FEBRUARY 02, 2010
The most “transparent administration in history” has evidently arranged yet another rare closed-door deportation hearing for President Obama’s illegal alien aunt, even though the Justice Department’s immigration court manual—as well as a federal appellate court—says such proceedings should be open.
Obama’s Kenyan aunt, Zeituni Polly Onyango, has twice (in 2003 and 2004) ignored deportation orders to leave the United States. Since the last removal order five years ago, she’s been living in a South Boston public housing facility. She earned international media attention during her nephew’s 2008 presidential campaign and was denied a stay of deportation.
Last spring Onyango managed to get a private court hearing to address the multiple deportation charges against her. The judge granted her 10 months to fight deportation to her native Kenya, but no further details were made available about the mystery court proceeding which was purposely held out of public view.
This week the commander-in-chief’s aunt will get yet another special closed-door removal hearing as the White House insists she’s not getting any special treatment and denies that the president is in any way contributing to her legal costs. Unlike criminal courts, defendants in immigration cases aren’t entitled to legal representation and must pay for it themselves. How an indigent illegal immigrant is paying for the costly private Ohio law firm representing her remains unclear.
Defending this specific case, the Justice Department claims that closed hearings are “not uncommon” but the reality is that they are. In fact, the Executive Office of Immigration Review, the Justice Department agency that manages immigration courts, allows closed removal hearings in only a handful of instances that don’t seem to apply to Obama’s aunt.
According to the agency’s Immigration Court Practice Manual (chapter4, page 60), exceptions to public deportation hearings include claims of torture or cruel and inhumane punishment and those involving abused alien children or spouses. It does however, give judges authority to limit attendance or close hearings to protect parties, witnesses or the public interest even if the hearing would normally be open to the public.
In Onyango’s case U.S. Immigration Court Judge Leonard Shapiro refuses to reveal his reasons for closing the hearing. Citing immigrants’ rights, federal legislators have fought the public’s exclusion from immigration courts, reminding that a federal regulation requires proceedings to be open in order to protect the petitioners.
A federal appellate court has also ruled that public access undoubtedly enhances the quality of deportation proceedings by acting as a check on the actions of the Executive and ensuring that proceedings are conducted fairly and properly. Open hearings also enhance the perception of integrity and fairness, the court points out.
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