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The U.S. Department of Justice has been giving mixed signals about the state of its reform of the troubled management of the immigration judge corps, telling the federal judiciary, on one hand, that major changes are “fully implemented,” but telling the immigration judges’ union, on the other, that reform plans are still under review. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales reported in March to the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policy-making body of the federal courts, the completion of nine of 22 reforms he ordered nearly one year ago to improve the quality of immigration judging. But a memo this week to the immigration judges’ union stated that the department is not ready to bargain with the union over proposals for change because “fully implemented” means that they are still “reviewing and preparing agency proposals on the nine measures.” Union surprised Union president Denise Slavin, an immigration judge in Miami, said that the union was surprised by the claims of full implementation “because we had not seen any changes on the ground.” Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said he could not provide any comments on the disparity in reform statements. The nation’s 215 immigration judges are hired and supervised by the Justice Department and are not part of the federal judiciary. In recent years, federal appellate courts have become increasingly vocal in public criticism of bias and abusive conduct toward aliens by some immigration judges. The reforms described as “fully implemented” in a March 14 memo by Kevin Rooney, retiring director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), include performance evaluations of sitting judges, competence exams for new judges, a formal discipline system for judicial misconduct and improved transcription of court hearings. But a letter to the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) from David Crosland, assistant chief immigration judge, states: “The term ‘fully implemented’ was not used in the memorandum in the same context as it is used in the labor relations context.” Rather it was used in the memo “to indicate that the EOIR had completed the specific task required by the measure which generally involved coming up with a plan and submitting that plan to the AG,” Crosland wrote. “We are currently reviewing and preparing agency proposals on the nine measures. Once that process is complete, NAIJ will be provided an opportunity to bargain to the extent required by law,” he said. Slavin said she worries the union will be the scapegoat for reform delays. “My fear is: If problems arise with implementation deadlines, they will blame us. I don’t think they left a lot of time in for the negotiation process,” Slavin said. She pointed to the creation of performance evaluations for judges, a major change that Slavin has said could implicate judicial independence if evaluations take rulings into account.

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