The Trump Administration’s Court-Packing Scheme Fills Immigration Appeals Board With Hardliners

In his first six years as an immigration judge in New York and Atlanta, from 1993 to 1999, William Cassidy rejected more asylum seekers than any judge in the nation. A few years ago, Earle Wilson overtook Cassidy as the harshest asylum judge on the Atlanta court, which has long been considered one of the toughest immigration courts in the country.

Now both men have been elevated to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which often has the final say over whether immigrants are deported, as part of a court-packing scheme by the Trump administration that is likely to make it even more difficult for migrants fleeing persecution to gain asylum.

Between 2013 and 2018, the average immigration judge in the country approved about 45 percent of asylum claims. The six judges newly promoted to the board have all approved fewer than 20 percent. Cassidy granted 4.2 percent of asylum claims. Another appointee, Stuart Couch, approved 7.9 percent. For Wilson, the figure was just 1.9 percent.

Paul Schmidt, who chaired the Board of Immigration of Appeals from 1995 to 2001, says the administration’s goal is to build a “deportation railway” in which cases move through the system as quickly as possible and then get “rubber-stamped by the Board.”

Until last year, the board had 17 members. The Trump administration expanded the board to 21 members, arguing it was necessary to handle an increase in appeals. That has allowed Attorney General William Barr to fill the panel with immigration hardliners. It’s reminiscent of President Franklin Roosevelt’s ill-fated 1937 effort to overcome Supreme Court resistance to the New Deal by adding up to six additional justices—only immigration courts are part of the Justice Department, giving the department the power to expand the Board and fill the new openings with judges sympathetic to the administration’s immigration crackdown.

The promotions of the six judges this month, first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, are part of an intensifying effort to reshape immigration courts. Earlier this month, the Justice Department moved to eliminate the immigration judges’ union, which has been highly critical of the administration’s policies.

By Noah Lanard for MOTHERJONES.COM
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