Attorney General Michael Mukasey delivered his farewell remarks recently to the employees of the Department of Justice and in a remarkably brazen move announced a decision sure to have a lasting impact on immigration policy for years to come. Effectively, Mukasey has declared that immigrants and asylum seekers do not have any rights under the Constitution to representation by a lawyer. The Board of Immigration Appeals and most federal courts have operated under the assumption that immigrants do indeed have these basic rights of due process for decades.
And that's not where Mukasey's last minute decision stops. He also declared that deportation proceedings be handled as civil proceedings, which inadvertently clears up the sticky question of whether or not immigrants who are here illegally should be treated as criminals. If deportation hearings are civil cases then immigrants can not and should not be considered criminals. Unfortunately, the Attorney General's office has apparently not been in contact with the Department of Homeland Security who just a few months ago raided a manufacturing plant in Postville, Iowa and have since treated every single one of the illegal immigrants they found there as criminals, first holding them in make-shift prisons, and then sentencing most to 5 months of jail time before their deportation.
“We are outraged by this action” said Nadine Wettstein, the Director of AILF’s Legal Action Center. “With this ruling, the Administration is attempting to undermine an immigrant’s right to a fair hearing on whether he should be thrown out of the country. It is yet another in a long line of midnight changes and an example of this Administration’s disregard for fundamental principles of due process of law. It is also part of an ongoing attempt to eviscerate the federal courts’ role in protecting against Constitutional abuses by the immigration agency."
Hopefully, Obama's administration will turn over this law (and many others passed during President Bush's dismal eight years of "leadership") shortly after he takes office.