Judge Marks writes:
“Immigration courts nationwide have a backlog of more than 598,900 cases. In some of our nation’s busiest courts, such cases remain pending more than 500 days. Just more than 300 immigration judges nationwide grapple with this backlog, which increased by 100,000 in the last year alone.
Even more troubling, as the caseload rises, the rate of completing cases has been dropping. And while there are several reasons for this, our courts have been left in the lurch by ineffective management that has failed to provide adequate support staff and strategic planning.
In the past five years, immigration judges have decided more than 1,329,950 cases, but we can do even better. The key is assuring judicial independence and protection from political influences. Removing the immigration courts from the Department of Justice, where the courts are run by politically appointed law enforcement managers subject to the pressures of politics, and placing them in an independent court structure, would insulate them from those pressures and allow them to concentrate on completing cases in a fair way.
When cases are conducted fairly, there is less likelihood of appeal or political attack. More skilled court management, provided by experienced court administrators, rather than a law enforcement agency with priorities other than fairness and efficiency, would greatly enhance our ability to complete the tasks. For example, cases would not be docketed to make political statements or serve as a show of force by our government. Rather, they would be on the calendar based on due process needs. Judges need to be allowed to apply their expertise to make their dockets run smoothly and fairly.
Restructuring immigration courts would be a win-win, a solution that would ease the pressures on an overwhelmed system and facilitate timely and fair decisions. Structural reform would go a long way toward assuring we are able to answer the challenges that surely will continue.
Dana Leigh Marks is an immigration judge in San Francisco and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. The views expressed here are solely those of the author in consultation with the NAIJ.”
Read Judge Marks’s full, article, which has an excellent succinct description of the important work performed by U.S. Immigration Judges, at the above link.
I agree totally with my good friend and former colleague Dana that an independent Immigration Court is a “win-win.” Pouring more Immigration Judges (particularly with little or no training) into an already dysfunctional system has actually resulted in fewer completions and is almost certain to increase the already disturbing discrepancies in asylum grant rates, etc.
But, getting officials in today’s highly politicized Department of Justice to support such a move is difficult. As I pointed out in an earlier post/article, http://immigrationcourtside.com/we-need-an-article-i-united-states-immigration-court-now/ one of the two reasons that Government officials sometimes fail to act in their own and the country’s best interests is “uncompromising philosophy.”
Jeff Sessions’s extreme anti-immigrant philosophy has led him to eschew “smart” immigration enforcement in favor of a “gonzo” policy of indiscriminate prosecution, jailing, detaining, deporting, and using the Immigration Courts as an adjunct of DHS enforcement, while trying to avoid the Immigration Court system entirely through a policy of increased “expedited removal.” Ultimately, this program, which lacks both credibility and due process, is very likely to fail and lead to a logjam in the Article III Courts. This, in turn, will result in almost nobody getting removed and Article III Judges making decisions about how the Immigration Court system should be run.
I don’t share Dana’s optimism that Sessions could be persuaded to cede his total control over the staffing and functioning of the U.S. Immigration Courts to an independent authority who would run it in accordance with due process. Although that would be in his best interests, I see no evidence that he is reflective enough to get beyond his long history of immigrant bashing and furthering a white nationalist agenda. I’d like to be proved wrong on this, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
As I have pointed out several times before, when a system with over 600,000 pending cases finally “crashes and burns,” it’s going to take a big chunk of the American justice system with it. Maybe, just maybe, at that point legislators will finally have to do their jobs, step in, and create an independent Immigration Court, with or without the support of the Administration and the DOJ.