(Justice Department photo)

Sessions to Judges: Immigration Lawyers are ‘Like Water Seeping Through an Earthen Dam’

Attorney General Jeff Sessions advised new immigration judges to fight back against immigration lawyers in his address Monday in Falls Church, Va., at the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Addressing the 44 judges, the largest class of immigration judges in history, Sessions said that “no great and prosperous nation can have both a generous welfare system and open borders.”

“Such a policy is both radical and dangerous. It must be rejected out of hand. Open borders is directly contrary to the [Immigration and Nationality Act], which governs our work. The INA is not perfect, but it plainly lays out a rational scheme for immigration that tells our officers and judges who is to be admitted, how many and under what circumstances,” he said.

“Good lawyers, using all of their talents and skill, work every day—like water seeping through an earthen dam—to get around the plain words of the INA to advance their clients’ interests. Theirs is not the duty to uphold the integrity of the act. That is our most serious duty.”

Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would seek to refer 100 percent of illegal border crossers to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution in federal courts. Sessions told the judges that U.S. Attorneys are prosecuting over 90 percent of those cases referred. “It’s a two- to threefold increase – and it has some deterrent effect,” he said. “This is the ‘zero tolerance’ policy you have heard about. You don’t get to enter the border unlawfully, between ports of entry, and place our CBP officers at risk without consequences.”

Sessions said the percentage of asylum claims found meritorious by judges has declined because the vast majority of the current asylum claims are not valid under the law. For the past five years, only 20 percent of claims have been found to be meritorious after a hearing before an immigration judge.

“Now we all know that many of those crossing our border illegally want a better life and many are leaving difficult situations,” said Sessions. “And we understand all are due proper respect and the proper legal process.  But we cannot abandon legal discipline and sound legal concepts.”

Sessions said he “acted carefully and prudently – not hastily” in tamping down on asylum cases. In June, he said fleeing domestic violence or gang violence did not constitute grounds for asylum.

“In my judgment, this is a correct interpretation of the law. It restores the original intent and purpose of the INA, and it will be your duty to carry out this ruling. In fact, it restores the way the law was initially enforced for decades,” he said.

“But it isn’t the only thing we have done to provide clarity to the process. I have also issued decisions on other topics—in one case, clarifying that immigration judges and the board lack the authority to ‘administratively close’ cases under the law; in another, clarifying the ‘good cause’ standard for a continuance for collateral matters in immigration court; and, vacating a mooted board decision that injected confusion as to the requirement to hold a merits hearing in certain cases,” he added.

Sessions promised “there will be more still to come.”

“As we work to restore rule of law in our immigration system, we will send a clear message to the world that the lawless practices of the past are over,” he said. “The world will know what our rules are, and great numbers will no longer undertake this dangerous journey. The number of illegal aliens and the number of baseless claims will fall. A virtuous cycle will be created, rather than a vicious cycle of expanding illegality.”

Kylie Bull has 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. She is an editor and contributor for Jane's by IHS Markit, a columnist for security and counter-terror publications, and a former managing editor for Homeland Security Today.

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