Paul Schmidt, a retired judge on the U.S. Immigration Court, spoke to Cornell law students on Wednesday about the modern difficulties facing the American immigration court system.
Due to the internet, Schmidt said, rulings from the U.S. Immigration Court are constantly on display, making immigration judges prone to public scrutiny.
Schmidt said he acted as “half scholar, half performing artist,” striving to please the public as an immigration courts judge.
“[An immigration judge’s] words, actions, attitudes and even body language send powerful messages, positive or negative, about our court system and our national values,” he said.
Schmidt also outlined five essential elements that guided him as a moral compass during his judicial career: fairness, scholarship, timeliness, respect and teamwork.
While Schmidt said a judge should strive to emanate all of these things, he candidly pointed out that it is not always possible.
“Issues with timeliness can result to unfairness no matter how smart or knowledgeable you are,” he said.
Schmidt added that the American immigration courts have been “derailed” and are going through an “existential crisis” that threatens the very foundations of the American justice system.
In order to get the American justice system back on track, Schmidt suggested a return to a focus on due process and not allowing political figures to use the courts system for their own personal interests.
He also encouraged Cornell Law School students to serve as pro-bono lawyers and interns in immigration courts to meet the needs of many refugees who cannot afford legal representation.
“It’s a direct, hands-on way of improving the system while taking advantage of a unique learning environment,” Schmidt said.