Sessions to immigration judges: Immigrants' attorneys like 'water seeping' around law

CNN/ Newswire | 9/10/2018, 12:09 p.m.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a new group of immigration judges Monday that it is their job to "restore the ...
Attorney General Jeff Sessions

By Tal Kopan, CNN

(CNN) -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a new group of immigration judges Monday that it is their job to "restore the rule of law" to the immigration system over the contrary efforts of the lawyers who represent immigrants.

The remarks at the training of the largest-ever class of new immigration judges implied that the judges were on the same team as the Trump administration, and that immigrants and their attorneys were trying to undermine their efforts.

"Good lawyers using all their talents and skills work every day ... like water seeping through an earthen dam to get around the plain words of (immigration law) to advance their clients' interests," Sessions said, adding the same happens in criminal courts. "And we understand that. Their duty, however, is not uphold the integrity of the act. That's our duty."

Sessions noted that "of course" the system "must always respect the rights of aliens" in the courts. But he also warned the judges of "fake claims."

"Just as we defend immigrant legal rights, we reject unjustified and sometimes fake claims," Sessions said. "The law is never serviced when deceit is rewarded so that the fundamental principles of the law are defeated."

The comments came in the context of Sessions' repeated moves to exert his unique authority over the immigration courts, a separate legal system for immigrants that is entirely run by the Justice Department.

Sessions approves every judge hired and can instruct them on how to interpret law, and thus decide cases, as well as how to manage cases. He has used that authority multiple times in the past year, including issuing a sweeping ruling that will substantially narrow the types of cases that qualify for asylum protections in the US. Those decisions overrode the evolution of years of immigration judges' and the immigration appellate board's decisions.

Sessions reminded the new judges of that authority and those decisions in his remarks, saying he believes they are "correct" and "prudent" interpretations of the law that "restores" them to the original intent.

In the immigration court system, the judges are employed by the Justice Department, and the attorneys serving as prosecutors work for the Department of Homeland Security. Immigrants are allowed to have a lawyer if they can find one, but none are provided to them.

Sessions said it was a joint duty for the courts to follow his interpretation of the law. He noted an increase in asylum claims made by immigrants crossing the southern border, which has created a years-long backlog in the resource-strained immigration courts.

"The asylum system has been abused for years, we all know that, to the detriment of the rule of law, sound public policy, public safety and to the detriment of people with legitimate claims," Sessions said. "Asylum was never meant to provide escape from all the problems, even serious problems, that people face every day around the world. Indeed, Americans face serious problems every day."

Sessions added that when "we depart from the law and create nebulous standards," that does "violence to the rule of law."