As I mentioned in a previous post, I attended the American Immigration Lawyers Association annual conference last week.  One panel I went to included a talk by the Chief Immigration Judge of the United States, Brian M. O'Leary.  Judge O'Leary previously served as an IJ in Arlington, Virginia, and I tried a number of cases before him.  As much as I think he is doing a great job as Chief Judge, he is certainly missed by those of us who practice in Virginia.

Judge O'Leary updated us on the news at EOIR.  We learned that there are 43 new IJs "in the pipeline" and they are expected to start work by the end of the year.  During the last round of hiring, over 1,700 people applied for 28 positions, and Judge O'Leary is confident that the new IJs will be very competent.  EOIR will be opening a new Immigration Court in Texas later this summer; this will be the 59th Immigration Court in the United States.  Hopefully all this will help alleviate the long waits that have become so common in almost all Immigration Courts.

Speaking of long waits, Judge O'Leary noted that receipt of new cases was up 17% from 2007 to 2009, with an 11% rise in the last year alone.  This is because DHS is bringing more aliens into the system.  Completion rates are also up, but only by 4%, which is not keeping pace with the ever-growing case load.  Judge O'Leary also stated-and this was a surprise to me-that the detained docket has reached nearly 50% of all cases in Court.  He speculated that this may be because DHS has more beds available and they are making a greater effort to detain criminal aliens.  Apparently, DOJ/EOIR and DHS have been meeting to review the immigration process.  Hopefully, this will give EOIR a heads up about how many new cases are coming into the system (DHS brings new cases to EOIR when they file papers to remove an alien), which will allow EOIR to better anticipate its docket.

We also heard that there will be a new Assistant Chief Immigration Judge ("ACIJ") whose portfolio will include only "vulnerable populations," such as juveniles and aliens with mental disabilities.  Such people have often had great difficulty in Immigration Court, and hopefully an ACIJ devoted completely to them will improve the situation.  Another ACIJ has a portfolio that includes training new (and old) IJs.

In terms of improvements to the Court facilities, Judge O'Leary noted that most Courts now have digital-audio recording.  The only exceptions are Los Angeles and Hawaii, and those Courts should have the new system by August.  The digital-audio recording system records Court proceedings on a computer hard drive.  This is an improvement over the old system, which used cassette tapes.  The system is controlled by the IJ on the bench and cannot be used to listen to conversations going on when the IJ is not in the courtroom (I must admit that wasn't sure whether anyone could listen in when I was in the courtroom and I have been careful about what I say; despite Judge O'Leary's assurance, I guess I am too paranoid to change my ways).

There have also been some personnel changes.  EOIR has been increasing the number of judicial law clerks.  Currently there are 65 JLCs.  In FY 2011, there will be 90.  In addition, the tenure for the clerks has been increased from one year to two years.  This latter development is very significant.  I served as a JLC back in the late 1990s.  I felt like I was reaching my stride after the first year, and I think I could have made a greater contribution to the Court if I had had a second year.  I think the IJs will notice a difference in the quality of their help during the JLC's second year.

If you are interested in learning more about EOIR (from their point of view), visit their website.  For independent statistical information about EOIR, visit the TRAC website, which collects and publishes a wide range of data on the agency.