Just eight miles from the White House, the Trump administration has quietly opened a new front in its war against immigrants. Inside a 26-story office tower next to a Target in Falls Church, Va., the Board of Immigration Appeals has broken with any pretense of impartiality and appears to be working in lockstep with the administration to close the door on immigrants’ ability to remain in the country.
Created in 1940, when the immigration system was moved from the Department of Labor to the Justice Department, the BIA serves as the appellate court within the immigration system, where both ICE prosecutors and noncitizen respondents can appeal decisions by individual immigration court judges around the country. It not only decides the fate of the migrants whose cases it reviews; if it chooses to publish a decision, it sets precedent for immigration courts across the country.
Under previous administrations, the BIA was ostensibly impartial and bipartisan, though mainly out of a long-standing tradition of promoting judicial objectivity. Since the entire immigration court system is contained in the Department of Justice—within an administrative agency known as the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)—immigration judges, including those serving as board members on the BIA, are employees of the DOJ, and, by extension, are part of the executive branch. Unlike their counterparts in the federal judiciary, immigration judges are not independent.
Since 2018, the Trump administration has exploited its powers over the BIA by expanding the board from 17 to 23 members to accommodate additional anti-immigrant hard-liners. Justice Department memos obtained by the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association show that the EOIR pushed shorter hiring timelines, which were used to bring on judges with more restrictionist records.
Now the court is stacked with members who have consistently ruled against immigrants, such as one judge who threatened to unleash a dog on a 2-year-old boy during a hearing.
By Felipe de la Hoz for THE Nation
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