Retired Immigration Judge and Former Chairman of the BIA Responds to Implementation of Production Quotas

This blog post appeared on April 4, 2018, on former BIA Chairman Paul W. Schmidt's blog, www.immigrationcourtside.com

"I have permission Judge Tabaddor to release the text of the following e-mail, dated April 2, 2018, that I received from her (solely in her capacity as NAIJ President) because I am a retired member of the NAIJ:

Dear NAIJ Members,

Last Friday we all received the Director's announcement of his decision to impose quotas and deadlines on immigration judges as a basis of our individual performance evaluations effective October 2018. To clarify any confusion, I would like to re-iterate that at no point has NAIJ ever agreed that quotas and deadlines are an appropriate manner in which to evaluate immigration judge performance. To the contrary, NAIJ has always remained deeply concerned about this unprecedented decision which undermines our independent decision-making authority, invites unnecessary litigation, and adds to the existing burdens and demands on our judges.

I also would like to reiterate that NAIJ is pursuing all available means to ensure that these measures are fairly implemented. We have been engaged with EOIR for the past six months on these very issues and continue to stand in full support of our judges and the integrity of the Court. Prior to the email, NAIJ was pursuing the terms of an MOU with EOIR in an effort to reach a mutually agreeable solution in an informal and more cooperative fashion. However, with the Director's announcement, NAIJ is now exercising formal bargaining rights.

We invite you to reach out to myself or any of our officers and representatives with any questions, concerns, or suggestions. We will keep you apprised of the ongoing negotiations and developments on this issue.

Thank you

Ashley Tabaddor

Chairman Schmidt notes:

As I had suggested earlier, the claim that the NAIJ had "agreed" to the production quotas was simply another lie by the Sessions DOJ. Lies, mis-representations, distortions, bogus statistics - why is this Dude our Attorney General given his proven record of disdain for truth, our law, our Constitution, and human decency as well as his total lack of any judicial qualifications to be administering perhaps the largest Federal Court system?

Another "under the radar" aspect of this toxic attempt to compromise due process in the Immigration Court system was pointed out to me by my good friend and colleague retired U.S. immigration Judge Carol King of San Francisco. As Judge King points out, by requiring U.S. Immigration Judges to render almost all final decisions at the hearing or within a few days of the hearing, the Attorney General is basically forcing them to use the widely discredited "contemporaneous oral decision" format rather than the preferred "full written decision" format.

Having reviewed thousands of Immigration Judge decisions during my career as an Appellate Immigration Judge on the BIA, and rendered thousands more during my time as a U.S. Immigration Judge in Arlington, I can say that with few exceptions, the "oral decision format" is grossly inadequate to meet the needs of today's complex asylum litigation, particularly for cases to go to the Courts of Appeals. Oral decisions commonly have factual and citation errors as well as grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors caused by the totally un-judicial format.

Moreover, except in unusual cases, Immigration Judges are not permitted to have a transcript made before rendering a decision! The case is only transcribed by EOIR at the time an appeal to the BIA is actually taken,well after the Immigration Judge has completed his or her decision.

At the beginning of my 45 year legal career, I used "real dictation" in some of my jobs. The basic idea was that the initial draft was a "quick and dirty" that was then reviewed, revised, and corrected numerous times before being issued as a "final." Indeed, at Jones Day, which had a typing pool back in the 1980s when I was there, I used to leave my dictated drafts when I went home at night for the "overnight typing pool" to have on my desk the next morning. I would never have dreamed of issuing a client letter or brief that hadn't been reviewed, revised, and retyped (and then probably read by one of my colleagues).

By contrast, a U.S. Immigration Judge must dictate a final oral decision at the conclusion of the hearing, or shortly thereafter, with the parties present (talk about a waste and disrespect for time) and no actual transcriber in the room. If an appeal is taken, the oral decision portion of the digital recording is "separated" and typed in a decision format. While the Immigration Judge does receive an electronic copy of the decision at the time it goes to the Board Panel for adjudication, my experience is that any corrections by the Immigration Judge are seldom in the BIA record file at the time the BIA acts on the case. Moreover, trial judges are specifically limited to making "editorial" changes. Major changes to legal analysis, fact-finding, or even results can't be made during this review process.

Unlike other Federal and State judges in courts of comparable authority, U.S. Immigration Judges also are forced to work without any individually selected Judicial Law Clerks ("JLCs"). Immigration Judges must share a "pool" of JLCs (occasionally not even in the same court location) selected, assigned, and "supervised" by EOIR Headquarters with minimal, if any, input from the Immigration Judges.

Moreover, the JLCs report to and are "evaluated" by an Assistant Chief Judge who more often than not is in Falls Church, VA, far removed from the actual trial courts! (Immigration Judges are given an option to submit performance comments" to the ACIJ, but never see the final evaluations of the JLCs). Sometimes a JLC may go a year or more without any "in person" interaction with his or her "supervisor." What other judges, in any system, are forced to work under these types of conditions?

I firmly believe that the clearly inferior work product produced by the "oral decision" format is one of the reasons the U.S. Immigration Judges have an unfortunate "unprofessional" reputation with some of the Courts of Appeals.

Let's use a "real life" example. My son was a JLC for a U.S. District Court Judge. That Judge actually had sufficient "out of court" time to do some of his own writing. If asked to prepare a draft decision, my son submitted it to his District Judge who carefully reviewed, revised, and commented on the draft. Then my son reworked the decision to his District Judge's individual specifications and all citations, fact-finding, and other references were carefully checked, as well as spelling, punctuation , style, etc. The end product looked somewhat like a scholarly law review article in judicial decision format. Not surprisingly, that District Judge's opinions were seldom reversed by the Court of Appeals.

Now imagine a Court of Appeals Judge, just after reading that decision, picks up an immigration file involving a complex life or death asylum case. The decision looks like it was written by a high school student who flunked remedial English. Run on sentences, not many paragraphs, non-standard punctuation, mis-spellings and incomprehensible citations. Moreover, on further examination, the Circuit Court Judge's personal law clerk has already discovered some glaring factual errors in the Immigration Judge's "stream of consciousness" recitation of the facts. The BIA "summarily affirmed" the result in a single-Member decision with no reasoning! No wonder the Immigration Courts are often lowly regarded by the reviewing Circuit Courts!

U.S. Immigration Judges are being placed in an impossible position. While Sessions proposes to "grade" them on appellate reversals and remands, he simultaneously will restrict and artificially limit their ability to do research, review actual records and transcripts, and prepare careful, high quality written decisions. Sessions intends to impose new "quotas" without meaningful input from: 1) the Immigration Judges who hear the cases; 2) the Appellate Immigration Judges on the BIA; 3) the parties and attorneys who appear in Immigration Court, or 4) the U.S. Circuit Court Judges who must review the Immigration Court's work product. What kind of process is that? Why is Sessions being allowed to get away with this? No other court system in America operates in such an intentionally dysfunctional manner.

Instead of working on real reforms that would improve the quality of justice and the ability of already overwhelmed U.S. Immigration Judges to deliver fairness and due process, Jeff Sessions intentionally is further degrading both the Immigration Judges and the process! "Just say no" to the malicious incompetence of Jeff Sessions and his DOJ!

PWS

04-04-18

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 18040634.