Sometime in Mid-April, 2017, the Department of Justice removed the “Immigration Judge Bench Book” from the internet.

Why? They won’t say. We’ve been trying to figure that out and to reconstruct this book as a resource for practitioners.

For years this book had been an invaluable tool for immigration practitioners (and for judges) trying to litigate complex issues in an area where actual guidance from the agency is scarce. I’ve mentioned the benchbook in past blog posts on issues that lacked formal guidance, like how to conduct a competency hearing.

Although not all of it is useful, we also regularly cited it in our briefing to the agency, and on many topics it offered a streamlined recitation of the law that was helpful to reference when in court.

When the bench book was removed from the internet, the DOJ didn’t make any formal announcement or explain why this resource, which had been there for years, was suddenly missing.

Solution: FOIA Request for the Current Benchbook

One possible solution to this problem is the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA. In early June I requested a copy of the current bench book by submitting a FOIA request to the Department of Justice.

Today I received a CD from the Department of Justice with what it claims to be the IJ Benchbook. I’ve uploaded it below. I’ll be requesting updated copies quarterly and will post them here.

Here are links to the 29 separate files received so far from the Benchbook:

  1. bond_guide
  2. Bond_Questionnaire_Worksheet
  3. Bond_Worksheet
  4. CNMI_Memo
  5. Evidence_Guide
  6. How_to_Use_the_Templates
  7. IJ_Worksheet_in_Expulsion_Proceedings
  8. IJ_Worksheet_in_Removal_Proceedings
  9. master_calendar_hearing_checklist_updated
  10. Mental Health Issues
  11. Motions_to_Reopen_Guide
  12. Notice_for_Penalties_for_Failing_to_Report
  13. Notice_of_Rejection_of_Cancellation
  14. Notice_of_Rights_Advisal
  15. Oral Decision Template
  16. Purpose_and_History_of_MC
  17. ROP_Worksheet_Sample1
  18. ROP_Worksheet_Sample2
  19. Sample_Abandonment_for_Failure_to_File
  20. Sample_Bond_Withdrawal_Request
  21. Sample_Bond_Worksheet2
  22. Sample_Evidence_Worksheet
  23. Sample_Fee_Waiver_Request
  24. Sample_Termination_for_Reinstatement
  25. Script_Pleading_Format
  26. Televideo_Guide
  27. Voluntary_Departure_Advisals
  28. Advisals
  29. benchbook_initial_hearing_scripts;

What is Still Missing?

One thing that is immediately clear is that many of the entries from the old benchbook are still missing. There are a few ways we can tell.  First, you can tell from a basic search of the EOIR website for the words “benchbook”:

IJ Benchbook Screenshot

What’s crazy is that the search function still reveals those pages, but clicking on any of those links leads you nowhere. They’re all broken. But they make clear that there are numerous entries from the benchbook there that aren’t on this CD.

Another way to tell is by looking at the old benchbook on Archive.org, which still has a version of the old benchbook online here: https://web.archive.org/web/20170427025030/https://www.justice.gov/eoir/immigration-judge-benchbook.

Submitting a FOIA Appeal for the Remaining Pieces That Are Missing.

This is a good reminder that when the FOIA gods don’t give you what you want, you should always APPEAL. So, today I’ve submitted an appeal of the FOIA determination.

Submitting a FOIA appeal to the Department of Justice is very easy. You start by going to https://foiaonline.regulations.gov and signing up for an account.

Once you’re there, click on the button that says “Appeal a FOIA Request”:

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That link will give you a short list of questions and, upon submitting them, will transmit your appeal to the appropriate place within the Department of Justice.

Hopefully our appeal is fruitful and we get more of the current benchbook that we can post here.

This project is designed to give access  to the current Immigration Judge Benchbook (assuming the DOJ continues to update it). If you’re looking for the old benchbook, we’ve posted it here: https://www.hoppocklawfirm.com/old-immigration-judge-benchbook/