Decision Maker: Justice Appoints Osuna to Head EOIR

By David North on January 5, 2011

Juan P. Osuna, formerly Associate Deputy Attorney General, had been appointed Acting Director of the Justice Department's Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR). Who succeeds Osuna in the policy job in the AG's office may be more interesting than the acting EOIR appointment. Will we get an immigration enthusiast (like USCIS Director Mayorkas) or another sober careerist, like Osuna?

The job Osuna is leaving is in the second tier of the department, that of high-ranked political appointees not needing Senate confirmation; in that position he had served as the ranking full-time political appointee concerned with immigration matters. It is a policy position, rather than a managerial one. (Years ago Doris Meissner held a comparable appointment before going to work for INS.)

The EOIR job, on the other hand, is a career position. Osuna, who has usually served in career positions, may welcome that aspect of the new job.

I have known Osuna a bit for a long time, and wrote a couple of articles for him when he was editor of Interpreter Releases. (They were about the odd immigration policies and practices in the U.S. island territories.)

He is 47, but looks and sounds a little older. He comes across as serious almost to the point of somber. He is a native of Colombia, got his degrees at George Washington and American Universities, is a longtime immigration lawyer without ever having been in private practice, lives in Virginia, and is married to Wendy Young, who was, some years ago, an immigration lawyer and refugee admissions advocate. (Her current telephone listing indicates she has a general practice of law.)

He went to work right after law school at Interpreter Releases, which is now a much more prosperous organization than when he took over. It has remained a sober, quietly pro-immigrant trade paper for the immigration bar. It has a much stronger interest in case law than in the impacts of immigration on the resident population or related policy issues. I have always found it to be a very formal and staid publication.

He was appointed a member of the Board of Immigration Appeals by Janet Reno, Bill Clinton's attorney general, and then was promoted to the board's acting chair, then permanent chair by the Bush administration. The Obama administration has appointed him, successively, Deputy Assistant AG for the Office of Immigration Litigation, Associate Deputy AG, and now acting head of EOIR. His is a very solid resume.

I regard him as quietly pro-immigration, but much more of a lawyer than a politician. I saw him last year at a House Appropriations Committee hearing and talked with him there. (For reasons that I do not understand he was there instead of the then-acting head of EOIR, another civil servant named Thomas G. Snow whose biography lingered on the agency's website for a while after Osuna took office.) Osuna handled the subcommittee well that day. I have no sense of Snow, except that an immigration judge whose opinion I value spoke of him as being disengaged from the actual work of the courts.

Osuna's appointment is about as good as restrictionists could hope for in this administration.