Immigration Court System Polticized Under Ashcroft
My story on the broken U.S. immigration court system looks at how the illegal, politicized hiring of civil servants in the Gonzales-era Justice Dept. has lead to fewer immigration judges and also judges more inclined to deport asylum seekers. But one theory by immigration law experts is that the system’s current problems have more to do with Gonzales’s predecessor, John Ashcroft.
The nation’s 215 immigration judges make more than five rulings a day on which asylum seekers deserve to stay in the country and which get deported. Given the complicated nature of these cases and their life and death consequences, it is no surprise that a quick deportation ruling by a judge would result in an asylum seeker appealing his case.
It was Ashcroft who completely revamped this appeal system back in 2002. He reduced the members on the national board of immigration appeals from 23 to 11, reassigning the departed members to elsewhere in the Justice Dept. Stephen H. Legomsky, a professor at the Washington University School of Law, testified to Congress Tuesday that “it was clear that the selections had been ideological; those with the voting records most favorable to noncitizens were the ones chosen for reassignment.”
With fewer members, the board scrapped its policy of using three judges to decide cases, instead relying on the opinion of one person.
But the most eye-opening change was that no longer did board members have to issue a decision if they agreed with the deportation ruling. They could trim their caseload by just providing what Ashcroft labeled an “affirmance without opinion.” Overruling in favor of the asylum seeker, though, required a written opinion.
In challenging the Bush administration on torture and National Security Agency wiretapping, Ashcroft, once reviled by civil libertarians like few other White House figures, has enjoyed a political rebirth since his 2004 resignation. But on the issue for justice for asylum seeking refugees, he’s still not likely to win allies among civil rights advocates.