Justice Inspector General Report Finds Immigration Judges Were Illegally Hired

July 30, 2008 12:00 am

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ACLU urges Congress to ensure Justice Department clean up, not cover up, politicized hiring of immigration judges

Contact: (202) 675-2312 or media@dcaclu.org

Washington, DC – Today at a hearing on “Politicized Hiring at the Department of Justice,” the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony from Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn Fine. In light of a report released on Monday by the DOJ Offices of the Inspector General (“OIG”) and Professional Responsibility (“OPR”) on political hiring, the American Civil Liberties Union urges the Committee to probe the illegal screening process used to hire immigration judges (“IJs”) between 2004 and 2006. The politicization of the DOJ Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) is the largest part of the report, entitled “An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring by Monica Goodling and Other Staff in the Office of the Attorney General.” The EOIR includes approximately 200 IJs nationwide who are responsible for deciding over 300,000 cases annually related to asylum, detention, and deportation.

The DOJ OIG/OPR report found that between September 2004 and early December 2006, the DOJ Office of Attorney General treated the hiring of IJs as political appointments even though IJs have long been classified as career attorney positions covered by civil service laws. Both civil service laws and DOJ policy prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of politics. The OIG/OPR report concluded that Kyle Sampson, former Attorney General Gonzales’s chief of staff, and Monica Goodling, Gonzales’s White House liaison, violated federal law and DOJ policy by improperly considering candidates’ political and ideological affiliations. Sampson and Goodling solicited IJ candidates from a limited pool of Republicans including the White House, Republican members of Congress, and DOJ political appointees.

“The ACLU urges Congress to ensure that the Justice Department clean up, not cover up, the politicized hiring of immigration judges,” said Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The fact that the hiring process awarded senior-level administrative judge positions to candidates based on partisan interest and political ideology, not experience or merit, raises doubts about certain judges’ ability to exercise impartial judgment in deportation cases. There is no right to government-appointed counsel in immigration court, and most people facing deportation are not represented by a lawyer. Therefore, the principal responsibility for ensuring due process and fairness lies with the IJ. IJ decisions carry permanent, serious, and sometimes life-threatening consequences for those seeking relief from deportation. Ultimately the illegal hiring process casts a stain on the entire deportation process and calls into question whether immigration courts can perform the job of handling thousands of deportation cases annually in accordance with individualized due process, fairness, and judicial neutrality.”

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