As immigration reform efforts gain momentum, some surprising groups are pushing for change. One of these groups is federal immigration judges who are lobbying Congress to separate them from the Department of Justice. Many of immigration judges feel that granting independence from the Department of Justice will reduce unfair treatment of judges, allow more time to consider cases and provide more transparency for the public.
The immigration system has long been criticized for its harsh treatment of immigrants, but it is rare to hear of hardships for immigration judges. As a long time immigration lawyer in Austin, I recognize that the demands on many immigration judges can contribute to hurried decisions and greater costs to the system through appeals.
Unlike most judges which are responsible for about 440 cases, immigration judges handle almost 1,500 cases. This enormous caseload can lead to burnout and poorly managed outcomes. This is, in part, a product of an overburdened immigration legal system which has almost 300,000 cases on backlog. Immigration judges are also concerned that new reform measures, like increased access to legal representation, could significantly add to this backlog.
The plight of overworked immigration judges has spurred labor groups to become involved as well as the American Bar Association and Federal Bar Associations. The National Association of Immigration Judges has submitted a report to Congress indicating that the Department of Justice’s authority over immigration judges has diminished the judiciary. The inability to hold people in contempt has restricted judicial authority, and the DOJ has even disciplined some judges who failed to produce a desired decision.
Other labor unions in the Department of Homeland Security have pressed Congress to open immigrant cases to the public. The National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, a group representing deportation and detention officers, has urged Congress to let the public have access to immigration cases.
The Senate’s recent bill did not address this issue despite pressure from these groups. Some Senatorial aides suggested that a move to differentiate the IJs from the Department of Justice would be too costly. The Department of Justice has also argued that separating the judiciary would be require “significant resources.”
The Senate bill that passed in June included a provision that would double the number of immigration court judges. This would add almost 225 more judges over three years. The bill also stipulates that each judge would receive a staff attorney or law clerk, as opposed to the current situation where one law clerk serves four judges. An additional 90 Board of Immigration Appeals staff attorney would also be hired over three years.
While no legal system is perfect, the current legal system has serious issues that require attention. As an immigration attorney in Austin, I have encountered the issues of overworked immigration judges and lack of transparency during the course of my work.
Lyttle Law Firm, PLLC is dedicated to providing premier legal advice and representation to its clients in the fields of immigration and family law. To learn more about how Lyttle Law Firm, PLLC can assist you, please contact us at (512) 215-5225.