The independence of the immigration courts system is under unprecedented political pressure after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved to implement a tougher regime of quotas and deadlines for the backlogged courts, the head of a judges’ union said Friday.
Judge Ashley Tabaddor, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, sounded the alarm on Sessions’ rules in a press conference Friday. Tabaddor is an immigration judge in Los Angeles, but spoke in her role as the head of the union.
“This is an unprecedented act which compromises the integrity of the court and undermines the decisional independence of our immigration judges, all in the name of addressing the 750,000-backlog of cases which continue to grow with every action of this administration,” she said.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Beginning Oct. 1, immigration judges will be required to complete 700 cases a year, under a plan that was unveiled by Sessions in a memo earlier this year. The Justice Department oversees the immigration courts system, which falls under Article 1. Sessions has long complained about the backlog of immigration cases, in part because they allow immigrants who face deportation to remain in the United States while their cases are pending.
But the new regime could endanger judges’ jobs and immigrants’ due process rights, Tabaddor said. She stressed that Sessions’ directive placed excessive pressure on judges.
“Nobody is sitting there in the courtroom, twiddling their thumb,” she said.
The NAIJ president’s comments are the latest sign of growing tensions between the group and Main Justice. Last month, the NAIJ filed a formal grievance with the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the DOJ office that oversees the immigration courts, after managers reassigned a Philadelphia immigration judge’s cases.
On Friday, Tabaddor insisted that if the Sessions were interested in making immigration courts more efficient, the DOJ could focus on shoring up resources, training and support staff for judges. Tabaddor said she hasn’t spoken directly with Sessions, but would welcome the opportunity.
Tabaddor also called on Congress to remove the immigration courts from under the Justice Department’s purview, describing the current set-up as a “fundamental flaw.”