Facing an unending case load is nothing new for immigration judges. Immigration courts are known for having backlogs of cases months – or even years – long.
But in the last few years, these judges have begun leaving the bench in startlingly high numbers. In the last year alone, 35 such judges have either retired or resigned. What accounts for this mass exodus from the bench?
Executive influence over the court
It’s worth understanding that the immigration court system does not function in the same way as a traditional court system. Immigration courts are part of the executive branch of government – rather than the judicial branch. These courts serve as part of a law enforcement agency (the Department of Justice) and must answer to a federal prosecutor (the U.S. Attorney General) – who is appointed by the president of the United States.
This means that the president of the United States has direct influence over how immigration courts operate. By effect, the way in which these courts operate can change whenever there is a new president.
New pressures and priorities
Over the last few years, immigration judges have faced unprecedented micromanagement. The White House has pushed for law enforcement policy that treats immigration courts more like assembly lines. Immigration judges are given quotas for case rulings – regardless of the complexity or nuance of the case. There has been an increased focus on quantity – rather than quality – of court rulings. This has hindered judges’ ability to make thoughtful decisions based on facts, evidence and the law.
As more and more judges have become disillusioned with the immigration court system, new immigration judges are being ushered in to fill those seats. While these judges may be able to make decisions to comply with the administration’s guidelines, they may not realize that such decisions may not survive appellate scrutiny. Therefore, this type of approach is ultimately making the system less efficient.
Whether the immigration courts should remain under the control of the executive branch of government is a hotly debated question. What do you think?