Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2008


The purpose of this article is to suggest a new lens through which to examine the crisis in immigration courts: judicial ethics. Ethical considerations frequently play a decisive role in the resolution of immigration cases, in part because the outcomes for litigants in immigration courts can depend almost entirely on the attitude of the judge. Accordingly, the acknowledged crisis in immigration courts has severe implications for judicial ethics. Because the term "judicial ethics" encompasses a broad array of principles, this article will narrow its focus to bias and incompetence on the part of immigration judges in the courtroom. Part II considers the unique structure of the immigration court, focusing on the current disciplinary procedures for immigration judges and Attorney General John Ashcroft's "streamlining" reforms of 2003. Part III then discusses the existence of an ethical crisis through statistics showing inconsistent decisions and cases reviewed by circuit courts illustrating judicial bias and incompetence. Part IV next examines causes of such conduct and pending solutions to the problem. Part IV pays special attention to the Attorney General's proposed "Codes of Conduct for Immigration Judges and BIA Members." While some would argue the mere existence of this suggested standard of conduct is promising, Part IV explains that the new Codes of Conduct lack both specificity and enforceability. This article not only analyzes the existing crisis with an eye toward the ethical implications of the challenges facing immigration courts, but also offers proposals designed to encourage unbiased and competent behavior on the immigration bench. Accordingly, Part V recommends practical reforms in response to the ethical nature of this crisis. Implementation of these reforms will initiate the process of restoring the ethical integrity of the immigration bench.