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March 11, 2022 Introduction

Ensuring a Dream Is Never Deferred

By Judge John C. Allen IV

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”, cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

- Emma Lazarus, 1883

Almost everyone is familiar with part of Emma Lazarus’s literary artwork, which is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, but rarely are we privileged with reading the entire piece. Naturally, when the theme for this issue centers on immigration concerns in the United States of America, this poem would be quoted. The entire poem was chosen because of the emotion it generates. With an almost New Testament belligerence, Emma Lazarus doesn’t merely speak about a willingness to accept immigrants to our shores; rather, she essentially dares the rest of the civilized world to send us all the peoples that no one else wants. In spite of some very ugly truths about the growth of our country, this poem reaches to the core of who we are as a culture within the United States, which is something separate and distinct from the cultures of our ancestors.

Unfortunately, a recent surge in nationalism threatens to chip away at this very fundamental principle. Immigration judges stand on that line that separates the desire to spread the open and welcoming arms of a new country from the realities of ensuring that our country’s infrastructure and economy are not overwhelmed. While the concept of an immigration judge is instantly recognizable, there is very little common knowledge about the position and functions of an immigration judge.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), Office of the Chief Immigration Judge is a division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which is led by the U.S. attorney general. While the primary mission of the EOIR is to adjudicate immigration cases fairly, the reality is that immigration judges are at substantial risk of losing their judicial independence. Judge Danette L. Mincey discusses Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission, a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court case, and examines how a seemingly minor matter involving the classification of federal administrative law judges has an enormous impact on the fundamental principle of judicial independence. In an exploration of a potential resolution, Judge Mimi Tsankov explains that due to political pressure and inadequate management, the current system for the immigration judiciary is in a unique position to be transformed into an adjudication process that acts and appears as a fair and impartial tribunal to its litigants.

The pressures of presiding over immigration hearings and fairly sorting through disputes that come from both sides of the divide are significant and daunting. Marla Greenstein devotes her regular column on ethics to comparing the DOJ’s Ethics and Professionalism Guide for Immigration Judges (Jan. 2011) with the American Bar Association Model Code of Judicial Conduct. A key part of those ethical obligations is that a judge should be patient, courteous, and dignified. John G. Browning elaborates on that element and examines the impact that intentional and subtle messaging has on the adjudicatory system. Judge Douglas S. Lavine explores an essential, inherent characteristic of judicial temperament: humility. Through real-world examples, Judge Lavine brings home the importance humility has in dispensing justice fairly.

As the promise of American democracy becomes more real, and as the economic success of Americans becomes more notable, global citizens will travel to our borders seeking entry into the American dream and an escape from the poverty and oppression that plague other nations across the globe. Professor Michele R. Pistone looks at the current supply and demand of lawyers compared to the number of litigants in need of legal services and examines alternative methods of addressing the obvious need. Judge Stephanie Domitrovich uses a popular reality show to delve into the serious nature of marrying couples and their sponsors seeking to come to the United States and start a new life.

Casting a documentarian’s light on the impact the immigration system has on the judges and the litigants, a short film, Status Pending, examines the situations of five attorneys who work in the system on a daily basis. Noted director and producer Priscilla González Sainz shares a behind-the-scenes view of how the film was made and the impact that it has had. The Judges’ Journal is honored to present this insightful article and hopes that the instances and incidents shown in the article and in the film help bring the seriousness of this issue to the forefront of our ongoing discussion on how to address the crisis surrounding immigration in a thoughtful and thorough manner.

There is a protectionist viewpoint that resources are limited, jobs are too few, and land is too scarce to support the wave of people who want to come to this country. There is a pragmatic perception that this resistance to immigration applies only to people of color, despite the ideal that the United States welcomes all who arrive at its shores. The bureaucratic structure established to sort those competing forces is enforced and interpreted by immigration judges. Their duty is to interpret and administer our nation’s immigration laws fairly, regardless of the pressures placed on them by myriad sources, including their own agency. This issue seeks to provide our readers with a window into the world of the immigration judge to shed light on how these judges bring justice to people who, at their core, simply want to partake in the promise of America.

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By John C. Allen IV


John C. Allen IV is an administrative law judge for Cook County, Illinois, and the former director for the Cook County Department of Administrative Hearings. He is currently the chair of the Executive Committee for the National Conference of the Administrative Law Judiciary and a co-chair of The Judges’ Journal Editorial Board. He may be reached at [email protected].