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America’s ICE Backwards Approach to Immigration
Posted on Jun 29, 2009
By Andrew Becker and Hugo Cabrera, CIR
The nature of cases heard by immigration judges, combined with case overload and long hours, makes the work of judges especially stressful and puts them at particular risk of burnout, the report states. Such burnout can lead to emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, loss of compassion and cynicism.
Judge Denise Slavin, vice president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told CIR that the problem could be mostly addressed if there were more judges with better resources.
When asked about the courts’ workload, Elaine Komis, a spokeswoman for EOIR, acknowledged that immigration judges continue to face challenging caseloads, but added that they handle them “admirably well.”
“It is important to note that only a relatively low percentage of cases decided by the immigration judges and BIA (Board of Immigration Appeals) members are ever appealed, and of that small number, almost 90 percent are affirmed at the appellate court level nationwide,” she said. “We think this speaks well for the performance of our agency.”
Decisions in sensitive asylum cases have lacked uniformity and have even drawn criticism from appellate courts. The lack of uniformity is not surprising, given the beleaguered immigration courts and judges. However, there have been recent signs of improvement, according to TRAC.
A Department of Justice spokesman recently told The New York Times that the growing backlog of cases highlighted by TRAC “doesn’t mean that courts are overwhelmed or inefficient,” but rather that backlogs are the result of cases becoming more legally complex or unusual.
One immigration judge told surveyors that, while the law has gotten exponentially more complex and time pressures have made work much more grueling, resources such as clerks have all but disappeared.
And the Justice Department’s 2009 congressional budget submission points out that immigration courts failed to meet two of three time-oriented performance goals for 2007, narrowly missing targets “due to a large number of immigration judge vacancies and an increase in the detained caseload.”
The report continues: “EOIR’s adjudication functions are part of the government’s larger immigration and border control programs. As such, EOIR’s ability to adjudicate cases in a timely fashion allows the larger system to operate more efficiently, including the efficient utilization of DHS detention bed spaces.”
As courts become increasingly saddled with work, the need for them to maintain adequate transparency is, more than ever, critical.
A recent article in The Nation on the lack of transparency of some immigration courts points out that although the court’s policy is for hearings to be open, except in certain situations, that’s not always the case. Jacqueline Stevens, a law and society professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, describes how she was refused entry to immigration court inside two detention facilities in Arizona. The reasons why she was kept out, she argues, had nothing to do with the certain exceptions.
Indeed, immigration courts have some quirky ways. Members of the public and reporters who want to attend hearings are allowed to observe, but, as the Immigration Courts Practice Manual emphasizes, news media are “strongly encouraged” to give the court administrator a heads-up before sitting in on court, whether the hearing is held at a detention center or not.
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