Saturday, May 26, 2007

Immigration Judges Chosen For Politics, Not Actual Ability?

Monica Goodling gave a prepared statement this week to Congress in which she admitted that she took political considerations into account in making recommendations for immigration judge appointments and for members of the BIA (the Board of Immigration Appeals). She said that someone else who at that time was in the Attorney General's office (Kyle Sampson) had said that the Office of Legal Counsel supposedly had said immigration judge appointments were not subject to the type of civil service rules that prohibit using political considerations.

It now seems that everyone is clear that civil service rules should apply to BIA and immigration judge appointments. But what this means is that for some time, the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (acting under the Bush Administration) appointed immigration judges with an eye toward political considerations, perhaps whether the candidates were Republican supporters. Dan Eggen wrote in the May 28, 2007 Washington Post that "Officials Say Justice Department Based Hires On Politics Before Goodling Tenure." According to his report, the practice probably began in early 2004 -- so it went unchecked for perhaps 2.5 years. Only in April 2007 did they actually put in place a new merit-based personnel process.

What does this mean from a policy standpoint for the government to choose immigration judge candidates based partly on politics, not the actual merit or abilities of the candidates? It opens up the danger that immigration judges, no matter how well-intentioned, might not be the best candidates for the job. When you are dealing with an area where courts refuse to give the litigants charged with deportation the right to appointed counsel, you not only are taking away the basic protection of letting them have their own lawyer, you are further weakening the system by not even having the most qualified people act as the judges to make sure the case is decided properly. Congress is not really taking action on this, although some senators want to make it more difficult for courts to review immigration judges' decisions -- precisely the wrong move to make!


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