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Immigration Judges Adhere to Standard

April 22, 2001

* The Times' April 15 Sunday Report articles on seeking asylum repeat a familiar but one-sided criticism of immigration judges, whose decisions don't always match the wishes of individuals and groups whose mission it is to win relief for their clients. You did not mention that during the six-year period covered by your analysis, immigration judges granted asylum to nearly 38,000 individuals and their so-called "grant rate" increased from 19.1% in 1995 to 36.5% in 2000.

Yes, there are differences among the judges, but we take pride in our diversity and individuality. We are alike in our adherence to the uniform standard of asylum eligibility in deciding whether individuals have a "well-founded fear of persecution." I would argue that the 3% reversal of decisions by the Board of Immigration Appeals is an indication that most immigration judges' decisions are correct.

All immigration judges must comply with the standards of conduct and ethics spelled out in the Code of Federal Regulations. They are the same rules governing all Justice Department attorneys, subject to oversight and enforcement by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility.

Immigration judges go through a competitive hiring process. We select the most qualified applicants based on their experience as attorneys and their understanding of the law. Once hired, they must complete a training program on the proper conduct of court proceedings, including issues of human relations and cultural sensitivity.

As for the reference to the "relative obscurity" of immigration judges, The Times seems to imply that they operate in secret to avoid public scrutiny. Asylum hearings and records are closed to protect the applicants' right to confidentiality. The applicant can waive that right and open the hearings and the records; several did, to allow The Times to report on their cases. The same right to confidentiality is given to individuals who file complaints against immigration judges and other public officials. The complainants, not the OPR or the Executive Office for Immigration Review, control access to the records of their complaints and the resulting investigations.


Chief Immigration Judge

EOIR, U.S. Justice Department

Falls Church, Va.


* Thank you so much for your report about the cruel and undemocratic response of the INS toward people seeking asylum. I do hope you've got a follow-up in the works investigating the treatment of the many hundreds of people imprisoned by the INS here in Los Angeles County. I entered the facilities on Terminal Island and in Lancaster as a volunteer interpreter and was shocked by the conditions under which people are held for months, even years. Those of us who are citizens have a responsibility to know what the government does in our name.


Los Angeles


* I've practiced immigration law for 16 years and by now I'm pretty cynical and jaded. But Lisa Getter's series brought tears to my eyes because it "speaks truth to power." The delays and abuses Getter accurately describes are meted out to hundreds of lawyers and thousands of asylum seekers every working day. It's not that the INS and immigration judges are malicious (although some are). Congress and the courts are to blame for creating and maintaining a system designed to fail. If our immigration system ever changes, it will be because we decide to base it on facts, not on fear.



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