Law & the Courts

‘Apply the Law’ — Sessions Cautions Immigrations Judges Against Allowing ‘Sympathy’ to Cloud Judgment

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (REUTERS/Leah Millis)

Attorney general Jeff Sessions called on incoming immigration judges on Monday to enforce the law without falling prey to defense attorneys seeking to pervert justice and their sympathetic clients.

“When we depart from the law and create nebulous legal standards out of a sense of sympathy for the personal circumstances of a respondent in our immigration courts, we do violence to the rule of law and constitutional fabric that bind this great nation. Your job is to apply the law — even in tough cases,” Sessions told the 44 newly appointed judges concluding their training in Fall Church, Va., according to Buzzfeed News.

Sessions, who provides guidance for the nation’s 350 immigration judges, urged the Department of Justice employees to remain vigilant in the face of defense attorneys who use their training to “get around” U.S. immigration law.

“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 [Immigration and Nationality Act] to advance their clients’ interests. Theirs is not the duty to uphold the integrity of the act. That is our most serious duty,” the former Alabama senator said.

Under Sessions, the Department of Justice has sought to constrain illegal immigration by reducing the number of acceptable justifications for asylum, implementing case quotas for judges and limiting judges’ autonomy in indefinitely suspending cases. Speaking the incoming judges Monday, Sessions characterized the direction of his department as a reflection of the American people’s will.

“They want a safe, secure border and a lawful system of immigration that actually works. Let’s deliver it for them,” Sessions said.

Representatives of the the National Association of Immigration Judges, a union that has long sought to secure immigration judges’ independence from the DOJ, criticized Sessions for attempting to sway the judges toward the prosecutorial perspective.

“The reality is that it is a political statement which does not articulate a legal concept that judges are required to be aware of and follow,” Dana Marks, a spokesperson for the National Association of Immigration Judges and an immigration judge in San Francisco, told Buzzfeed. “It did appear to be a one-sided argument made by a prosecutor.”

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