Let's take a break from the doom and gloom associated with the President's ongoing effort to subvert our democracy and look at something a bit more cheery--A new edition of the book My Trials: Inside America's Deportation Factories by Paul Grussendorf. Judge Grussendorf's 35-year career has spanned the gamut in the asylum law field: Immigration attorney, clinical professor, Immigration Judge, Supervisory Asylum Officer, Refugee Officer. His book, styled a "legal memoir," discusses his time as an advocate and adjudicator and gives an insider's perspective on our nation's very dysfunctional immigration system.

While this book is generally targeted at people in the profession, law students, and policy-makers, it would also be useful for asylum seekers themselves. In many respects, Immigration Judges, DHS attorneys (the "prosecutors" in Immigration Court), and Asylum Officers are an inscrutable bunch. What are they thinking about when they interact with applicants and make decisions? How do they relate to each other? What are their outside interests? Judge Grussendorf's book shines a light on the world behind the façade, and somehow, seeing government adjudicators as human beings is comforting.

That said, the overall picture painted by Judge Grussendorf ain't pretty. He lays bare an immigration system that is a mess, where many prosecutors are unyielding and out of control, families are ripped apart for no logical reason (other than arbitrary laws that require it), politicians intervene to deny due process and treat immigrants as tools in a partisan game, and where training for judges and DHS attorneys is completely inadequate. The Judge has particular scorn for those DHS attorneys who do not know the law or care about "doing justice," but who instead simply seek to deport anyone who comes into their crosshairs.

One aspect of the book that held particular interest for me was Judge Grussendorf's discussions of cases he denied when he was on the bench. Such cases help illustrate how most deportations do nothing to make our country safer or better. Instead, they result in families being separated and good, hard-working people being ripped from their homes. Our harsh and unforgiving immigration laws often prevent judges--including well-meaning judges like the author--from granting relief even when that is clearly the better outcome. Other times, the applicant simply does not qualify for relief. In such cases, Judge Grussendorf did as most judges do: He denied the case and went on with his daily business. On reflection, it is striking that a judge can order someone deported in the afternoon and then go for a pleasant jog in the evening, but that's the job, and good Immigration Judges can separate their job from their life.

The new edition of My Trials is timely, in that it has come out when Joe Biden is (hopefully) about to take office. While the Democratic Platform laid out a bold agenda, it is unclear whether a President Biden would be able (given Congressional resistance) or willing (given Mr. Biden's more cautious nature) to pursue that agenda. Judge Grussendorf weighs in with a number of his own ideas for reform--some will require Congressional action; others will not.

One of his proposals that I found interesting was the idea of granting Mexico some type of most favored nation status and essentially legalizing all Mexicans in the United States (except for those with criminal issues). Given that so many Mexican nationals are currently in the Immigration Court system, if this group were legalized, it would go a long way toward relieving the overburdened courts.

Judge Grussendorf also proposes removing asylum cases from the court system and delegating them to "Special Hearing Officers," which are essentially better trained and better paid Asylum Officers. This would allow asylum cases to be adjudicated in a non-adversarial manner while freeing up the Immigration Courts to deal with other types of removal cases and eliminating the current redundant situation where the same asylum case is heard by both an Asylum Officer and an Immigration Judge.

A final proposal that I'll mention here is the Judge's idea to greatly reduce the use of pre-trial detention in immigration cases. This proposal is not unique to Judge Grussendorf. However, his real-world experience adds weight to arguments that the practice is dramatically over-used and illogical, and helps illustrate how devastating incarceration is for the non-citizen and the non-citizen's family (and on the non-citizen's ability to prepare for his Immigration Court hearing).

I hope that Judge Grussendorf's book--and particularly his policy proposals--get some attention as we try to reform our immigration system. It seems like too often in this debate we hear from policy advocates and politicians, but not from people who have worked in the trenches. We need voices like Judge Grussendorf's as we hopefully enter an era where immigration reform is a possibility.

My Trials sheds needed light on the absurd, cruel, dysfunctional, and unfair American asylum system. We are left with the impression that despite the systematic failures, justice in asylum cases is sometimes accomplished. When that happens, it is because individuals working within the system allow their humanity, decency, and respect for the rule of law to shine through and overcome the institutional barriers designed to prevent qualified applicants from receiving the protection they need and deserve. Judge Grussendorf is to be commended for his book, and for his effort to improve our nation's asylum system.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com