During a speech on immigration reform in San Francisco, President Obama was heckled by a young man calling for the President to stop deportations. The President, whose security initially attempted to remove the young man, responded to the young man’s pleas by saying that he cannot pass immigration reform on his own. He explained that Congress has to take part in the process in order to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
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Obama urged House Republicans to take up the Senate’s compromise immigration bill, saying that progress on this front is being held up by a faction of the Republican Party. He also reiterated his support for a piecemeal approach in the House if that is what it would take to pass a package of reforms.
But Obama also said, “Just because something is smart, fair, good for the economy and supported by business, labor, law enforcement and faith leaders, Democratic and Republican governors, including the governor of this state — just because all that is in place doesn’t mean we’ll actually get it done because this is Washington, after all, that we’re talking about, and everything’s looked at through a political prism.”
The National Association of Immigration Judges believes that establishment of an independent agency or Article I court (like the tax or bankruptcy courts) rather than the current placement of the courts within the Department of Justice, is an essential reform. Only with this independence will the immigration courts be able to obtain the resources needed to ensure that each and every asylum case gets the in-depth scrutiny that both the applicant and the people of the United States deserve it receive.
Asylum adjudications are emotionally charged and legally complex. If a genuine refugee is erroneously denied relief, she may face torture or death in her home country. Because someone fleeing persecution may not be able to obtain documents, many cases are decided on testimony alone.
The immigration courts are a crucial checkpoint where fraudulent asylum claims can be ferreted out. Credibility determinations made at this juncture are given great deference by reviewing courts. As important as their role is, immigration courts are often the forgotten piece of this system, with funding a mere afterthought. Drastically under-resourced, the average pending caseload of an immigration judge is 1,200 cases. Judges struggle with one judicial law clerk for every four judges, instead of the three clerks that most federal district court judges have, although they handle one third the number of cases.
Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, July 12, 2011. She has served as an immigration judge in San Francisco since 1987.