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In Memoriam Juan Osuna

In Memorium: Hon. Juan P. Osuna, legendary immigration figure, dies suddenly – was chairman of BIA, Director of EOIR, High-Ranking DOJ Executive, Editor, Professor – will be remembered as kind, gentle, scholarly, dedicated!


I have just learned that my friend and former colleague Juan P. Osuna tragically died suddenly of a heart attack last night. Until May of this year, Juan was the Director of EOIR. But, he was much more than that to those of us in the immigration world.

I first met Juan when he was an Editor for Interpreter Releases, the leading weekly immigration newsletter, working with one of my mentors, the late legendary Maurice A. Roberts. Juan later succeeded Maury as Editor-in-Chief and rose to a major editorial position within the West Publishing legal empire. He was serving in that position when I recommended him for a position as an Appellate Immigration Judge/Board Member of the Board of Immigration Appeals during my tenure as BIA Chair. Juan was appointed to that position by Attorney General Janet Reno in 2000.

While serving together on the BIA, Juan and I often joined forces in seeking full due process and legal protections for migrants. Sometimes, our voices were heard together in dissent. In one of those cases, Matter of J-E-, 23 I&N Dec. 291 (BIA 2002) we joined in finding that our colleagues in the majority were interpreting the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”) in an overly restrictive way. In another, Matter of Andazola, 23 I&N Dec. 219 (BIA 2003), we joined in finding that our colleagues in the majority had significantly undervalued the Immigration Judge’s careful findings of “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to U.S. citizen children.

Following my reassignment from the BIA to the Arlington Immigration Court, Juan became the Vice Chair and eventually the Chair of the BIA after the departure of Lori Scialabba. But, Juan’s meteoric rise through the DOJ hierarchy was by no means over. In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Juan to the position of Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division with responsibility for the Office of Immigration Litigation. Later, he was promoted to Associate Deputy Attorney General with responsibility for the Department’s entire “immigration portfolio.”

Not surprisingly, following the departure of EOIR Director Kevin Ohlson, Attorney General Eric Holder named Juan Director of EOIR. In that position, Juan shepherded the U.S. Immigration Courts through some of the most difficult times in EOIR history, involving astronomically increasing caseloads and resource shortages. Throughout all of it, Juan remained calm, cool, and collected.

He was a frequent public speaker and testified before Congress on a number of occasions. He was known for his honesty and “straight answers.” Indeed, in one memorable television interview, Juan confessed that the Immigration Court system was “broken.”

One of my most vivid recollections of Juan’s sensitivity and humanity was when he occasionally stopped by the Arlington Immigration Court to “find out what’s happening at the grass roots.” After lunching with or meeting the judges, Juan invariably went to the desk of each and every staff member to ask them how their jobs were going and to thank them for their dedicated service. He understood that “the ship goes nowhere without a good crew.”

Shortly before I retired, Juan called me up and said he wanted to come over for lunch. We shared some of our “old times” at the BIA, including the day I called to tell him that he was Attorney General Janet Reno’s choice for a Board Member. We also batted around some ideas for Immigration Court reform and enhancing due process.

Back in my chambers, I thought somewhat wistfully that it was too bad that we hadn’t had an opportunity to talk more since my departure from the BIA. Little did I suspect that would be the last time I saw Juan. At the time of his death, he was an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law, where I am also on the adjunct faculty. Ironically, Juan took over the “Refugee Law and Policy” course that I taught from 2012-14.

Juan will always be remembered as a gentleman, a scholar, and an executive who appreciated the role that “ordinary folks” — be they migrants, staff, interpreters, or guards, — play in building and sustaining a successful justice system. He will be missed as a friend and a leader in the immigration world.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Juan’s wife, Wendy Young, President of Kids In Need of Defense (“KIND”), and the rest of Juan’s family and many friends. Rest in peace, my friend, colleague, and champion of due process for all!

Paul Wickham Schmidt
08-16-17




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