ACLU Decries Ashcroft Scheme to Gut Immigration Courts

March 20, 2002 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today decried the latest step in an ongoing scheme to gut the country’s immigration courts, calling it a serious threat to the fairness of America’s immigration system.

“”This scheme would effectively deny thousands of innocent immigrants their constitutionally guaranteed day in court and put their fate solely in the vest pocket of the Attorney General,”” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “”Our immigration court system should not be just a rubber stamp for the Attorney General.””

The comment period closes tomorrow on proposed regulations submitted by Attorney General Ashcroft and published last month in the Federal Registerthat would make a series of changes to the Executive Office of Immigration Review, an autonomous agency within the Department of Justice responsible for the Board of Immigration Appeals, which serves as one of the last independent bulwarks against arbitrary or unlawful conduct by the INS. The most significant change requested by the Attorney General is a so-called streamlining process that would cut the size of the immigration board by more than half over a 180-day period. The regulations would also allow appeals to be dismissed by a single judge and would make dismissals automatic if time limits are not met.

Particularly worrisome, the ACLU said, is the possibility that political motivations will guide how this scheme is implemented. The Justice Department has yet to propose how it will decide which members of the BIA are to be eliminated, but media reports have said that Ashcroft wants judges “”on the same page as the rest of the Justice Department.”” However, the National Association of Immigration Judges, which represents trial-level immigration judges has rebelled recently and called for complete independence from the Attorney General.

Edgar said that a robust immigration appeal process is even more necessary in the aftermath of September 11 to ensure that the government complies with its repeated promises that detainees and immigrants are to be treated fairly and justly. As proof of that need, Edgar cited the story of Ali Al-Maqtari, who was detained shortly after September 11 as he was driving his wife, an American citizen and member of the armed forces, to her military base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Even though he was seeking citizenship and the government has no evidence that Al-Maqtari was at all connected to terrorism, he was held for eight weeks and released only after the immigration appeals board dismissed an astounding theory by the INS that would permit it to continue detention for “”intelligence gathering purposes”” of innocent persons who pose no flight risk and no danger to the community.

Were it not for the continued strength of the appeals board , Al-Maqtari would most likely remain behind bars, Edgar said. During testimony after his release to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Al-Maqtari praised the bureau, saying, “”Thanks to the fairness of your immigration courts and appeal system . . . my story has a good ending.””

ACLU Testimony on the Gutting Scheme can be found at: /node/20786

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The Latest in Smart Justice

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About Smart Justice

Smart Justice issue image

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to challenge racism in the criminal legal system.