Jonathan Blitzer writes in The New Yorker:
“In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions travelled to Nogales, Arizona, to make an announcement. “This is the Trump era,” he said. “The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigrations laws, and the catch-and-release practices of old are over.” While his tone was harsh, and many of the proposals he outlined were hostile to immigrants, he detailed one idea that even some of his critics support: the hiring of more immigration judges.
U.S. immigration courts are facing a backlog of over half a million cases—and each one, on average, takes almost two years to close. These delays mean that everyone from asylum seekers to green-card holders faces extended stays in detention while awaiting rulings. Speaking about the problem, one immigration judge recently told the Times, “The courts as a whole lose credibility.”
Much of the backlog can be traced back to the Obama Administration, when spending on immigration enforcement went up, while Congress dramatically limited funds for hiring more judges. The number of pending cases grew from a hundred and sixty-seven thousand, in 2008, to five hundred and sixty thousand, in 2017, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. The broader trend, though, goes back farther. Since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, in 2002, the increase in resources allocated for border security and immigration policing has always significantly outpaced funding for the courts. (Immigration courts are part of the Department of Justice.) As more and more people have been arrested, detained, and ordered deported, the courts have remained understaffed and underfunded. “We’ve always been an afterthought,” Dana Leigh Marks, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told me.
Roughly three hundred judges nationwide are responsible for the entire immigration caseload, and hiring is slow—filling a vacancy typically tak
es about two years, according to the Government Accountability Office. In Nogales, Sessions said that he would try to streamline the hiring process. But until that happens the Administration has been relocating judges to areas where they’re deemed most necessary. “We have already surged twenty-five immigration judges to detention centers along the border,” Sessions said, as if talking about military troop levels.”
To state the obvious, a court should be run as an independent court system, not a bureaucratic agency within a highly politicized Executive Department like the DOJ. (If you ever wondered whether the DOJ was politicized, recent events should make it clear that it is.)
And, Jeff, these are judges, not troops; and the individuals are not an “invading army,” just mostly ordinary folks seeking refuge, due process, and fair treatment under our laws and the Constitution. Remember, it’s not an immigration crisis; it’s a crisis involving the steady degradation of due process within the U.S. Immigration Court system.