Immigration Judges Aren’t as Impartial as They Should Be

The Factory That Is the U.S. Immigration System: Quotas for Judges, Injustice for Immigrants?

You might think it’s only people who work in factories, being paid by the piece, who need to make production quotas. It’s not just blue collar workers — it’s lawyers working as federal immigration judges who are facing the prospect of needing to close 700 cases a year. Like some factory workers, these judges have a union, so how this will be implemented and when is still an open question.

Immigration judges make the life-changing decisions of whether or not non-citizens are allowed to remain in the U.S. When the quota is imposed, judges will need to close an average of three cases each working day, according to CNN. When the immigrant is detained, a judge would need to render a decision within three days of holding a hearing ; if the immigrant is not in custody, the judge would have ten days.

The Justice Department, which oversees the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service and immigration judges, announced the changes last month, stating that the average immigration judge currently completes 678 cases per year. Attorney General Jeff Sessions claims the move is meant to improve efficiency.

If judges are not performing, they could be fired or transferred to another location, a tactic that could result in judges deciding to quit rather than move.

The National Association of Immigration Judges, the union representing immigration judges, is opposed to the measure , though it’s allowed under the current collective bargaining agreement, according to the Justice Department. In a January email, the union president told members she was told that no quota would be imposed until a resolution of the issue had been negotiated.

Judge Ashley Tabaddor wrote in the email the union would ensure that “any future standards that may be imposed on judges or the Immigration Courts are legally defensible, fair, and would not encroach on our independent decision making authority.”

A former immigration judge, Bruce Einhorn, writes in the Washington Post that these judges swear to follow the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees that “no person” (whether they’re a citizen or not) is deprived of due process of law. Einhorn said he was obligated to conduct hearings that guaranteed respondents a full and reasonable opportunity on all issues raised against them.

Immigration judges’ decisions and how hearings are conducted can be reviewed by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals and federal appeals courts. Einhorn said that his judicial behavior was never measured by how quickly he completed hearings and decided cases. The most important considerations for him and his colleagues, he said, were fairness, thoroughness and adherence to the Fifth Amendment. He fears this proposal will sacrifice those goals in favor of speed.

A judge who closes 700 cases under the proposal would get a “satisfactory” performance rating. Those who close more would presumably get higher ratings and a possible pay raise. Einhorn sees the quota as a bribe to judges to get them to close cases quickly, no matter how complex they may be. He says it’s an attempt to undermine judicial independence and compel immigration judges to remember they’re under constant scrutiny.

Einhorn points out that cases involving immigrants who do not have attorneys generally take longer to decide; those cases are more likely to be short-circuited, with judges deciding them in the government’s favor to help meet the required quota. If you or a loved one lives in Fayette County, Kentucky, or the surrounding area, and you have questions about immigration law or need representation in an immigration matter, Carman & Fullerton can help you, whether you speak English, Spanish or another language. Your future and that of your family is at stake, so contact us today.