STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Sessions criticizes immigrants' attorneys before immigration judges

Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a new group of immigration judges Monday that it is their job to "restor...

Posted: Sep 11, 2018 10:53 AM
Updated: Sep 11, 2018 10:53 AM

Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a new group of immigration judges Monday that it is their job to "restore the rule of law" to the immigration system over the contrary efforts of the lawyers who represent immigrants.

The remarks at the training of the largest-ever class of new immigration judges implied that the judges were on the same team as the Trump administration, and that immigrants and their attorneys were trying to undermine their efforts.

Government and public administration

Immigration

Immigration politics

Immigration, citizenship and displacement

International relations and national security

Jeff Sessions

Political Figures - US

Political platforms and issues

Politics

Government bodies and offices

Government departments and authorities

Justice departments

US federal government

White House

"Good lawyers using all their talents and skills work every day ... like water seeping through an earthen dam to get around the plain words of (immigration law) to advance their clients' interests," Sessions said, adding the same happens in criminal courts. "And we understand that. Their duty, however, is not to uphold the integrity of the act. That's our duty."

Sessions noted that "of course" the system "must always respect the rights of aliens" in the courts. But he also warned the judges of "fake claims."

"Just as we defend immigrant legal rights, we reject unjustified and sometimes fake claims," Sessions said. "The law is never serviced when deceit is rewarded so that the fundamental principles of the law are defeated."

The comments came in the context of Sessions' repeated moves to exert his unique authority over the immigration courts, a separate legal system for immigrants that is entirely run by the Justice Department.

Sessions approves every judge hired and can instruct them on how to interpret law, and thus decide cases, as well as how to manage cases. He has used that authority multiple times in the past year, including issuing a sweeping ruling that will substantially narrow the types of cases that qualify for asylum protections in the US. Those decisions overrode the evolution of years of immigration judges' and the immigration appellate board's decisions.

Sessions reminded the new judges of that authority and those decisions in his remarks, saying he believes they are "correct" and "prudent" interpretations of the law that "restores" them to the original intent.

The president of the union for immigration judges called Sessions' comments "really troubling and problematic," noting that the judges' union has disagreed with many of Sessions' moves as exerting too much influence over the courts and jeopardizing their fundamental responsibility of fairness.

"We just find it really troubling and problematic that the AG just does not seem to appreciate the distinction that we have as immigration judges from the rest of the department, both the US attorney's office and the Department of Homeland Security," said Ashley Tabaddor, of the National Association of Immigration Judges. "We are not one and the same as them."

In the immigration court system, the judges are employed by the Justice Department, and the attorneys serving as prosecutors work for the Department of Homeland Security. Immigrants are allowed to have lawyers if they can find them, but none are provided to them.

Sessions said it was a joint duty for the courts to follow his interpretation of the law. He noted an increase in asylum claims made by immigrants crossing the southern border, which has created a years-long backlog in the resource-strained immigration courts.

"The asylum system has been abused for years, we all know that, to the detriment of the rule of law, sound public policy, public safety and to the detriment of people with legitimate claims," Sessions said. "Asylum was never meant to provide escape from all the problems, even serious problems, that people face every day around the world. Indeed, Americans face serious problems every day."

Sessions added that when "we depart from the law and create nebulous standards," that does "violence to the rule of law."

The Trump administration argues the backlog is because of fake claims gumming up the system, although it has presented no evidence that intentionally fraudulent cases are more than a minuscule fraction of the total.

Tabaddor and the judges' union have long been pushing for the courts to be taken out of the Department of Justice and set up as an independent system, similar to the bankruptcy courts. Tabaddor has served as an immigration judge since 2005. While other administrations have sought to influence the courts in some ways, like how to prioritize cases, she said judges have not witnessed anything like this administration under Sessions.

"We have never really seen the level of explicit and deep sort of scrutiny and use of the court consistent with the executive branch's political policies," Tabaddor said.

According to Justice statistics, roughly 22% of asylum cases were granted this year through June. But not all the rest were denials -- roughly 42% were denied in the same time frame and others were simply closed. Research has shown that immigrants with access to lawyers to guide them through the complex system were much more likely to win their asylum claims.

Sessions also referenced the "zero-tolerance" policy implemented this spring that resulted in thousands of family separations at the border. The Justice Department prosecutes the cases that are referred to it, a policy still in effect. Sessions said 90% of cases being referred to Justice are being prosecuted. But he did not acknowledge the family separations that occurred or the fact that the Department of Homeland Security has stopped referring the cases of parents caught crossing illegally with their children in order to no longer separate families.

"I think it has some deterrent effect. We have history to show us that that is so," Sessions said.

There has been no marked drop in the number of families crossing the border since the policy went into effect, and crossings in general have largely fluctuated with seasonal trends.

Sessions was speaking to 44 judges being trained and brought on board. That is the largest class of immigration judges ever, and it means the system now has the most active immigration judges in history. He said more are scheduled to be added by the end of the year, putting them close to their goal of a 50% increase in the number of immigration judges since the beginning of the administration.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 36680

Reported Deaths: 1250
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds299254
DeSoto195920
Madison148439
Jones122449
Harrison117716
Rankin112619
Neshoba104677
Forrest103843
Lauderdale96681
Scott82415
Jackson79819
Washington73713
Copiah67016
Leake63420
Lee62822
Oktibbeha61928
Grenada6049
Warren60021
Holmes59541
Lamar5837
Wayne56519
Yazoo5607
Lowndes54817
Leflore53456
Lincoln53335
Lafayette5064
Pike50520
Sunflower5048
Monroe46135
Panola4546
Covington4465
Simpson4433
Bolivar41218
Tate39213
Attala38624
Newton37610
Adams35820
Pontotoc3556
Marion34512
Claiborne30811
Pearl River30332
Winston30111
Chickasaw30019
Marshall2923
Jasper2816
Noxubee2799
Walthall2708
Clay26111
Union25412
Smith25212
Coahoma2306
Clarke22325
Lawrence2132
Yalobusha2089
Tallahatchie1954
Kemper18414
Carroll18211
Montgomery1793
Calhoun1705
Humphreys16910
Hancock14813
Itawamba1478
Tippah14611
Webster13411
Jefferson1283
Prentiss1274
Jefferson Davis1254
Tunica1253
George1233
Greene11610
Amite1123
Alcorn1072
Tishomingo1061
Quitman1011
Wilkinson989
Perry914
Stone772
Choctaw764
Franklin542
Sharkey480
Benton470
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 54768

Reported Deaths: 1096
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson6746170
Mobile4904140
Montgomery4547112
Tuscaloosa269053
Madison22689
Marshall198011
Shelby169125
Lee159637
Morgan13385
Baldwin127711
Walker107532
Elmore106721
Etowah101114
Dallas10029
DeKalb9677
Franklin93816
Autauga69815
Russell6860
Unassigned67928
Chambers67730
Butler65229
Limestone6393
Tallapoosa63069
Cullman6156
Houston6077
Lauderdale5776
St. Clair5443
Calhoun5155
Colbert5096
Escambia4888
Lowndes48422
Pike4795
Jackson4352
Coffee4284
Covington41612
Talladega4017
Barbour3992
Dale3951
Bullock37810
Hale35423
Marengo35411
Chilton3312
Blount3201
Clarke3176
Wilcox3038
Winston2995
Sumter29213
Marion29014
Pickens2746
Randolph2639
Monroe2603
Perry2502
Conecuh2318
Bibb2241
Macon2199
Choctaw21712
Greene1989
Henry1553
Washington1488
Lawrence1360
Crenshaw1323
Cherokee1247
Geneva980
Lamar891
Clay852
Fayette851
Coosa661
Cleburne451
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Clear
80° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 84°
Columbus
Clear
76° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 76°
Oxford
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 75°
Starkville
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 73°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather