Courts told to be nicer to immigrants

01/11/2006 – WASHINGTON (Via CNN) — Saying judges have been “intemperate or even abusive,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Tuesday ordered a review of immigration courts and insisted that they improve their treatment of immigrants.

Gonzales did not say what prompted his sharply worded memo. However, aides said internal information and media reports prompted the unusual admonition of employees.

“I have watched with concern the reports of immigration judges who fail to treat aliens appearing before them with appropriate respect and consideration, and who fail to produce the quality of work that I expect from employees of the Department of Justice,” Gonzales wrote.

Justice Department officials say critical press reports were one of many factors that prompted the memo. A recent account in The New York Times quoted a federal appeals court ruling that claimed circuit judges continuously had to rebuke immigration judges for their “intemperate and humiliating remarks.”

A federal appeals court in Chicago concluded in November that handling of immigration cases had “fallen below the minimum standards of legal justice.”

A Justice Department official insisted that such problems represent only a fraction of cases appealed from immigration courts, and Gonzales was quick to emphasize that he wasn’t painting all immigration judges with the same brush.

“While I remain convinced that most immigration judges ably and professionally discharge their difficult duties, I believe there are some whose conduct can aptly be described as intemperate or even abusive and whose work must improve,” Gonzales said.

The attorney general wrote an almost identical memo to members of the Board of Immigration Appeals, saying he instructed acting Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum to conduct a comprehensive review of immigration courts.

“I have requested that the review include the quality of work as well as the manner in which it is performed,” Gonzales wrote.

Deborah Notkin, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, commended Gonzales for ordering the review.

Immigration lawyers have had “deep and long-standing concerns about the functioning of the immigration courts and the behavior of the immigration judges,” she said in a written statement. “Increasingly, courts are reversing immigration decisions due to seriously flawed immigration judge decisions.”

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