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In March the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and CustomsEnforcement bureau, known as ICE, asked Congress to budget it an extra $6million to hire more lawyers. The bureau’s director felt they were needed tokeep pace with the expanding immigration docket and carry out its commitmentto “securing the homeland.” While the extra cash may be justified, thegovernment seems to have forgotten that the immigration prosecutors are onlyone-third of the equation. Overlooked are the immigration judges, long thestepchildren of the justice system, who are struggling with the increasingnumbers of cases while facing budget cuts. This year’s actual budget for the Executive Office for Immigration Review(EOIR), the immigration court, is expected to drop by $1 million from lastyear. A memo from the director of EOIR last December called the situation”bleak” and advised the judges of restrictions on their Federal Express use,a ban on travel by judges to conferences or other courts, limits on theiruse of transcripts during procedures, anticipated reductions in the numberof security guards at the courts, and the possibility that senioradministrators might not get their year-end bonuses. The judges’ annualconference, a chance for the judges to fulfill ethics training, was canceledfor the second year in a row. In the first six months of fiscal year 2004, the agency has lost 24positions at various levels, says a U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson.And staffing was tight even before that. In San Francisco there are just twolaw clerks for the 18 judges. Miami, with 23 judges, has three clerks. The judges see the curbs not just as unpleasantries but as having an impacton their job performance. “We are concerned with the cuts in light of theincreasing budget of the Department of Homeland Security, especially withhow it affects national security and the security of the courts,” saysMiami’s Denise Noonan Slavin, vice president of the National Association ofImmigration Judges. The Justice Department, which oversees EOIR’s budget, responded to thejudges’ concerns in a prepared statement, saying that the department isaware that increases to ICE may dictate increases to EOIR and that itintends to make sure the judges have the resources they need. The squeeze on the immigration judges comes in the wake of reductions at theBoard of Immigration Appeals, the appellate immigration court. In March 2003Attorney General John Ashcroft purged five judges from the 16-member board.At the same time, announcing concerns about the backlog of cases in theappellate court, Ashcroft changed regulations so that individual judges,rather than a panel of three, review decisions and can issue affirmanceswithout comment. Practitioners are noticing the pinch on judges. Jeanne Butterfield,executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, worriesthat the changes and cuts “gut and undermine fundamental due process” forimmigrants making their way through the courts. The immigrants themselves are the third element in the mix. And there, too,the Department of Homeland Security is skimping on costs. For the last threeyears, Congress allocated $1 million for basic legal orientation of 21,000detained immigrants per year. The idea is that the immigrants, more thanhalf of whom are pro se, need a better understanding of their legal options.Such education should also help move cases promptly. But in 2003 ICE didn’ttransfer the money to EOIR. Letters from Senators Edward Kennedy and SamBrownback on the subject got a response from Asa Hutchinson, undersecretaryof Border & Transportation Security at the Department of Homeland Security,explaining that the department ran out of money that year and didn’t have itto transfer. In May, however, a spokesperson from ICE said that the bureauwill pay the missing 2003 money in 2005. Meanwhile, while ICE requests more than $4 billion from Congress for itsbudget, immigration advocates say they’ve heard rumors that more cuts areahead for the judges. They fear the government may start charging immigrantsfor translation services and for transcripts when they appeal. That couldmean that only those immigrants, including asylum seekers fleeingpersecution, who can afford to obtain justice can apply for it. But it alsomight make it easier for the judges to get ahold of a transcript — they couldsimply borrow it from the immigrant.

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