A fact sheet put out by the office that oversees the nation's immigration courts is drawing fire from former and current immigration judges, who say it amounts to politically motivated "propaganda" for President Donald Trump's administration.
The fact sheet was released earlier this month by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, under the title "myths versus facts about immigration proceedings," but critics?say it is filled with?inaccurate and misleading information.
The office is part of the Department of Justice and oversees 424 immigration judges in 63 immigration courts.
The fact sheet addresses?18 "myths" that former and current immigration judges say are directly?aimed at discrediting migrant families arriving at the southern border asking for asylum. It also aims to?undermine longstanding attempts by immigration attorneys to gain independence from the executive branch, they say.
The fact sheet props up the Trump administration's repeated claims that?the majority of the migrant families arriving at the border are exploiting the nation's immigration system by making bogus asylum claims, knowing that under certain immigration "loopholes" they will be quickly released and then allowed to disappear into society.?
? Nick Oza/The Republic
Migrants from Central America and Mexico were trying to decide to cross with the help of human smugglers in Nogales, Mexico, or wait in long line at the U.S. Port of Entry to seek asylum. President Trump is directing asylum seekers to go to the ports, but the metering policy at the ports drives some asylum seekers to cross illegally with the help of smugglers because the waits are so long.
For instance, according to the fact sheet, "only about 12" of every 100 migrants who claim a fear of persecution in their home countries are granted asylum by an immigration judge.
The fact sheet also states that?on average?"at least half of aliens who make a credible fear claim and?are then?placed in removal proceedings do not actually apply for asylum."
In addition, the fact sheet claims that a significant number of non-detained immigrants, 44 percent, are ordered deported for failing to show up for immigration court hearings.?
The fact sheet comes as the?Department of Homeland Security says a surge in migrant families arriving at the southern border has pushed the Border Patrol to the "breaking point."
Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants arriving in family units have soared 400 percent this fiscal year, compared to the previous year. Apprehensions of unaccompanied minors are up 73 percent and apprehensions of single adults are up 23 percent, according to Border Patrol statistics.
More than two dozen former immigration judges condemn 'fact sheet'
In a letter to James McHenry, director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review,?more than two dozen former immigration judges condemned the fact sheet?as "purporting to present imagined 'myths' and wildly inaccurate and misleading information labeled as 'fact.'"
"The issuance of such a document can only be viewed as political pandering, at the expense of public faith in the immigration courts you oversee," said the letter, signed by 26 members of the Round Table of Former Immigration Judges.
The letter was obtained by The Arizona Republic and The USA TODAY Network.
Even if information contained in the fact sheet was correct, "it is simply not EOIR's place to be issuing such a document," the letter said, adding that the?fact sheet undermines the "independence and integrity?of the hundreds of judges"?who serve the nation's?immigration court system?letter states.
“American courts do not issue propaganda implying that those whose cases it rules on for the most part have invalid claims," the letter states,?"... or that those unable to surmount the government-created obstacles for filing asylum applications are somehow guilty of deceit. Such statements indicate a bias which is absolutely unacceptable and frankly, shocking."
Trump has blamed judges for contributing to rising court backlogs
As the number of migrant families arriving at the border has grown increased, Trump has lashed out at immigration judges, blaming them in part for rising court backlogs by?suggesting immigration judges are moving too slowly to decide asylum cases.
Before a trip to the border in April, The Washington Post reported that Trump told reporters that?lawmakers should "get rid of the whole asylum system" and reiterated comments that "we should also get rid of judges."?
Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges and an immigration judge in Los Angeles, said the fact sheet put out by EOIR mischaracterized and misrepresented numerous facts.?
“I would not use the term ‘fact sheet’ to describe this document,” Tabaddor said in a written statement.
“Rather than disseminating accurate and verifiable facts and figures as it claims, this document has been presented as a communications tool in furtherance of the law enforcement policies and public statements of the executive branch,” she said.
Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department has issued decisions restricting immigration judges' ability to grant asylum to victims of domestic or gang violence and also blocked judges from providing bond hearings to detained immigrants seeking asylum, essentially ensuring they cannot be released while?their cases are pending. ?
Gail Montenegro, a spokeswoman for the EOIR, said the fact sheet was issued in response to "the problem of repeated misinformation surrounding immigration courts," which has worsened in recent years.
The?"perpetuation of specious claims distracts from EOIR’s ability to fulfill its primary mission, adjudicating immigration cases in a timely and impartial manner in accordance with the law," she said in a statement. "By dispelling many of the most common myths about its adjudications, EOIR can ensure that its focus remains on its mission and on continuing to make progress toward becoming the preeminent administrative court system in the country."
Former judge: Office is 'kowtowing to what the ruling politicians are stating publicly'
John Richardson, a?former Phoenix immigration judge, is among the judges who signed?the Round Table letter condemning the EOIR?fact sheet.
"Basically we were all shocked that a court, a judicial body, would put out these?basically questionable facts and show the bias that it does and basically kowtowing to what the ruling politicians are stating publicly," Richardson said.
He said several of the statistics in the fact sheet seemed manipulated to bolster the Trump administration's claims that most asylum seekers are filing bogus claims and don't show up for courts.
Richardson, who served as an immigration judge for nearly 30 years before retiring in September,?said it?was his experience that most asylum seekers showed up for immigration court hearings and those who didn't often had good reasons for missing court dates.
He also said that it was his experience that asylum seekers with lawyers had much higher changes of winning their cases than those without legal representation.
Immigration courts have become increasingly politicized under Trump, ex-judge says
Richardson said he witnessed the immigration courts become increasingly politicized under the Trump administration.
As court backlogs have soared to over 869,000 cases, immigration judges have been?given quotas to complete 700 cases a year or risk losing their jobs, he said.
The case completion quotas imposed under the Trump administration undermine due process rights in cases that can involve life and death decisions if an asylum seeker ends up being deported back to a country where they could be killed, he said.???
"They basically are 'asylum line' justice," he said. "It's like a conveyor belt. You put the warm body on and every 120 minutes a new warm body comes up and you give a certain amount of input time to each side and then you issue an order. ... It's just basically a grind. ... It's a system built to fail."
The new?completion quotas are what?prompted him to retire, he said.?
"Basically, what they are trying to do is make immigration judges into law enforcement officials," he said.