Maria Sacchetti reports in the Washington Post:
“The Department of Justice said Friday it is aiming to slash the massive immigration court backlog in half by 2020 by adding judges, upgrading technology and refusing to tolerate repeated delays in deportation cases.
Officials, who briefed reporters on condition that they not be identified by name, said the effort is part of the Trump administration’s broad plan to more efficiently handle cases of undocumented immigrants, who number 11 million nationwide.
The administration has reversed Obama-era policies that allowed prosecutors to indefinitely postpone low-priority cases, which the Justice Department officials said allowed some immigrants to delay “inevitable” deportations. In other cases, they said, immigrants who deserved to win their cases were delayed for years because of the backlog.
The immigration court backlog has tripled since 2009, the year former president Obama took office, to more than 630,000 cases in October.
“That is what this administration is committed to, getting this done right, ensuring that we’re never in this place again,” a Justice Department official said. “Really and truly, when you look at the numbers . . . it reflects the fact that the last administration likely wasn’t as committed to ensuring that the system worked the way that Congress intended it to.”
The agency, which oversees the administrative immigration courts, said it plans to hire new immigration judges, use technology such as videoconferencing, and increase judges’ productivity by setting case-completion guidelines, though officials would not give details.
The department also will have a “no dark courtrooms” policy, the officials said, explaining that there are at least 100 courtrooms nationwide that are empty every Friday because of judges’ alternate work schedules. The Justice Department is tapping retired judges to fill those courts.
The immigration court overhaul comes as the Trump administration is carrying out policies that could generate even more cases in coming months. Arrests and deportations from the interior of the United States are rising sharply, and the Trump administration has ended Obama-era protections for some undocumented immigrants, including 690,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.
By Monday, the Trump administration is also expected to say if it will renew temporary protected status for thousands of longtime immigrants from Honduras and Nicaragua whose permits expire next year.
The Justice Department officials said they are no longer widely using certain protections for undocumented immigrants, including a tool known as prosecutorial discretion that allowed the government to set aside low-priority deportation cases.
DOJ officials criticized immigration lawyers, saying they “have purposely used tactics designed to delay” immigration cases. As of 2012, the officials said, there were an average of four continuances for each case before the court.
Gregory Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the administration’s plan to cut the backlog would “undermine judicial independence” in the immigration courts.
“This administration has been extremely hostile toward the judiciary and the independence of immigration judges, as well as other judges,” Chen said.
Speeding up cases depends partly on congressional funding. It also rests partly on the actions of immigration judges, who have expressed concerns about due process for immigrants, many of whom are facing deportation to some of the world’s most violent countries. Immigrants are not entitled to a government-appointed lawyer in these courts and often handle cases on their own.
The Justice officials would not comment on reports that they will impose case-completion quotas on judges, which raised an outcry from the judges’ union. But the officials said they would give judges clear standards to complete cases and add more supervisors.
Officials say they are already seeing results from efforts this year to improve efficiency. From February to September, judges ordered 78,767 people to leave the country, a 33 percent jump over the same period in 2016. The total number of final decisions, which includes some immigrants who won their cases, is 100,921.”
- Using retired U.S. Immigration Judges to fill in while Immigration Judges are on leave or otherwise scheduled to be out of court is a good idea. Indeed, the National Association of Immigration Judges (“NAIJ”) has been pushing this idea since the Clinton Administration with no results until now. Additionally, finally taking advantage of the available “Phased Retirement Options” for the the many Immigration Judges nearing retirement could also be helpful.
- Over time, hiring additional Immigration Judges could be helpful, at least in theory. But, that depends on whether the hiring is done on a merit basis, the new judges are properly trained, and they have the space, equipment, and support staff to function. The DOJ/EOIR’s past record on accomplishing such initiatives has been beyond abysmal. So, it’s just as likely that additional hiring will harm the Immigraton Courts’ functioning as it is that it will help.
- “Productivity standards” are totally inappropriate for an independent judiciary. They are almost certain to infringe on due process by turning judges into “assembly line workers.” Moreover, if hiring is done properly, judges should be self-motivated professionals who don’t need “Micky Mouse performance evaluations” to function. While it might be helpful to have some “periodic peer review” involving input from those appearing before the courts and judges of courts reviewing the judges’ work, such as takes place in some other independent judicial systems, that clearly isn’t they type of system this Administration has in mind.
- More use of Televideo is problematic. In person hearings are definitely better for delivering due process. The EOIR Televideo equipment tends to be marginal from a technology standpoint. “Pushing the envelope” on Televideo could well force the Article IIIs to finally face up and hold at least some applications of this process unconstitutional.
- More “Supervisory Judges” are totally unnecessary and a waste of resources. In the “EOIR World,” Supervisory Judges often don’t hear cases. Moreover, as noted previously, professional judges need little, if any, real “supervision.” The system might benefit from having local Chief Judges (“first among equals”), like in other independent judicial systems, who can address administrative issues with the Court Administrator and the public, But, judges don’t need supervision unless the wrong individuals are being selected as judges. And, as in the U.S. District Courts, local Chief Judges should carry meaningful case loads.
- Every other court system in the U.S., particularly the U.S. District Courts, rely on heavy doses of “Prosecutorial Discretion” (“PD”) by government prosecutors to operate. By eliminating PD from the DHS Chief Counsels, then touting their misguided actions, this Administration has guaranteed the ultimate failure of any backlog reduction plan. Moreover, this stupid action reduces the status of the DHS Assistant Chief Counsels. There is no other system I’m aware of where the enforcement officials (“the cops”) rather than professional prosecutors make the decisions as to which cases to prosecute. PD and sensible use of always limited docket time is part of the solution, not the problem, in the Immigration Courts.
- The DOJ and EOIR continue to perpetuate the myth that private attorneys are responsible for the backlogs. No, the backlogs are primarily the result of Congressional negligence multiplied by improper politically motived docket manipulation and reschuffling to meet DHS enforcement priorities by the last three Administrations, including this one! This Administration was responsible for unnecessarily “Dark Courtrooms” earlier this year in New York and other heavily backlogged Immigration Courts.
- Although not highlighted in this article, EOIR Acting Director James McHenry recently admitted during Congressional testimony that EOIR has been working on e-filing for 16 years without achieving any results! Thats incredible! McHenry promised a “Pilot Program” in 2018 with no telling when the system will actually be operational. And DOJ/EOIR has a well-established record of problematic and highly disruptive “technology rollouts.”
- As usual, the DOJ/EOIR “numbers” don’t add up. EOIR “touts” compleating approximately 100,000 cases in the 7-month period ending on August 31, 2017. That’s on a pace to complete fewer than 200,000 cases for a fiscal year. But, EOIR receives an average of at least 300,000 new cases each year (even without some of the “Gonzo” Enforcement by the Trump DHS). So, EOIR would have to “pick up the pace” considerably just to keep the backlogs from growing (something EOIR hasn’t done since before 2012). Not surprisingly, TRAC and others show continually increasing backlogs despite having more judges on board. To cut the backlog from 640,000 to 320,000 (50%) by 2020, the courts would have to produce an additional 160,000 annual completions in 2018 and 2019! That, in turn, would require completing a total of at least 460,000 cases in each of those years. That’s an increase of 230% over the rate touted by DOJ/EOIR in the Post article. Not going to happen, particularly since we’re already more than one month into FY 2018 and Congress has yet to authorize or appropriate the additional resources the DOJ wants!
- The DOJ hocus pocus, fake numbers, unrealistic plans, political scheming, cover-ups, blame shifting, and gross mismanagement of the U.S. Immigration Courts must end!
- Unless and until Congress creates an independent, professionally managed Article I Immigration Court, any additional resources thrown into the current Circus being presided over by Jeff Sessions’s DOJ would be wasted.