Judges now have a union. What’s the world coming to. 678 cases in a year. They are definitely over worked to the point of their heads exploding.
New Quotas for Immigration Judges as Trump Administration Seeks Faster Deportations
Rules were laid out in a message sent Friday to immigration judges
By Laura Meckler
Updated April 2, 2018 4:50 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON—The Justice Department has notified immigration judges that it will begin evaluating their job performance based on how quickly they close cases, aiming to speed deportation decisions and reduce a lengthy backlog.
The new quotas for judges to meet—laid out in a memo sent Friday to immigration judges—follow other directives by the department to expedite handling of cases. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said that the backlog at the immigration courts allows people who should be deported to linger inside the U.S.
The union representing immigration judges counters that the metrics are a threat to their judicial independence, while lawyers warn they will unduly influence judge’s decisions.
The new standards, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, are to take effect for the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. They have not been released publicly.
In an email to judges sent Friday, James McHenry, director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, said the new system of metrics wasn’t unique to the immigration courts.
“The purpose of implementing these metrics is to encourage efficient and effective case management while preserving immigration judge discretion and due process,” he wrote.
Under the new quotas, judges will be required to complete 700 cases a year and to see fewer than 15% of their decisions sent back by a higher court. Over the past five years, the average judge completed 678 cases in a year, said Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley. But there was a range, he said, with some judges completing as many as 1,500 cases in a year.
In addition, they will be required to meet other metrics, depending on their particular workload. One standard demands that 85% of removal cases for people who are detained be completed within three days of a hearing on the merits of the case. Another metric demands that 95% of all merits hearings be completed on the initial scheduled hearing date.
Immigration attorneys and the union that represents judges warned the rules would pressure judges to resolve cases quickly at the expense of hearing out evidence that could help defendants trying to stay in the U.S.
“This is a recipe for disaster,” said A. Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge in Los Angeles who is president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. “You are going to, at minimum, impact the perception of the integrity of the court.”
Union officials also complained that they had not been given details needed to determine how performance will be calculated. And they said that some judges, for instance those working on the U.S.-Mexico border, have dockets with lots of quick cases and others have more cases that are complex and drawn-out.
Mr. O’Malley said the Friday letter to the judges made clear they will have the opportunity to “provide input” before they are rated unsatisfactory on any measurement.
The quotas are the most significant but not the first effort by the Justice Department to push immigration judges to move cases more quickly. Last July, the chief immigration judge wrote a memo to judges and others discouraging them from postponing cases. In December, Mr. Sessions wrote a memo arguing that the “timely and efficient adjudication of immigration cases” serves “the national interest.”
Unlike judges in regular courts, immigration judges work for the executive branch of government, in this case the Justice Department.
The backlog in the immigration courts is approaching 700,000 cases, up from fewer than 225,000 in 2009, according to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
The judges union warns imposing quotas ultimately could exacerbate the backlog by encouraging people to appeal decisions and argue that the judge didn’t give them adequate time to make their case because he or she was trying to meet a quota.
Greg Chen, director of government affairs for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said his group worries that judges will make decisions based on how it affects their status rather than according to the law.
“These are not mere target goals,” he said. “This is your job depends upon your ability to make sure you come in at these levels.”