There’s a lot going on in immigration policy right now and if you’re an immigration lawyer like me, there’s a lot to be worried about. Let me narrow it down to two though – two entities in the federal government that are being systematically warped toward anti-immigrant policies.
First, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS is the agency that oversees and processes lawful immigration to the United States. Congress meant for USCIS to function as a welcoming service branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) responsible for receiving and reviewing citizenship, green card, employment and almost all standard US immigration applications. However, recent policy shifts threaten to defy Congressional intent by transforming USCIS into an enforcement-oriented agency. Most worrisome, in June 2018 the agency announced a new “Notice to Appear” policy under which it will likely place a dramatically larger number of applicants into deportation proceedings. That’s a big problem.
Then we turn to the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR). That’s immigration court for short. Immigration court operates under the purview of the Department of Justice (DOJ), outside the Article III judicial branch. While it has enormous authority in detaining, removing and otherwise carrying out seemingly punitive decisions, the courts are designated “civil” or “administrative.” Consequently, due process and Constitutional protections are often compromised. There is no right to government-appointed counsel (i.e. no public defender) and, in many cases, the standard of review is delegated to the DOJ and ultimately, the Attorney General. In immigration court, there are no juries and its slim due process protections do not meet basic Constitutional mandates.
The Attorney General (AG), Jeff Sessions, is the head of the DOJ and is given extensive powers over our immigration system. In this role, the Attorney General directs both the immigration courts and immigration rules. In recent years, DOJ and the AG have subjected EOIR to growing political interference, methodically stripping the office’s immigration judges of decisional independence. In April 2018, for instance, Mr. Sessions unilaterally issued a precedent decision severely restricting immigration judges’ authority to grant asylum to victims of domestic violence. And just this month, after Immigration Judge Steven Morley issued a ruling with which DOJ took issue, the administration promptly removed him from the case and dozens of other cases too. In response, the National Association of Immigration Judges filed a formal grievance asserting that the administration violated Judge Morley’s decisional authority.
We need change. We need USCIS to be restored to its intended purpose and focus on immigration benefits adjudications rather than enforcement. We need EOIR to be an independent judiciary, an Article I court free from political intrusion by any and all administrations. We need to ensure that EOIR’s judges aren’t forced to deny due process or lose their jobs. And we need Congress to use their oversight powers on EOIR and USCIS pronto…
Above all, we need your voice. Here are two important ways that AILA members can push to realign USCIS with its congressional mandate and ensure judicial independence in our immigration courts:
Join us in this fight, now, and share with your networks to recruit more warriors in this battle. Before it is too late.