Biden admin appoints ICE lawyers and Trump appointees in first slate of immigration judges, angering advocates


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Conflicts of interest

Tommy Beaudreau, Biden’s choice for deputy interior secretary, has drawn attention for a long list of conflicts of interest stemming from his work in the private sector. Beaudreau’s recent financial disclosure (PDF) reported work for 35 clients in the energy business, including fossil fuel drillers and offshore wind developers. His potential conflicts of interest dwarf those of Trump’s first Interior Secretary David Bernhardt who worked for 17 energy sector clients – and his annual income more than doubled Bernhardt’s, at $2.4 million to $1.1 million.

“To me, it’s pretty disqualifying,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a massive amount of conflict, and frankly he has biases that I think are going to be difficult to reconcile.”

…His clients in recent years have included coal mining company Arch Resources Inc., multinational mining and petroleum firm BHP, Dominion Energy Inc., fossil fuel giant Total SE, as well as offshore drillers and pipeline developers. He also provided legal services to a number of renewable energy companies, including Vineyard Wind and Avangrid Renewables, and to two development projects connected to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Beaudreau was nominated to the position after Biden’s first choice was opposed by senators from fossil-fuel-rich states: Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) objected to Elizabeth Klein’s nomination because they “felt that Haaland and Klein would be a difficult team for the oil and gas industry to work with, as both have prioritized fighting climate change.”

Another of Biden’s nominees, Jose Fernandez, is facing questions about his suitability for a top State Department role given his past work for Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and other big oil companies. Fernandez, who was nominated to lead the State Department’s environmental and economic growth program, provided “legal services” to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and worked for Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, and SK E&P.

“How could you ever expect someone who was paid by an arm of a foreign country to then, once he’s in government, respond to the public pressure to distance ourselves from this very controversial nation?” [said Elias Alsbergas of the Revolving Door Project.]

Immigration judges

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the administration’s first immigration judges – a slate of 17 made up of former ICE attorneys and prosecutors. Furthermore, many of the judges were initially selected during Trump’s administration and almost none have experience advocating for migrants (list), angering those who have been calling for Biden to bring change to the federal courts.

“This is a list I would have expected out of Bill Barr or Jeff Sessions, but they’re not the attorney general anymore. Elections are supposed to have consequences,” said Paul Schmidt, now an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law School after 21 years as an immigration judge. That included time serving as the chair of the Board of Immigration Appeals, the highest administrative body dealing with immigration cases.

“No one on that list is among the top 100 asylum authorities in the country, and that’s the kind of people they should be hiring — not prosecutorial re-treads,” he added.

Further reading: “The Attorney General’s Judges: How the U.S. Immigration Courts Became a Deportation Tool,” SPCL.

USPS and DeJoy

The Senate Homeland Security Committee advanced all three of President Biden’s USPS governing board nominees, setting them up for a full Senate vote. Ranking Member Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) was the only Republican to vote for all three nominees: Ron Stroman, deputy postmaster general; Amber McReynolds, voting rights activist; and Anton Hajjar, former general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union.

There is now more doubt about whether the USPS governing board will have enough votes to oust Postmaster General Louis DeJoy: Trump-appointed Democrat Ron Bloom recently expressed support for DeJoy, saying he “is the proper man for the job” and “he’s earned my support.”

“The entire board and then Mr. DeJoy should be handed their walking papers,” Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.) told the Washington Post last week. “Their unquestioning support for this postmaster general is unacceptable.”

DeJoy is moving ahead with his plan to “achieve financial sustainability” by closing 18 mail processing facilities, in what the American Postal Workers Union called “a slap in the face of postal workers.” The Postal Service promised not to lay off any employees as a result of the consolidations but will lay off non-bargaining unit employees if an insufficient number accept early retirement offers.

DeJoy and USPS leadership has also come under fire recently for ordering the Inspection Service arm to track Americans’ social media posts following the outbreak of racial justice protests last year. From what little we know about its activities, the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) focused on the rightwing accounts on Parler and Facebook, leading to criticism from Republicans. Some, like Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, vowed to support legislation to limit iCOP’s authority.

A GOP aide told Yahoo News that Barksdale noted that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security could not be relied upon to do this work because they don’t have the ability to send text messages alerting mail carriers to nearby danger.

…it does appear that DeJoy was personally involved in the program’s shift toward social media surveillance. A GOP aide said that after DeJoy was appointed postmaster general in 2020, he reallocated some of the eight-person iCOP team, currently staffed with only five analysts, to focus on protesters.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth has called on Biden to fire the entire board of governors, saying they made a “disastrous personnel choice” in choosing DeJoy, whose “devastating consequences” she called a “sunk cost that cannot be undone.” It appears that Biden has chosen not to go this route.

”While Postmaster General DeJoy rushed to implement these changes, he did so with little – if any – public rebuke from the current USPS Board of Governors. There must be accountability for this failure in leadership, and that is why I am requesting that you use your authority under 39 U.S.C. § 202 to immediately replace the entire USPS Board of Governors. There should not be any toleration for their silence or complicity in overseeing these harmful policy changes that have also eroded the public trust in this agency.” Letter

Inmates in limbo

Thousands of federal inmates that were sent home to serve sentences under supervision during the pandemic are set to return to prison under a Trump-era policy. Roughly 7,500 people – some with years to go on their sentences – are currently on home confinement, reconnecting with family and establishing themselves in their community. They were not told they may have to return to prison and are now in a state of limbo waiting for the Federal Bureau of Prisons to decide their fate.

More than two dozen members of Congress sent President Joe Biden a letter last month urging his administration to reverse a last minute Trump administration memo that would re-incarcerate these former inmates:

“The vast majority of those people on home confinement today have reunited with their families and are working and contributing to society. They were not told they would have to return to prison and forcing them to do so would be cruel and devastating. You rightly pledged to reduce the federal prison population. Sending thousands of people back to federal prison who have already proven that they do not need to be there would undermine this commitment and would undermine, not advance, public safety.”