Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has made his first appointment to the nation's highest immigration appeals board, choosing someone who was among a group of board members fired in a downsizing early in the Bush administration.
Holder has appointed John Guendelsberger to hold one of 15 seats on the Board of Immigration Appeals. Guendelsberger returns to the board after having served from 1995 to 2003, when then-Attorney General John Ashcroft reduced the size of the board from 23 seats and eliminated the jobs of several sitting members. Ashcroft said at the time he wanted to make the board more efficient, while immigration lawyers suspected an effort to increase deportations.
The board is based in Falls Church, Va., and is an administrative panel within the Justice Department. Its members hear appeals from the decisions of more than 200 immigration judges throughout the country, as well as the decisions of some Department of Homeland Security officials. The attorney general appoints its members.
Guendelsberger’s appointment, which the Justice Department announced in a news release today, brings the number of filled board positions up to 14. It reached a low of 11 during the Bush administration because of the downsizing and because Ashcroft and then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales did not fill vacancies. In 2007, Monica Goodling and other aides to Gonzales proposed appointing four people they had screened for partisan and ideological leanings, but they backed away after other Justice Department lawyers told them they might be breaking the law, according to a 2008 report by department watchdogs.
Since losing his board seat in 2003, Guendelsberger has been senior counsel to the board’s chairman and for the last two years has also been a temporary member of the board. (The chairmanship is a career Justice Department position.)
Before coming to the Justice Department, Guendelsberger was a law professor specializing in immigration law at Ohio Northern University. He’s also been a staff attorney with the Ohio Legal Rights Service, a state agency that advocates for people with disabilities.
There is still one vacancy on the Board of Immigration Appeals. The terms are open-ended.