Attorney General William Barr appointed several dozen new immigration judges on Friday. One of the newly-commissioned judges most recently served as the research director for a group which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a “hate group” for having had ties to “white supremacy” and even to a “eugenicist organization.”
The judge, Matthew J. O’Brien, was officially named to his new position in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) in June — but was just formally inducted into the largest ever corps of immigration judges along with 45 others.
O’Brien’s biography notes a decade-plus-long stint in federal service. He previously worked under both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama in largely immigration-focused roles before moving into the non-profit sector in 2016.
“From 2016 to 2020, he served as the director of research at the Federation for American Immigration Reform,” the brief blurb about O’Brien’s past work notes. The group, known in immigration law circles by its acronym, FAIR, has a history of connections to hard-line immigration policies.
FAIR, its legislative activities, and its leadership (past and present) have been extensively discussed by the SPLC, which has its own set of critics, and also by news organizations Vice, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Voice of America.
O’Brien, the new judge, once quibbled over Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)’s use of the phrase “concentration camps” to describe the conditions immigrants have been subjected to on the southern border since the Obama administration:
“I think the point that Representative Ocasio-Cortez is missing is that a concentration camp typically refers to a detention facility where a totalitarian regime’s political enemies are kept and the purpose is to nullify them as political enemies,” O’Brien said. “Internment camp is a general term that in international law and in typical usage refers to a place where people are held temporarily in a conflict because they are either from an enemy power, from a non-allied power, and there is some sort of national security concern or other internal security concern associated with them. Whereas, an immigration detention facility is where people are held pursuant to a democratically passed law because they have no authorization to be in the country and they are temporarily held there while the government is evaluating their claim to any kind of immigration relief and those facilities are regulated.”
In his work for FAIR, O’Brien (joined by two other authors) described immigration as a “problem” and said immigrants rights advocates perform “mathematical gymnastics to produce illegal alien population estimates that they see as ‘tolerable’ to the bulk of American society.”
O’Brien also wrote a lengthy defense of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” and family separation policies in the summer of 2018 — which argued that there were “no cages” used in the process of executing the controversial Trump immigration directive. “The conditions are anything but harsh,” he said.
(Human Rights Watch testified before a Congressional committee that children were, indeed, being held in cages at the border.)
O’Brien, the recently robed judge, in June 2018 penned this conclusion to the Trump White House’s general immigration agenda:
When the citizens of the United States elected Donald Trump, they sent a clear message to Washington that they no longer want criminals and illegal aliens running America’s borders. President Trump paid attention. And, thus far, his immigration policies have been firmly focused on improving national security and public safety. Slowly but surely, we are regaining control of our borders.
According to FAIR’s website as of the date of this writing, the group describes its beliefs as follows:
Immigration policies can determine what kind of America future generations will inherit – livable or overcrowded, successful or overburdened. While we see our obligations to help the less fortunate around the world, we also know that irresponsible border policies can undermine our own nation’s ability to be a successful change agent for the human race.
The group says its current objectives are “to reduce overall immigration to a more normal level,” e.g., “from well over one million at present to a very generous 300,000 a year over a sustained period.” Doing so, the group says, “will allow America to manage growth, address environmental concerns, and maintain a high quality of life.”
The group also currently says “[i]mmigration, within proper limits, can be positive. Adhering to the rule of law is central to successful assimilation and citizenship.”
It further says its policies are not racially problematic:
We believe in respecting the basic human rights and the dignity of all involved. As such, FAIR opposes policies based on favoritism toward, or discrimination against, any person based on race, color, religion, or gender.
We understand that under any rational system of ordered entry, the demand will always vastly exceed available slots. Tough decisions will therefore always be necessary.
[Image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]
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