(ESPAÑOL) Last month, the Justice Department sent an assistant chief immigration judge from Washington to replace Judge Steven Morley for exactly one hearing: the one that ended Castro-Tum’s bid to stay in the US.
The unusual use of a chief immigration judge from headquarters has raised concerns from retired immigration judges, lawyers and the union for active immigration judges. They say the move seems to jeopardize the right to a fair process in immigration courts.
The saga of Castro-Tum starts in 2014, when he crossed the border illegally as a 17-year-old. The Guatemalan teen was apprehended by the Border Patrol, which referred him to custody with the Health and Human Services Department as an unaccompanied minor. He was released to his brother-in-law a few months later and registered his brother-in-law’s address with the government. Multiple notices of court hearings were sent to that address, the government said.
But after the fifth time Castro-Tum failed to appear in court, immigration Judge Morley closed the case until the government provided him with evidence that Castro-Tum had ever lived at the address they were sending the notices to. The Board of Immigration Appeals sent the case back to Morley to reconsider with instructions to proceed even if Castro-Tum failed to show again. His current whereabouts are unknown.
Earlier this year, Sessions referred the case to himself and ruled that immigration judges across the board could no longer close immigration cases as they saw fit. The attorney general said immigration judges lack the authority to make such “administrative closures” of cases.
Sessions gave Morley 14 days to issue a new hearing notice to Castro-Tum. The Philadelphia-based immigration attorney Matthew Archambeault, who had begun following the case, appeared in court and volunteered to represent Castro-Tum, as well as to track him down. He asked the judge to postpone the case a bit longer to give him time to do that, which Morley granted. However, Morley was replaced with Judge Nedkarni, who immediately ordered Castro-Tum to be deported.
The Justice Department did not respond to multiple requests to explain why the judge was sent to Philadelphia to decide this single case.