Retired Judges Pen Letter After Judge Who Blocked Deportation Replaced

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Advocates are arguing that the President Donald Trump administration's dismissal of a judge in the middle of a case undermines the independence of immigration judges.

Undocumented immigrants arrive by bus at a U.S. federal court for hearings in McAllen, Texas.

The way that illegal immigration is handled in America was a contentious topic long before President Donald Trump stepped into office, but his administration seems hell-bent on exacerbating the problem rather than finding effective and humane solutions.

Case in point: A Philadelphia immigration judge was taken off a high-profile case after he blocked the deportation of a man who failed to show up for a hearing. He was replaced by another judge who immediately ordered the man to be deported, BuzzFeed reports.

Now, a group of retired immigration judges are pushing back, protesting the way the case was managed in a letter to the administration distributed Monday.

The advocates are arguing that the Trump administration's dismissal of a judge in the middle of a case undermines the independence of immigration judges in an effort to further the administration's own political agenda and expedite deportations.  

“As a democracy, we expect our judges to reach results based on what is just, even where such results are not aligned with the desired outcomes of politicians,” read the letter, signed by 15 former judges and members of the immigration appeals board.

Judge Steven Morley was presiding over Reynaldo Castro-Tum’s case. When Castro-Tum didn’t show up to his immigration court hearing, Morley suspended the case by using “administrative closure,” a common procedure which acknowledges that the notice sent to Castro-Tum to appear could have been sent to the wrong address.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, interfered in the case and referred it to himself. He wrote an opinion back in May which restricted the use of “administrative closures,” arguing that the procedure didn’t have legal foundation and undercut the court’s ability to hear cases quickly.

He ultimately sent the case back to Morley’s court, noting that if Castro-Tum didn’t show up for his scheduled hearing he should be automatically deported. Castro-Tum did not appear in court, however, an attorney for him named Matthew Archambeault asserted that Castro-Tum wasn’t given enough notice and that he wanted to file a brief on the case.

Morley scheduled another hearing for late July, but before the date came, he was replaced with a supervising judge by the Executive Office of Immigration Review who was identified by Archambeault as Deepali Nadkarni.

Nadkarni ordered Castro-Tum deported right away.

The head of the National Association of Immigration Judges, Ashley Tabaddor, said the judges’ union was “deeply concerned” about the entire ordeal and that the group was considering “all available legal actions.”

César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, a University of Denver law professor, condemned Sessions’ interference in the case and Morley’s removal.

“Judges should never be assigned to a case because of how they are likely to rule,” he said.

However, he noted that because immigration judges report to Sessions, this is the type of manipulation they are vulnerable to.

“Immigration judges are not protected from internal pressures or politics in the same way that other federal judges are,” he said.

This administration has proven time and again that it isn't ashamed to throw democracy out the window and flex its muscles to obtain its desired outcome in any given situation, and Sessions' interference in Morley's case is no different. 

Banner/thumbnail image credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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