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Ben Schaefer,, 212-607-3372

January 15, 2021

FOIA Request Seeks Hiring Process, Qualifications, and Evaluations of Judges Hired to Immigration Courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals

NEW YORK - Today the New York Civil Liberties Union issued a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information regarding the Trump administration’s fast-tracked hiring decisions for a majority of judges on the Board of Immigration Appeals. The request seeks information about their qualifications and the evaluation of these judges during their hiring process.

Recent reports raise concerns about the qualifications of recent appointees to the Board. At least six recent appointees are individuals known for their high asylum denial rates; two of the new judges had the third and fourth highest number of board-remanded cases of all immigration judges, and several were subject to complaints from litigants, including one judge who allegedly threatened to unleash his dog on a two-year-old boy during a hearing.

In recent years the Trump administration and DOJ fast-tracked the hiring of immigration judges and members of the Board of Immigration Appeals, expanded the number of members of the appellate body, and added eight temporary judges to the Board. As a result, Attorney General Barr has appointed 15 of the 23 Board members and eight temporary appellate judges. Attorney General Barr then offered buyout payments to the remaining nine members appointed under prior administrations.

“If we are to undo some of the cruelest policies of the Trump presidency and change the trajectory of immigration in our country, it is essential that the public learn how current EOIR and BIA leadership were put in place,” said Megan Sallomi, staff attorney at the NYCLU.

Citing the issue as a matter of public confidence, the NYCLU requests from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) copies of all recommendation memos, interview summaries, evaluations, application files, and any other communications regarding the hiring of appellate immigration judges, temporary appellate immigration judges, or members of the Board of Immigration Appeals from January 2017 to the present. The NYCLU also requests corresponding materials for immigration judges hired to immigration courts in New York State from January 2017 to the present.

In April 2020 the NYCLU and Prisoners Legal Services of New York filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Barr challenging the unconstitutional practices at the Buffalo and Batavia immigration courts in New York. That lawsuit identified one immigration judge in particular, Philip J. Montante Jr, who was promoted to the Board while the lawsuit was pending.