GQ: “Immigration Judges Are Rebelling Against the White House’s Efforts to Turn Courts into Deportation Machines”

by Joseph McKeown

After Attorney General Jeff Sessions removed an immigration judge from a case and reassigned the case to himself and then to another judge who consequently ordered the individual to be removed (i.e., deported), immigration judges and advocates have voiced their protest. The case involved Judge Steven Morley of Philadelphia who used “administrative closure” to suspend a case when a man named Reynaldo Castro-Tum failed to appear before him in immigration court. Administrative closure is used, for example, when the individual couldn’t make it to court for logistical reasons, including the summons being sent to the wrong address. Sessions responded by assigning the case to himself, issuing a decision that severely restricts the use of administrative closure, and instructed Morely to deport the individual if he didn’t show up again.

When Castro-Tum did not appear in court again, his attorney Matthew Archambeault argued that Castro-Tum did not have enough notice to appear and said he wanted to file a brief for the case. Morley rescheduled the case for a date in July; however, before the July court date, Judge Morley was removed from the case by the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) and replaced with a supervising judge, Deepali Nadkarni, who ordered that Castro-Tum be removed.

In response, a group of retired judges wrote a letter protesting this move against judicial independence. “As their decisions often have life-or-death consequences, Immigration Judges must be afforded the independence to conduct fair, impartial hearings," their letter states. "For this reason, some important due process safeguards are required in deportation proceedings, and errors should be corrected through the appeals process, not through interference by managers.”

While Sessions had the authority to remove the judge, since immigration judges operate under the Justice Department, many are worried about the ethical issues surrounding Sessions’ ability to replace a judge with one who will interpret laws in accordance with the government’s stance. In their letter, the judges note: “As a democracy, we expect our judges to reach results based on what is just, even where such results are not aligned with the desired outcomes of politicians.”