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:
- Mental Health Issues
- Oral Decision Template
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”:
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”:
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/
UPDATE – APPEAL GRANTED!
That didn’t take long. The EOIR granted our appeal concluding there were in fact additional parts of the benchbook that hadn’t been produced. Now they’ve remanded the FOIA request back to EOIR to produce the remainder. Here is the Appeal Decision.