Correction to This Article
A June 11 Page One article on the hiring of immigration judges misspelled the name of El Paso immigration counsel Guadalupe R. Gonzalez.

Immigration Judges Often Picked Based On GOP Ties

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By Amy Goldstein and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, June 11, 2007

The Bush administration increasingly emphasized partisan political ties over expertise in recent years in selecting the judges who decide the fate of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, despite laws that preclude such considerations, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

At least one-third of the immigration judges appointed by the Justice Department since 2004 have had Republican connections or have been administration insiders, and half lacked experience in immigration law, Justice Department, immigration court and other records show.

Two newly appointed immigration judges were failed candidates for the U.S. Tax Court nominated by President Bush; one fudged his taxes and the other was deemed unqualified to be a tax judge by the nation's largest association of lawyers. Both were Republican loyalists.

Justice officials also gave immigration judgeships to a New Jersey election law specialist who represented GOP candidates, a former treasurer of the Louisiana Republican Party, a White House domestic policy adviser and a conservative crusader against pornography.

These appointments, all made by the attorney general, have begun to reshape a system of courts in which judges, ruling alone, exercise broad powers -- deporting each year nearly a quarter-million immigrants, who have limited rights to appeal and no right to an attorney. The judges do not serve fixed terms.

Department officials say they changed their hiring practices in April but defend their selections. Still, the injection of political considerations into the selection of immigration judges has attracted congressional attention in the wake of controversy over the Bush administration's dismissal last year of nine U.S. attorneys.

The Post analysis is the first systematic examination of the people appointed to immigration courts, the relationships that led to their selection and the experience they brought to their position. The review, based on Justice records and research into the judges' backgrounds, encompassed the 37 current judges approved by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales or his predecessor, John D. Ashcroft, starting in 2004.

That year is when the Justice Department began to jettison the civil service process that traditionally guided the selections in favor of political considerations, according to sworn congressional testimony by one senior department official and a statement by the lawyer for another official.

Those two officials, D. Kyle Sampson and Monica M. Goodling, have said they were told the practice was legal. But Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said that immigration judges are considered civil service employees who may not be chosen based on political factors, unlike judges in federal criminal courts.

All the judges appointed during this period who arrived with experience in immigration law were prosecutors or held other immigration enforcement jobs. That was a reversal of a trend during the Clinton administration in which the Justice Department sought to balance such appointees with ones who had been attorneys representing immigrants, according to current and former immigration judges.

Boyd said in a written statement that judges appointed during the Bush administration are "well qualified for their current positions" and that "outstanding immigration judges can come from diverse backgrounds." Boyd also said that race and ethnicity are not factors in hiring but cited statistics showing that immigration courts are "considerably more diverse" than other kinds of courts.

The department launched a new hiring program in April that requires public announcements of open positions and detailed evaluations and interviews, with a final decision still in the hands of the attorney general. The action came partly in response to a lawsuit by a veteran immigration counsel who alleged discrimination when she was passed over for two judgeships.


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