Win or Go Home


Sept. 11 and the War on Terror, like a steroid-enhanced version of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, dramatically altered the United States' immigration procedures, the New York Times reminds us again today.

Immigration cases, most involving asylum seekers, accounted for about 17 percent of all federal appeals cases last year, up from just 3 percent in 2001. In the courts in New York and California, nearly 40 percent of federal appeals involved immigration cases.

The point of the article is that the country's 215 immigration judges, who now handle an estimated 300,000 cases a year between them (as many as 10 a day in Texas, says one judge), are coming under increasing attack from appellate judges for (in Richard Posner's words) "fall[ing] below the minimum standards of legal justice," showing a "disturbing … lack of familiarity with relevant foreign cultures," and generally acting like jerks. The public-policy nugget:

Judges at the top and bottom of the system blame the administrative body between them, the Board of Immigration Appeals, for the surge in appeals and the mixed quality of the decisions reaching the federal appeals courts. The board is meant to act as a filter, correcting erroneous or intemperate decisions from the immigration judges and providing general guidance. The losing party can appeal the board's decision to the federal courts.

But the board largely stopped reviewing immigration cases in a meaningful way after it was restructured by Mr. Ashcroft in 2002, several judges said.

Mr. Ashcroft reduced the number of judges on the board to 11 from 23. "They just hacked off all the liberals is basically what they did," said Ms. Rosenberg, who served on the board from 1995 to 2002.

Mr. Ashcroft also expanded the number of appeals heard by a single board member and encouraged the use of one-word affirmances in appropriate cases.

The goal of the changes, Mr. Ashcroft said, was streamlining. The board had a backlog of more than 56,000 cases, which fell to 32,000 by September 2004.

Whole thing here.