The White House


took steps to im­pose “nu­meric per­for­mance stan­dards” on im­mi­gra­tion judges, who said the move will threaten ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is tak­ing steps to im­pose “nu­meric per­for­mance stan­dards” on fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion judges, draw­ing a sharp re­buke from judges who say pro­duc­tion quo­tas or sim­i­lar mea­sures will threaten ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence, as well as their abil­ity to de­cide life-or-death de­por­ta­tion cases.

The White House says it aims to re­duce an “enor­mous” back­log of 600,000 cases, triple the num­ber in 2009, that crip­ples its abil­ity to de­port im­mi­grants as Pres­i­dent Trump man­dated in Jan­uary.

The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Im­mi­gra­tion Judges called the move un­prece­dented and says it will be the “death knell for ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence” in courts where im­mi­grants such as po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dents, women flee­ing vi­o­lence and chil­dren plead their cases to stay in the United States.

“That is a huge, huge, huge en­croach­ment on ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence,” said Dana Leigh Marks, spokes­woman and for­mer pres­i­dent of the as­so­ci­a­tion and a judge for more than 30 years. “It’s try­ing to turn im­mi­gra­tion judges into as­sem­bly-line work­ers.”

The White House tucked its pro­posal — a six-word state­ment say­ing it wants to “es­tab­lish per­for­mance met­rics for im­mi­gra­tion judges” — into a broader pack­age of im­mi­gra­tion re­forms it rolled out Sun­day night.

But other doc­u­ments ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Post show that the Jus­tice Depart­ment “in­tends to im­ple­ment nu­meric per­for­mance stan­dards to eval­u­ate Judge per­for­mance.”

The Jus­tice Depart­ment, which runs the courts through the Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fice for Im­mi­gra­tion Re­view, de­clined to com­ment or oth­er­wise pro­vide de­tails about the nu­meric stan­dards.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment has ex­pressed con­cern about the back­log and dis­cour­aged judges from let­ting cases drag on too long, though it has in­sisted that they de­cide the cases fairly and fol­low due process. On Thurs­day, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions ex­pressed con­cern that false asy­lum cases are clog­ging up the courts.

The judges’ union says its cur­rent con­tract lan­guage pre­vents the govern­ment from rat­ing them based on the num­ber of cases they com­plete or the time it takes to de­cide them.

But now, they say, the depart­ment is try­ing to re­scind that lan­guage, and ad­vo­cates say it could vi­o­late a fed­eral reg­u­la­tion that re­quires judges to “ex­er­cise their in­de­pen­dent judg­ment and dis­cre­tion” when de­cid­ing cases.

Ad­vo­cates and im­mi­gra­tion lawyers say im­pos­ing nu­mer­i­cal ex­pec­ta­tions on judges un­fairly faults them for the mas­sive back­log. Suc­ces­sive ad­min­is­tra­tions have ex­panded im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment with­out giv­ing the courts enough money or judges to de­cide cases in a timely way, they say. An av­er­age case for a non-de­tained im­mi­grant can drag on for more than two years, though some last much longer.

“Im­mi­gra­tion judges should have one goal and that goal should be the fair ad­ju­di­ca­tion of cases,” said Heidi Alt­man, di­rec­tor of pol­icy at the Na­tional Im­mi­grant Jus­tice Cen­ter, a non­profit that pro­vides le­gal ser­vices and ad­vo­cacy to im­mi­grants na­tion­wide. “That’s the only met­ric that should count.”

Im­mi­gra­tion lawyers say the pro­posed stan­dards risk adding to dis­ad­van­tages im­mi­grants al­ready face in im­mi­gra­tion courts. Most de­fen­dants do not speak English as their first lan­guage if at all, are not en­ti­tled to lawyers at the govern­ment’s ex­pense, and thou­sands end up try­ing to de­fend them­selves.

Of­ten im­mi­grants are jailed and given hear­ings in re­mote lo­ca­tions, such as ru­ral Ge­or­gia or Up­state New York, which makes it dif­fi­cult to gather records and wit­nesses needed to bring a case.

“Peo­ple’s lives are at risk in im­mi­gra­tion court cases, and to force judges to com­plete cases un­der a rapid time frame is go­ing to un­der­mine the abil­ity of those judges to make care­ful, well thought-out de­ci­sions,” said Gre­gory Chen, di­rec­tor of govern­ment re­la­tions for the Amer­i­can Im­mi­gra­tion Lawyers As­so­ci­a­tion, which has 15,000 mem­bers.

Tra­di­tional fed­eral judges are not sub­ject to quo­tas.

The rare pub­lic dis­pute between the im­mi­gra­tion judges and the Jus­tice Depart­ment comes as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is de­mand­ing a com­mit­ment to in­creased en­force­ment and other im­mi­gra­tion re­stric­tions in ex­change for le­gal sta­tus for 690,000 young un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants who, un­til re­cently, were pro­tected from de­por­ta­tion un­der an Obama-era pro­gram. Ses­sions an­nounced the end of the pro­gram last month, and the young im­mi­grants will start to lose their work per­mits and other pro­tec­tions in March.

In Jan­uary, Trump is­sued a slate of ex­ec­u­tive or­ders that sought to crack down on im­mi­gra­tion. He re­voked Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s lim­its on en­force­ment and ef­fec­tively ex­posed all 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants in the United States to ar­rest.

On Sun­day, Trump also called for more im­mi­gra­tion-en­force­ment lawyers and more de­ten­tion beds, which would fur­ther in­crease the caseloads of the courts.

He is also plan­ning to seek con­gres­sional fund­ing for an ad­di­tional 370 im­mi­gra­tion judges, which would more than dou­ble the cur­rent num­ber.

Im­mi­gra­tion ar­rests are up more than 40 per­cent since Trump took of­fice, and de­por­ta­tion or­ders are also ris­ing. From Feb. 1 to Au­gust 31, judges have is­sued 88,383 rul­ings, and in the ma­jor­ity of cases — 69,160 — im­mi­grants were de­ported or or­dered to vol­un­tar­ily leave the coun­try, a 36 per­cent in­crease over the cor­re­spond­ing pe­riod in 2016.

The im­mi­gra­tion courts have clam­ored for greater in­de­pen­dence from the Jus­tice Depart­ment for years and also have sought greater con­trol over their bud­get. They have long com­plained about a lack of fund­ing, burnout rates that ri­val that of prison war­dens, and caseloads ex­ceed­ing 2,000 each. Some judges are sched­ul­ing cases into 2022.

On Sun­day, Ses­sions — who ap­points the im­mi­gra­tion judges and is the court’s high­est author­ity — called the White House’s broad im­mi­gra­tion pro­pos­als “rea­son­able.”

“If fol­lowed, it will pro­duce an im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem with in­tegrity and one in which we can take pride,” he said.

“That is a huge, huge, huge en­croach­ment on ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence. It’s try­ing to turn im­mi­gra­tion judges into as­sem­bly-line work­ers.” Dana Leigh Marks, spokes­woman and for­mer pres­i­dent of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Im­mi­gra­tion Judges


Gus­tavo Tor­res, cen­ter, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of CASA de Mary­land, speaks to im­mi­grant rights sup­port­ers at the Capi­tol last month. The White House says the im­po­si­tion of ju­di­cial quo­tas aims to re­duce a back­log of cases that crip­ples its abil­ity to de­port im­mi­grants.

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