The recent September 7, 2016 article “Bay State Sees Plunge in Deportations” mischaracterizes the critical function that the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has in our federal immigration court system. Boston, in particular, was described as “one of the most lenient” courts in the country. Statements like these frame our immigration court system as having only one job - to deport noncitizens to their country of origin. In other words, the success metric of the Immigration Court, as the article portrays, is the number of removals that a court issues, or that ICE or the Department of Homeland Security effectuates.
This cannot be farther from the executive mission and role of the Immigration Court and the judges who serve on it. The EOIR is charged with administering the immigration laws fairly and in a uniform manner by interpreting the applicable law, which Congress in the first instance has written. It is not a court whose sole capacity is to remove any and all noncitizens from the U.S., notwithstanding that being an impression that many in the public have, and which the article unfairly seeks to perpetuate.
The article also incorrectly labels the immigration court as a “largely secret system.” The Immigration Court is not secret, but is generally open to the public. The EOIR requires no advance notice to observe an open hearing. This is clear from the EOIR’s own September 9, 2010 Fact Sheet and post on the Justice Department’s website. A hearing will only be closed if there are serious due process or protected interests at stake; ordinarily, to protect the identity of witnesses, parties, or the public interest, or if the case involves a minor, abuse victim, or other special circumstance such as sensitive asylum cases, warranting greater privacy. To imply that the Immigration Court operates in secret insinuates that there is a lack of transparency within the EOIR. That is simply not the case.
When the article goes to great lengths to highlight how dismaying it is that the EOIR deports so few, it engenders a sentiment that all too often goes unexpressed but for in the media: that immigration only “works” and that the courts are only “working” if deportation is at an all-time high. Well, this conception of immigration is a waning and archaic understanding of the inner-workings of interior enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security. In our current system where state and federal enforcement of immigration is becoming increasingly intertwined, the role of prosecutorial discretion and reality of the economic impact of immigration comes to the forefront.
If we are in anyway dissatisfied by the way we “perceive” the Immigration Court fulfilling its agency mission, then perhaps we need to return to our lawmakers, who have crafted the immigration laws. As the issue of immigration is a contested issue, the article has reminded me of what really is most frustrating: lack of comprehensive immigration reform and an ever-increasing perception that immigration is black and white.