DOJ Announces Immigration Court Reforms
On August 9, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced reforms to the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals. These reforms follow a comprehensive review launched by the Justice Department in January 2006 in response to mounting criticisms by federal court judges and others.
The new measures include plans to request additional funding for the immigration court system; to hire additional immigration judges and law clerks; to strengthen training, oversight, and complaint procedures; and to enhance pro bono programs. The Justice Department also announced that it will increase the size of the Board – which former attorney general John Ashcroft had reduced – by adding four additional members and permitting the use of temporary members.
The scope and content of many of the reforms are still unclear, as many of the reforms call for additional assessments and the drafting of plans.
While welcoming the new measures, Human Rights First noted that the Justice Department had declined to reverse some of the most troubling aspects of the 2002 "streamlining" changes that were initiated by Ashcroft. Human Rights First, with input from other experts and pro bono attorneys, had submitted recommendations to the Justice Department in May 2006.
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Material Support Update: New House Bill Introduced
On July 27, Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA) introduced a bill that would help to ensure that refugees who have fled from oppression and terrorism are not unfairly barred from asylum or resettlement under overly broad definitions relating to "material support" to "terrorist" organizations. Under these definitions, contained in the Patriot Act and REAL ID Act, thousands of refugees who do not support terrorism - and even the victims of terrorist threats - have been deprived of the protection they deserve.
The proposal (referred to as H.R. 5918) contains narrowly tailored changes to current law which would protect victims of terrorism who were forced - often under threat of death or serious bodily injury - to provide goods or services to armed rebels. The bill would also protect refugees who aided groups that are supported by the United States.
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TRAC Report Highlights Disparities in Asylum Grant Rates of Immigration Judges
Immigration judges deny asylum applications at disparate rates, according to a report issued on July 31 by Syracuse University’s Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). Most judges denied about 65 percent of asylum requests, but about ten percent of the judges denied asylum in 86 percent of cases, while another ten percent denied asylum in 34 percent of cases. To read the complete report, click here
TRAC has also assembled information on each immigration judge, including his or her biography and asylum grant rates. While this information is helpful, please keep in mind that it does not predict whether a particular judge is likely to grant asylum and should be put in context with many other factors that affect an asylum seeker's case. Click here
to access that database.
Read HRF statement on the report and the need for more judicial review and other reforms (7/31/06).
Iraqi and Afghani Translators Receive New Immigration Option
A new immigrant category has been created for Iraqi and Afghani nationals who have directly worked as translators for the U.S. military for at least 12 months. This special immigrant status allows translators and their families to apply for legal permanent residence in the U.S. and eventually apply for citizenship. Some Iraqis and Afghanis who have applied for asylum in the U.S. may find this new immigrant category helpful.
For more information, please see the USCIS fact sheet (8/3/06).