What are they afraid of?
Professor Geoffrey A. Hoffman of the University of Houston Law Center is raising awareness about our government’s escalating removal of immigration resources from official federal websites. In a recent Yale Journal on Regulation blog post, Professor Hoffman calls it “scrubbing away” transparency and accountability. The most recent victim: the EOIR Benchbook. The Executive Office for Immigration Review is part of the Justice Department. For more than 30 years it has published the Benchbook to help immigration judges decide immigration cases.
Professor Hoffman poses significant and obvious questions:
What are they trying to hide? First, there was a lot of good material in the EOIR Benchbook which helped advocates understand the immigration judge’s reasoning process and especially the procedures involved in removal proceedings…
It begs the question, does it mean the judges are no longer following the Benchbook? If they are not following the Benchbook any longer, then what are they following?”
The EOIR Benchbook. The Benchbook is a practical guide on rights advisals, evidence, burdens of proof, motions, bond determination, and decision templates. According to a 2010 Justice Department Memorandum its purpose is the following:
to inform an immigration judge’s decision-making process by highlighting relevant authority and persuasive references, suggesting best practices, and offering links to external reference tools.”
The Benchbook let us know what the judges were consulting, and what might inform their decisions. Since it often failed to cite cases helpful to non-citizens, it is important to bring these cases to the immigration judge’s attention, especially when they’ve been excluded from the Benchbook.
Concealing Information and Impeding Transparency. The Justice Department’s aforementioned memo also reminded the public why EOIR’s Benchbook was online:
to serve the information needs of EOIR’s interested parties…
to promote greater transparency of agency operations.”
Consequently, its online removal
- blocks information access by critical parties, namely non-citizens and their advocates; and
- suppresses public scrutiny of immigration court actions.
EOIR’s mission. The Justice Department and EOIR are accountable to the public. Professor Hoffman cautioned that the Benchbook’s removal follows other disappearing resources such as the Asylum Officer Basic Training lesson plans and parts of the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, “a disturbing trend toward lack of transparency and accountability.” EOIR’s website – which for now is still out there – states its primary mission is to “fairly, expeditiously, and uniformly” interpret and administer our immigration laws. So why are they afraid of public accessibility to their resources?