Goodbye and Good Luck to a Former Attorney-Advisor to the Immigration Court

By Dan Cadman on December 3, 2018

The Los Angeles Times has printed an op-ed piece, "I resigned from the Department of Justice because of Trump's campaign against immigration judges", by Gianfranco De Girolamo, who, until he tendered his resignation in July, had served for a short period of time as an attorney-advisor to the court.

De Girolamo laments that, because of Justice Department meddling, he could no longer serve in good conscience as a member of the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which houses the immigration courts. De Girolamo says that he awarded a position as an attorney-advisor "in late November 2016, a few weeks after President Trump was elected."

De Girolamo was vetted and chosen during the Obama administration, long before Trump won office — it takes a long time to go from vetting and selection to swearing in for immigration court staff — and almost certainly happened at a time when virtually the entire nation was expecting a Hillary Clinton administration to succeed Obama.

I have no doubt that, from day one, De Girolamo was philosophically out of line with the incoming administration; it should be no surprise that Obama officials used their own litmus tests in deciding whom to select as immigration court staff. Is it any wonder, then, that he has objected to the many EOIR reforms instituted by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, reforms that I and, perhaps more significantly, my colleague Andrew Arthur, who is a former immigration judge of long standing, see as desirable and long overdue?

But, to me the crux of the issue is this statement by De Girolamo:

I couldn't stand by, or be complicit in, a mean-spirited and unscrupulous campaign to undermine the everyday work of the Justice Department and the judges who serve in our immigration courts — a campaign that hurts many of my fellow immigrants in the process. [Emphasis added.]

It seems self-evident to me that an attorney-advisor in an immigration court who sees himself primarily as "an immigrant" is wearing the wrong spectacles. When you work for the immigration bench, you are asked to undertake a difficult and sometimes heart-wrenching job that must inevitably require you to make decisions according to the law and not your sympathies or emotions. The law must guide your decisions, even if they sometimes lead to to denial of asylum or other forms of relief, and an alien ordered removed from the United States.

I don't suggest that naturalized immigrants cannot and don't make good attorney-advisors in the immigration courts; of course they can and do, just as surely as they make excellent immigration officers in the various Homeland Security agencies. I know this on a personal professional level from my many years in the bureaucracy. Some of the best agents and officers I knew were themselves naturalized. But they proudly saw — and should see — themselves not as immigrants, but as officers and executors of the U.S. government.

It occurs to me that De Girolamo misunderstood the fundamental difference between immigrant advocate and arbiter of the law — two very different things. I wish him well in the future, and hope that he can turn his talent and aspirations to such advocacy, if he's so inclined, because that seems to me where his heart truly lies.

Correction: An astute reader has pointed out that the individual was an attorney-advisor to the court, not an immigration judge, as originally stated. The blog has been updated to reflect that. I thank the individual for the point of clarification, and apologize for the error. Be that as it may, I believe that my views on the individual's sentiments are nonetheless accurate. — Dan Cadman, December 3, 2018