A federal watchdog that investigates improper political activities by federal employees filed a formal complaint Wednesday against an immigration judge who it claims promoted former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s immigration policies from the bench.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel alleges that Carmene “Zsa-Zsa” DePaolo, an immigration judge based in Southern California, violated the Hatch Act when she praised Clinton’s immigration reform plans during a deportation hearing in March 2016. The Hatch Act is a little-enforced federal law that bars executive branch employees from using federal resources to promote political candidates, among other prohibitions.
During the hearing in question, DePaolo allegedly called the defendant’s potential 10-year ban on reentry into the U.S. a “pretty harsh thing” that Clinton would change if she won the presidency and the Senate flipped to Democratic control, according to the special counsel complaint.
“There’s some hope that they can actually pass immigration legislation,” DePaolo said at the public hearing. She went on to claim that Republicans, on the other hand, “aren’t going to do anything” about immigration other than “try to deport everybody.”
DePaolo’s comments amounted to advocating for a particular party and candidate while in a federal workplace, according to Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner.
“When a federal immigration judge in a public setting uses her position to advocate for partisan campaign outcomes, that’s a real problem,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “Judge DePaolo appears to be in clear violation of the Hatch Act and we believe she should face significant disciplinary action.”
Kerner did not specify what punishment the Merit Systems Protection Board should mete out to DePaolo. Hatch Act violations can result in a wide range of penalties, including demotion, suspension and in the case of immigration judges, debarment.
The special counsel’s action comes a day after President Donald Trump blasted the immigration court system for prolonging the deportation of illegal immigrants caught at the southwestern border. Instead of lengthy immigration hearings, the system should swiftly detain and return anyone caught crossing the border illegally, Trump argued.
“It’s so simple. It’s called, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t come in. You have to go in through a legal process,'” he said at a meeting with lawmakers on Tuesday, according to The Wall Street Journal.
For her part, Judge DePaolo has been on the immigration bench since 1995. Her asylum denial rate is slightly higher than the system-wide average, but slightly lower than her fellow judges in San Diego, reported The Washington Times.
She drew attention earlier in 2018 for releasing without bond an illegal immigrant who was arrested in front of her children on suspicion of belonging to a human smuggling ring.
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