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Professor Catherine Kim Examines Politicization of Immigration Bench


Has the executive branch unduly influenced decisions by immigration judges? Professor Catherine Kim, in her article “Presidential Ideology and Immigrant Detention,” 69 Duke Law Journal 1855 (2020), coauthored with Amy Semet, examined 630,000 individual custody decisions by immigration judges from 2001 through June 2019 to explore this question.

A noncitizen charged with deportability may be detained pending the outcome of removal proceedings, often for months or even years. In many instances, individuals are eligible to be released on bond at the discretion of immigration judges. The authors found that noncitizens fared worse in bond proceedings during the current administration than they did during the prior two, even those conducted by appointees who had been relatively favorable toward noncitizens during prior eras. These findings suggest that political actors in the executive branch may be influencing immigrant bond outcomes not only through their power to appoint, but also through their power to supervise.

“Our findings underscore the importance of insulating immigration judges from control by politically motivated superiors,” said Kim. “These judges, like all other judges, should be deciding cases on the merits of individual facts presented at hearing, not on the basis of a political calculus dictated by the White House. Due process requires nothing less.”

Kim’s research focuses on the role of courts and agencies as engines for social justice reform, particularly as it relates to immigrants and communities of color. Her scholarship has appeared in the Georgetown Law Journal, the Emory Law Journal, and the Notre Dame Law Review, among others. She has authored several amicus briefs for the federal courts, including one on behalf of legal scholars in the Trump v. Hawaii litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court. She is the recipient of both the Eric K. Yamamoto Award and the James H. Chadbourn Award for her scholarship.

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