Assistant Chief Immigration Judge, United States Immigration Court, Executive Office for Immigration Review in San Francisco
Area of Practice: Immigration Law
Year Graduated: 1990
Print Maggard's career history is a testament of service to the United States. He served in the U.S. Air Force before, during, and after law school, spending his first sixteen years of practice in the Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG). Although Judge Maggard did not handle any immigration cases during his time as a JAG, he successfully transitioned into the field of immigration enforcement upon his retirement from the military, working for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) until the Attorney General appointed him to the immigration bench in 2009. It's a career path that he did not plan but also one that he does not regret. "I like immigration law; it's interesting," he says. "You help people and enforce the laws at the same time."
Judge Maggard grew up in Kentucky, received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Western Kentucky University in 1982, and joined the Air Force in 1985. As a Section Commander at Travis Air Force Base (which is about 40 miles from Sacramento), he was responsible for handling any disciplinary issues that arose in a squadron of about six hundred airmen. As Judge Maggard explains it, "I worked with JAGs almost daily as a Section Commander. One day, one of them told me I should go to law school, so I went back to my office, and I figured out how to go about it." He attended University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law on the Excess Leave Program (ELP), an unpaid legal studies program for military officers, and worked in the legal offices at Travis during breaks from school.
After he graduated from McGeorge with his J.D. in 1990 and passed the California Bar Examination, Judge Maggard began training with the Judge Advocate General's School to become an Air Force lawyer. Over the course of sixteen years, from 1990 until his retirement from the Air Force in 2006, Judge Maggard moved frequently and traveled often. He began his career in prosecution but later switched to defense work. In fact, he spent six years representing the Department of Defense in environmental litigation, aided by the expertise he gained through a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Environmental Law from George Washington University. In time, Judge Maggard became a military judge and adjunct faculty member at the Air Force Judge Advocate's School.
Upon his retirement from the Air Force, Judge Maggard and his family decided to settle down in the San Francisco Bay Area, having always loved the time they spent in California. On a bit of a whim, he applied for an assistant chief counsel position with ICE in San Francisco. He received the job, even though at the time he knew almost nothing about immigration law. Fortunately, Judge Maggard's legal background allowed him to pick up the law relatively quickly in order to represent the government in immigration proceedings as an ICE attorney. In April 2009, following a rigorous application and evaluation process, United States Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Judge Maggard to serve as an Immigration Judge at the San Francisco Immigration Court. At that point, Judge Maggard joined the ranks of over 220 immigration judges spread over almost sixty immigration courts nationwide. In January 2012, he was promoted to the position of Assistant Chief Immigration Judge.
Immigration judges oversee immigration removal proceedings, which are administrative in nature. In these proceedings, judges are called upon to determine whether foreign-born individuals — many of whom the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has charged with violating immigration law — may be granted relief and allowed to remain in the country. This is a two-part inquiry which requires the judge to decide first whether there are grounds to remove the individual (the respondent) and second, if so, whether there is any relief available to allow the "removable" respondent to stay in the United States. "Immigration court is very busy, so we do a lot of oral decisions on the record instead of taking the time to do written decisions," Judge Maggard explains. The decision of the immigration judge is final unless the respondent appeals it to the Board of Immigration Appeals in Falls Church, Virginia. If the respondent challenges the Board's decision, the case proceeds to the Court of Appeals for the relevant federal circuit, and, on occasion, from there to the United States Supreme Court. Immigration judges also preside over Master Calendar hearings, in which they inform respondents of their rights and certain rules that they should follow throughout the proceedings.
As an Assistant Chief Immigration Judge, Judge Maggard continues to hear cases and also oversees the immigration courts in San Francisco, Denver, Las Vegas, Portland, Seattle, and Tacoma, supervising judges and court administrators. In this capacity, he handles complaints concerning immigration judges, disciplinary issues, budgeting, and hiring. Occasionally, Judge Maggard deals with the media in high profile immigration cases as well. He must also attend meetings with DHS and U.S. Border Control. "There are a lot of meetings with headquarters, deciding what we're going to do and how we're going to approach things next," Judge Maggard explains. "For example, we're in a hiring freeze, so when a judge retires, we can't hire a new judge. We have to figure out how we're going to continue without replacing that person." In Judge Maggard's opinion, the lack of resources available to the immigration courts, both for hiring and in general, is the biggest challenge that he faces in his work. He notes that the immigration courts are burdened with more cases than they have the resources to efficiently handle. As a result, he observes, "Most of our dockets are very full, and cases are pushed out for years."
Despite the challenges associated with his work, Judge Maggard gains satisfaction from what he does. "I like working for the Attorney General to assist in the proper adjudication of immigration cases," he says. "It's nice to see that the cases are done judiciously and in a very fair matter, to see that the system does indeed work. It's not perfect, but given the framework that we have from Congress, I think it works very well."
Given the complex and ever-changing nature of immigration law, Judge Maggard notes that a "good, solid knowledge of the law" is necessary to succeed in this field. "The law in immigration is spread over numerous statutes. It's fairly complicated, and it's not always easy to figure out what the law says," he explains. Additionally, attorneys who appear in immigration court must have strong litigation skills, since "immigration law is a very fast-paced area. The hearings themselves have fewer evidentiary rules. The basic rule is relevance — for example, double hearsay is allowed — so a lot depends on the weight of the evidence. It's good to have an understanding of how to present evidence [in that context]." Judge Maggard also points out, "You have to be a people person to work in this area because you deal with people daily."
Judge Maggard recommends that students who are interested in immigration law take a class on the subject in law school. Additionally, he says, "I would recommend that they try to watch a few immigration hearings, since they are open to the public. That way, they can see if that is what they want to do, and they should take moot court or another advocacy class so they know how to operate in a courtroom." For Judge Maggard and the many other attorneys who work with immigration law, immigration law is a rewarding and interesting field in which to practice, and one that students and attorneys alike should not overlook.
Note: Judge Maggard's participation in the McGeorge Pathways Project is solely in his individual capacity. The opinions expressed by Judge Maggard as part of the Project do not represent the official policy of the United States Attorney General, the United States Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), or any other agency or employee of the federal government.