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Barr Packs Board of Immigration Appeals with Judges Who Denied Asylum Claims at ‘High Rates’


The Trump Administration is making significant moves in an apparent effort to reduce the number of successful migrant applications for asylum at the border. Rather than a ban, which the Trump Administration has explored, U.S. Attorney General William Barr has promoted six immigrations judges to the Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) — all of whom have “high rates” of denying asylum claims, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Friday.

According to the report, the six appointees who were sworn in on Friday will comprise more than 25-percent of the 21-member BIA. In case you are unfamiliar with what this board is for and how powerful it is, don’t worry, the Department of Justice has got you covered [all emphases ours]: 

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) is the highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws. It is authorized up to 21 Board Members, including the Chairman and Vice Chairman who share responsibility for BIA management. The BIA is located at EOIR headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia. Generally, the BIA does not conduct courtroom proceedings – it decides appeals by conducting a “paper review” of cases. On rare occasions, however, the BIA hears oral arguments of appealed cases, predominately at headquarters.

The BIA has been given nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals from certain decisions rendered by immigration judges and by district directors of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a wide variety of proceedings in which the Government of the United States is one party and the other party is an alien, a citizen, or a business firm.

BIA decisions are binding on all DHS officers and immigration judges unless modified or overruled by the Attorney General or a federal court. Most BIA decisions are subject to judicial review in the federal courts. The majority of appeals reaching the BIA involve orders of removal and applications for relief from removal. Other cases before the BIA include the exclusion of aliens applying for admission to the United States, petitions to classify the status of alien relatives for the issuance of preference immigrant visas, fines imposed upon carriers for the violation of immigration laws, and motions for reopening and reconsideration of decisions previously rendered.

Importantly, this board’s decisions are to be recognized as binding policy by hundreds of immigration judges across the United States. Barr moved to expand the powers of the BIA in July:

Prior to the new rule, the Attorney General’s own decisions were binding on all of DHS, but the BIA’s decisions weren’t binding on the entire system unless a majority of Board members voted to publish them. Currently, this happens about 30 times a year. By giving the Attorney General unilateral power to designate BIA decisions as precedent with the stroke of a pen, the regulation destabilizes the fair checks and balances in the court process.

The names of the promoted judges: William Cassidy, Earle Wilson, Keith Hunsucker, Deborah Goodwin, Stephanie Gorman, Stuart Couch.

Cassidy and Wilson respectively rejected 95.8-percent and and 98.1-percent of asylum claims between 2013 and 2018; the national denial average was 57.6 percent, the Chronicle reported. (Both of them have inspired complaints of unfairness.) With the national average in mind, consider the other rejection rates added to the board: Hunsucker, 81.6-percent; Goodwin, 89.4-percent; Gorman, 86.9-percent; Couch, 92.1%. These percentages came from data tracked by Syracuse University — data the DOJ claimed it doesn’t track and can’t verify when responding to the Chronicle story.

“DOJ doesn’t track asylum approval and denial rates for individual immigration judges, and (Syracuse) uses its own methodologies in interpreting the data it receives, resulting in conclusions that we cannot verify,” a DOJ spokesperson said. “Collectively these judges … have nearly 120 years of immigration law (experience) through multiple administrations. Advocates that attack their integrity and professionalism only undermine the entire system.”

[Image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.