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Dear Editor:
AILA is distributing the following on behalf of the Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) issued regulations yesterday that will dramatically limit many immigrants' rights in appeals of adverse immigration decisions. The regulations make sweeping changes that will reduce the size and authority of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the most important immigration tribunal in the country. BIA members routinely make decisions that determine whether immigrants who have been persecuted and tortured in their home countries, often because of their political and religious views, will have the opportunity to live in the United States or will be sent back to face persecution, torture, or even death.

In the name of increased efficiency, the DOJ has adopted rules that will force BIA members to rule upon cases within exceptionally truncated time frames under procedures that impinge upon due process rights. The new rules will cut the number of BIA members by more than half, even though this Administration recently increased the number of BIA members to 23 (4 of these slots remain unfilled). The DOJ claims that this reduction will work hand-in-hand with other "streamlining measures" it intends to employ. It contends that these measures will enable the BIA to reduce the current backlog of roughly 56,000 cases in 180 days, all while remaining current with the approximately 18,000 new appeals expected to be filed during that time. Yet in order to accomplish this task, each Board member would have to decide a staggering one case every 15 minutes.

The likely result of this emphasis on dispatching cases so quickly is that many asylum denials will merely be rubberstamped rather than carefully reviewed. This undermines the very purpose of the BIA - to ensure consistent, fair decisions - while raising substantial due process concerns. In addition, this initiative ignores the fact that many requests for appeal are based on provisions of the nation's extremely complex - and recently reformed - immigration laws. The BIA is charged with providing guidance on these complex issues to the INS, immigration courts, and immigration advocates, but the DOJ's new regulations will greatly impede the BIA's ability to meet this obligation.

The DOJ's new regulations also are worrisome because they largely abandon the three-member panels that have traditionally decided the majority of BIA cases. Instead, single BIA members now will render most decisions, and do so without written explanations. This will undermine the very legitimacy of the review process because such summary decisions provide no proof that the BIA member carefully considered the appeal. Yet such careful consideration is imperative given that these appeals can mean the difference between life and death for refugees fleeing persecution. Indeed, Circuit Courts already have admonished the BIA that "Cookie-cutter credibility findings are the antithesis of the individualized determination required in asylum cases ...[W]e 'will not tolerate boilerplate' decisions."

The Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition (CAIR Coalition) recognizes the need for efficient adjudication of appeals that reach the BIA, but is concerned that the DOJ is willing to sacrifice immigrants' due process rights in order to achieve that efficiency. Although the CAIR Coalition and numerous other parties submitted extensive comments to the DOJ in March 2002 expressing concerns about the proposed regulations, the DOJ has issued final rules that are nearly identical to those originally proposed. The result is a restructured BIA that will not adequately protect the due process rights of innocent immigrants who have come to this country merely in search of a better life.

The Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition is a not for profit corporation based in Washington, D.C. The CAIR Coalition seeks to advance the human and civil rights of immigrants and refugees, to foster an environment of positive human and community relations in our society, and to work for a fair and humane immigration policy. To this end, the CAIR Coalition visits indigent asylum seekers in jails and enlists pro bono attorneys to represent them in their asylum applications.

If you have questions about the CAIR Coalition or this news release, please contact Debi Sanders at (202) 756-2770.

Amanda Carufel
Public Affairs Manager
American Immigration Lawyers Association