Immigration Law

Outgoing immigration judge says he encountered 'soul-crushing bureaucracy'

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The assistant chief immigration judge who oversaw judges and staff members in San Francisco has quit in frustration after only 14 months on the job.

The San Francisco Chronicle spoke with Judge William Hanrahan, the outgoing judge, who said he encountered a “soul-crushing bureaucracy” at the immigration court.

“There needs to be a wholesale reform,” Hanrahan told the newspaper. “On a daily basis, I really felt I was being forced to rearrange the deck chairs on a ship that was going down.”

Hanrahan has experience as a prosecutor and judge in Wisconsin, and things were different there.

In San Francisco, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, Hanrahan was frustrated “with a system run by the U.S. Department of Justice and subject to its political whims, a top-down management style that throttled innovation and slow-walked modernizing reforms, and a disconcerting proximity to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorneys who act as the court’s prosecutors.”

Hanrahan was particularly frustrated with arbitrary closures of immigration courts during the COVID-19 pandemic, which sometimes happened in the middle of the day with no warning. Some people who had waited years for immigration hearings were given new hearing dates years later.

“Every day that the case is pending is a cloud of uncertainty over their futures,” Hanrahan told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Hanrahan also had these criticisms:

• The immigration court in San Francisco still uses paper filings only. There aren’t enough filing cabinets, so workers stacked the filings in boxes. Hanrahan said he ordered 215 file cabinets nine months ago, “and I guarantee you they’re still not there.”

• The San Francisco immigration court doesn’t have the kind of COVID-19 supplies that he saw in a Wisconsin courthouse in October 2020. The state court had plexiglass barriers, an air filtration system, personal protective equipment and technology for remote hearings. The supplies were purchased with federal money.

• Immigration judges are often forced by law to order the deportation of sympathetic and vulnerable people. “As long as it’s going to remain subject to the changing winds of a political landscape, you’re going to have a mess here,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Hanrahan acknowledged that he had ideological differences with the Trump administration. President Joe Biden is changing the leadership of the immigration courts, but Hanrahan thinks problems will persist as long as the department is under political control and micromanaging operations.

The San Francisco Chronicle noted that U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, is working on a bill to make the courts independent from the DOJ. That kind of reform has been backed by the immigration judges’ union and the American Bar Association.

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