra­tion courts and called for both stream­lin­ing the process and for hir­ing dozens of new judges to hear cases.

Per­haps more im­por­tant is Mr. Trump’s push to crack down on il­le­gal im­mi­grants them­selves. Fewer peo­ple are be­ing ap­pre­hended at the bor­der, sug­gest­ing fewer crossers in the first place, and he’s been de­tain­ing more il­le­gal im­mi­grants caught in the in­te­rior — a key to mak­ing sure their cases are heard faster.

“The higher the like­li­hood that peo­ple are go­ing to be de­tained, the more likely they are to just take an or­der or re­moval, just go home,” Mr. Arthur said.

The EOIR is part of the Jus­tice Depart­ment. A depart­ment spokesper­son said they find the back­log they were left “un­ac­cept­able,” and said they’re work­ing to solve the sit­u­a­tion.

“EOIR is in­creas­ing its ad­ju­di­ca­tory ca­pac­ity by hir­ing more judges, work­ing with its fed­eral part­ners to make the im­mi­gra­tion process more ef­fi­cient, and en­sur­ing that its re­sources are al­lo­cated in the most ef­fec­tive man­ner,” the spokesman said. “EOIR is also re­view­ing in­ter­nal prac­tices, pro­ce­dures, and tech­nol­ogy in or­der to iden­tify ways in which it can en­hance im­mi­gra­tion judge pro­duc­tiv­ity with­out com­pro­mis­ing due process.”

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