Judge calls on DHS, Justice to improve legal proceedings for noncitizens

A federal judge on Friday urged the Homeland Security and Justice departments to improve legal proceedings for noncitizens in order to better ensure them due process of law.

Judge Raymond Fisher of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said immigration proceedings are swamping his court, administrative records are very poor and illegal aliens often do not have proper legal representation.

"If the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security and the court system can have avenues of communication about how immigration cases are processed … that would improve the process," Fisher said at the American Constitution Society's annual conference in Washington.

"The Mike Chertoffs and the Alberto Gonzaleses need to hear it and get invested in it and make it a priority," Fisher said during a panel session. "It can work. The system can be made to work." Chertoff is the DHS secretary and Gonzales is the attorney general.

"You try to make the system run smoothly and fairly so that we can spend our time focusing on the real issues in a case," he added.

Immigration proceedings against illegal immigrants are usually initiated by DHS or Justice law enforcement officials. A Justice immigration judge makes an initial determination in legal proceedings against the noncitizen. But Fisher said immigration judges do not have the staff to handle the high case volume, meaning that administrative records often are not complete and are done months after the case is decided. The Ninth Circuit court becomes involved when an illegal immigrant appeals a case.

Fisher said the Ninth Circuit now faces an enormous quantity of immigration cases, including more than 5,400 last year.

"This is a new phenomenon. I never decided an immigration case until about two years ago, or three years ago," he said. "This whole area of law has sort of bubbled up in intensity, both because of the enormity of the onslaught of cases, plus … 9/11 and the sensitivity to immigrants that we now have with respect to national security. It's a whole new landscape."

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