Monday, January 12, 2009

Change, Bush Style

With the inauguration of Barack Obama just 8 days away, the current administration continues to scurry around, making changes that will tie up the new administration for months. The latest came from Attorney General Mukasey, who has decided that those caught up in deportation proceedings aren't entitled to competent legal counsel. From an editorial in today's Los Angeles Times:

The Bush administration strikes again. The latest in its series of last-minute policy changes comes from the Department of Justice. In a ruling issued Wednesday, Atty. Gen. Michael B. Mukasey wiped out decades of court opinions and Board of Immigration Appeals practice, determining that noncitizens do not have a constitutional right to challenge their deportation based on incompetent legal representation. In practical terms, this means that if an attorney does not show up for an important hearing, fails to file crucial briefs, does not call relevant witnesses or advise his client that he or she is due in court -- any of which can lead to a judgment for deportation -- that's just too bad.

Mr. Mukasey's argument for this change in policy is based in the idea that deportation proceedings are civil matters, not criminal, so there is no constitutional right to competent counsel. The Times editorial board correctly points out that the Attorney General is engaging in "sophistry." While the deportee might not be headed for jail, he or she is forcibly removed, under guard, from the country and away from family and friends. This is hardly the small beer of small claims court or even a proceeding to collect damages in a traditional civil court room.

President Bush, now focusing solely on burnishing his legacy, said during an interview yesterday that the Republican Party needed to be more humane in its dealings with immigrants, documented or not. Fine words, but hardly consistent with his administration's actions over the last eight years, including the past week. That certainly is no surprise.

The editorial board's conclusion gets it right this time:

...But since the Bush administration found that expediency trumps fairness, lawmakers should prevent any future administration from doing the same and firmly establish the right to open trials, legal counsel and due process for citizens and immigrants alike.

It will be a relief to see this merry band of scumbags leave power.

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