U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III and Trump’s work together on immigration policy has resulted in the Executive Office for Immigration Review’s (EOIR) decision this past Friday to institute a quota of 700 cases to be completed per year.
A backlog, upwards of 700,000 cases, await 326 immigration judges. Five new judges were appointed in February 2018 by Sessions and they began hearing cases immediately. Last month Congress agreed to allot money for 100 additional judges.
The National Association of Immigrant Judges (NAIJ) says the DOJ is scapegoating judges, as well. The NAIJ president, Judge Ashley Tabaddor, who was born in Iran, questioned the integrity of the process: “Each judge’s job security will be based on whether or not they meet these unrealistic numbers and will raise concerns as to whether actions they take, such as denying a continuance or excluding a witness, are legally sound or personally motivated to improve their performance ratings.”
Some would argue that deportation is really the end game. Immigration judges can grant continuances and asylum, which can help immigrants navigate the lengthy application process and approval of a green card. Sessions appears to be determined to speed up the hearings, which may result in immigrants being deported while in the middle of the green card process. “The outcome that is truly desired is to transform [the process] into a deportation machine,” said Jeremy McKinney, National Secretary of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).
According to the AILA, it can take seven months before a matter can be scheduled for an immigration hearing. There are also multiple efficiency and access issues, among them finding counsel, persecution documents if seeking asylum, finding interpreters, and the fact that the whole system is still very much paper based. None of those appear to be things immigrants can control, especially if they’re sitting in detention centers. Yet according to McKinney, ICE arrests last year were up 300 percent. He stated, “ICE is out of control.”
The director of the Immigration Justice Campaign, Karen Lucas, mentioned a case where a client seeking asylum was detained for four months before he could get representation. “These are life or death cases and should not be decided on an assembly line,” she stated.
A misappropriation of power and resources are being touted as the actual cause for the backlog of cases, according to the NAIJ. “The solution to ending the delays that plague our courts is not to scapegoat judges,” said Judge Tabaddor. ” The answer is a straightforward, two part solution of more resources and structural reform.”
Judge Tabaddor is calling on the DOJ to remove itself from what is supposed to be a neutral court.
The EOIR will start reviewing judge performance from Oct. 1, 2018, to Sept. 30, 2019.