10 August 2006
United States immigration courts face overhaul
United States immigration court judges will undergo periodic evaluations as part of a series of new measures aimed at reforming immigration reviews, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has announced.
Immigration courts operate under the supervision of the Justice Department and a major review of practices began in January after previous reforms led to concerns that the immigration process had become undemocratic, and reports that some immigration judges were either rude to foreign nationals or incompetent in deciding cases.
Gonzales’ predecessor, John Ashcroft, overhauled immigration reviews in 2002, but his changes led to more asylum and other cases being decided by a single judge rather than a three-judge panel of the Bureau of Immigration Appeals.
The Attorney General will now approach Congress for funding so additional immigration appeals judges can hired as part of the 22 new measures he hopes will overhaul the system.
Gonzales intends on adding four members to an 11-person oversight panel known as the Board of Immigration Appeals, and other changes include:
- Periodic reviews of the work and performance of each immigration judge and member of the Board of Immigration Appeals.
- Developing a written immigration law exam to be given to judges and appeals board members appointed after Dec. 31. The newcomers will have to pass the exam before they can decide cases.
- A new court recording system to be installed after flaws found in the current one hampered appeals.
- Improved training for judges and appeals board members.
- Reviewing a recent study of immigration judges by a Syracuse University-based research group that found great disparity in immigration judges' denial rates in asylum cases.
- Giving judges ability to sanction people in their courtroom for fraud or misconduct.
- Expanding free services for poor immigrants.