Iranian-American IJ Told Not to Take Iranian Cases, She Sues DOJ

By David North on August 20, 2014

A judge suing her employer is both rare and interesting; this time it is an Iranian-American immigration judge who is suing the U.S. Department of Justice.

The DOJ ordered her to recuse herself if any Iranian appeared before her. She is Ashley Tabaddor, and she is one of 37 IJs at the busy Los Angeles immigration court.

She said that such an order would violate her First Amendment rights, according to an article reprinted on the Immigration Daily website.

If you look at the numbers involved, the DOJ act is close to meaningless. Immigration judges are not given nationality-specific case loads, so she is as likely to get an Iranian cases as any judge with, say, an Irish name. And that is not very likely: in 2013, nationwide, about one-third of 1 percent of the asylum cases were from Iran.

Further, if there is a worry that she would be prejudiced on behalf of an applicant, she is the 11th-strictest judge of the L.A 37. according to TRAC, a Syracuse University project that keeps data on such things. She has a case-approval rate, according to TRAC, of 32.4 percent in a local court where those rates ranged from 5.8 percent to 76.1 percent. (The approval/denial range among the judges is remarkable, and she is somewhere near the middle.)

Finally, approvals in Iranian cases, largely because of Iranian prejudice against people of the Baha'i faith, are above average. So an Iranian coming before any immigration judge is more likely to get a favorable ruling than someone from somewhere else.

In short, the odds that she would decide more than a couple of Iranian cases a year are extremely low; and the odds that she would get an Iranian case that should be rejected, and then approve it instead, are even more unlikely.

The people running the immigration courts must know about what I have described, so I assume that something else is going on, and that she has irked the leadership in some other way.

According to the article in Immigration Daily that was reprinted on the website Payvand Iran News, which is devoted to the Iranian community in the United States:

The suit arose after Judge Tabaddor attended a roundtable meeting at the White House in August 2012 which involved discussion of federal initiatives relevant to the Iranian-American community. Prior to attending the meeting, Judge Tabaddor was informed by the Office of the Chief Counsel that she could attend the roundtable meeting as long as she did not appear in her official capacity.

Maybe she said something regarded as indiscreet at the White House. And maybe the political heft that got her invited to the White House in the first place is not as strong as that of her critics in the court system.

My outsider's hope – I had never heard of the judge until this writing – is that the case is, in fact, argued in federal court so that we can learn something about the inner workings of the administration of the IJ courts.

That probably will not happen.