20:24, April 02 256 0 abajournal.com

2018-04-02 20:24:10
Justice Department imposes quotas on immigration judges, provoking independence concerns

The Journal says the quotas are intended to speed up cases, clearing the immigration court system’s lengthy case backlog. They were announced Friday in an email from the Executive Office of Immigration Review, the DOJ office that houses the immigration courts. Director James McHenry told judges the quotas would take effect Oct. 1, with the start of the federal government’s next fiscal year.

“The purpose of implementing these metrics is to encourage efficient and effective case management while preserving immigration judge discretion and due process,” McHenry wrote in a message acquired by the newspaper.

Under the new standards, for immigration judges to be rated “satisfactory,” they must complete 700 cases a year, with fewer than 15 percent of their cases sent back by the Board of Immigration Appeals or the federal appeals courts. Eighty-five percent of cases involving detained—jailed—immigrants must be completed within three days of a hearing on the merits, and 95 percent of merits hearings must be completed on their original scheduled dates.

The news was not welcome by the National Association of Immigration Judges. Judge A. Ashley Tabaddor, the current president of the union, told the Journal that it was “a recipe for disaster” that would create pressure or at least the appearance of pressure to resolve cases quickly. That pressure, she told the Washington Post, could result in judges denying motions or refusing to wait for important evidence, creating appealable issues that ultimately keep cases in the system.

“It could call into question the integrity and impartiality of the court if a judge’s decision is influenced by factors outside the facts of the case,” Tabaddor told the Post.

Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said immigration judges complete an average of 678 cases a year, but that some clear many more. Union officials told the Journal that clearance rates depend heavily on what kinds of cases the judge hears.

The memo continues a trend of Justice Department pressure on immigration judges to resolve cases. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has the power to refer immigration law cases to himself, is currently taking comment on whether judges should have the power to end cases without a decision. (The ABA has said they should.) Last summer, the chief immigration judge discouraged judges from granting postponements. Sessions did the same in a December memo that referenced the backlog as a reason to discourage “unwarranted delays and delayed decision making.”

Sessions has power over the immigration courts because they are a branch of the DOJ, not an independent court system like Article III courts. Independence has long been on the judges’ union’s wish list, and it was one topic when HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver explored some problems with immigration courts on Sunday.

As the ABA Journal reported in 2017, the immigration courts have had a backlog of cases for most of the past decade, fueled by more investment in enforcement than in adjudication. As of the end of February, that backlog stood at 684,583 pending cases, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which gets its data from Freedom of Information Act requests.