The Corner

Immigration

Partisan Politics Rears Its Ugly Head in Our Immigration Courts

Ever wonder what goes on in our immigration courts? Well here’s an embarrassing, albeit troubling vignette.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has filed a complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board requesting disciplinary action against federal immigration Judge Carmene “Zsa Zsa” DePaulo for violating the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act prohibits partisan political activities by federal-government employees. Immigration judges are employees of the U.S. Department of Justice.

DePaulo (apparently no relation to the fabulous Hungarian actress, Zsa Zsa Gabor) is an immigration judge in Southern California. OSC says that DePaulo “promoted then-Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s plan for immigration reform during a deportation hearing over which DePaulo was presiding in March 2016.”

According to OSC, the subject of the hearing was facing not only deportation, but also a ten-year ban on reentry into the U.S. DePaulo opined that Clinton intended to change this “pretty harsh thing” (the ban on reentry) provided “the Senate becomes a Democratic body and there’s some hope that they can actually pass immigration legislation.” Republicans, DePaulo told the courtroom, “aren’t going to do anything” about immigration “if they can help it” other than to “try to deport everybody.”

As the OSC’s Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner said, “When a federal immigration judge in a public setting uses her position to advocate for partisan campaign outcomes, that’s a real problem.” Kerner said the judge was in clear violation of the Hatch Act because she was engaging in political activity while on duty and using her official position to influence, interfere with, or affect the result of the election.

DePaulo’s attitude is symptomatic of the problems in our federal immigration-court system. The backlog of immigration cases increased dramatically during the Obama administration due in part to a substantial slowdown in the handling of individual cases by immigration judges. Many of these judges were appointed by President Obama and went to great lengths to delay hearings, granting frequent continuances to avoid finding that aliens in the country illegally were not entitled to remain in the U.S.

How significant was the slowdown? According to the Government Accountability Office, it took around 42 days to complete a removal case in 2006. By 2015, that had increased 700 percent, to 336 days. Immigration judges such as Carmene “Zsa Zsa” DePaulo who don’t want to actually enforce federal immigration law are part of the problem.

OSC notes that a Hatch Act violation can result in demotion, suspension, removal from employment, and debarment. At that 2016 hearing, Judge DePaulo demonstrated that she has neither the impartiality nor the judgment to be an immigration judge. She should not be an employee of the federal government, and she certainly should not be presiding over immigration cases.

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