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Possible changes on the horizon for immigration court

by Stephen Dark
Posted // 2012-04-18 -

The top five candidates to fill the soon-to-be vacant chair on the federal bench left by departing Judge Samuel Alba include immigration-court judge Dustin Pead, suggesting that significant concerns may be on the horizon for those currently being held by ICE in local jails.

Pead joins a list that also includes 3rd District Court judge Anthony Quinn, federal prosecutors Jennette Swent and Carlos A. Esqueda, and civil litigator John E. Hansen. 

Leonor Perretta, a well-known local immigration attorney and court liaison for the the Utah chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, expressed deep regret at the possibility of Pead vacating one of the two benches at the recently opened immigration court on Decker Lane, just off of Redwood Road. The court was the subject of a recent City Weekly cover story, Deportation Factory.

Perretta fears that if Pead is appointed, Judge William Nixon, who started Salt Lake City's immigration court back in 2005 and has a close relationship with Pead, may decide to retire. Perretta expresses concern not only about who might replace them, but also about how Pead's departure might impact hearings.

She speculates that Pead's departure might well prompt "a much longer delay because they would be going from two to one judges initially. They could have judges appear from other states via video hearings as they have done in the past, as well." Whether the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which oversees the country's immigration courts, will have sufficient interest in opening its coffers to fund a second judge is also unclear.

With comment from members of the bar and public invited regarding the judges' qualifications for the seat until April 30, Perretta writes in an e-mail, "I am actually going to highly recommend Judge Pead for the Magistrate position because I truly believe he is an excellent, well prepared judge and very fair. Immigration judge is a very hard position when you want to be respected and admired by both sides and it should be emotionally much less stressful in the magistrate position."

Pead's background includes a lengthy stint at the U.S. Attorney's office as a prosecutor of an immigration crimes unit, a position that led some immigration attorneys to be critical of what they saw as his pro-government stance. But for most attorneys, Pead is seen, as Perretta noted, as remarkably dedicated, fair, open-minded and capable of putting in long hours to familiarize himself with both intellectually and emotionally draining cases.

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