Bi-Partisan House Bill Recommends Largest Increase Ever in Immigration Judges

Written by on May 21, 2015 in Immigration Courts with 3 Comments

4333774018_1016352d5e_o

This week, the House Appropriations Committee recommended the largest increase in immigration judges in history—$74 million for 55 new immigration judges, and other court improvements. The bipartisan bill acknowledges that a severe shortage of immigration judges has plagued the U.S. immigration system for years.

While Congress has increased immigration enforcement funding exponentially over the past decade, Congress has yet to provide the immigration courts commensurate funding to handle the hundreds of thousands of new removal cases courts receive each year. Each immigration judge was handling over 1,400 “matters” a year on average at the end of FY 2014—far more than federal judges (566 cases/year in 2011) or Social Security administrative law judges (544 hearings/year in 2007). Some judges reportedly have over 3,000 cases on their docket. The resulting backlog—which has increased 163% since 2003—has led to average hearing delays of over a year-and-a-half, according to a recent report, with serious adverse consequences.

These enormous backlogs and delays benefit neither immigrants nor the government—keeping those with valid claims in limbo and often in detention, delaying removal of those without valid claims, and calling into question the integrity of the immigration justice system.

As the Committee’s report on the bill states, the Committee recommended an increase of $74,719,000 or 21.5 percent to the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) for 55 additional Immigration Judge teams. The bill also funds enhancements to video teleconferencing and information technology capacity, as well as additional immigration support in coordination with Department of Homeland Security enforcement initiatives. The Committee expected that the EOIR would deploy additional immigration judges and supporting personnel to areas with the highest workload.

Despite this welcome news, more needs to be done to create a more efficient and fair judicial process—most significantly, providing immigrants a meaningful right to counsel. The House Committee did not fund the Obama Administration’s request for $50 million for lawyers for children—leaving minors, including very young children, to continue to represent themselves in immigration court. This is neither moral nor practical, and unnecessarily burdens judges who would prefer to conduct fair hearings more expeditiously. Nor does the bill expand funding for DOJ’s legal orientation program, which provides “know-your-rights” presentations to detainees.

Ultimately, problems plaguing the immigration courts, like so many other problems with the immigration system, will be addressed by comprehensive reform, not funding alone. In the short term, however, addressing the basic lack of resources for immigration courts is a necessary step forward.

Photo by Greg Westfall.

Tags: , , ,

Subscribe

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed
  • RetiredINS

    Where is the applicant pool for immigration judges? Will struggling immigration attorneys apply for these positions and give up the dream of making lots of money if comprehensive immigration reform is passed? I hope so because there are very few attorneys with a knowledge of immigration laws outside the immigration attorney pool.

    I know some very good attorneys who have come in from the dark side and taken jobs as immigration judges. They no longer have to put pressure on illegal aliens to make monthly payments. They are not rich, but the pay is respectable and steady.

    • fitnesspro22

      Regretfully, in the past most IG positions have been filled with inexperienced Government employees from other departments, with few exceptions, such as trial attorneies working for DHS/ICE (“prosecuting attorneys”). There are many mature and experienced immigration lawyers that would be willing to serve. Also, it appears that nepotism is widely spread in the selection of Immigration Judges.

      • RetiredINS

        I have known lots of trial attorneys and only a few were good attorneys, both in legal ability and personal ethics. The same is true of private practice immigration attorneys. I have helped disbar many unethical attorneys.

        The real money is in the business visas, but that requires a lot of skill and the competition for clients can be fierce. My last 27 years with immigration were spent in a location without an immigration court, so I have very little experience with the selection of immigration judges.

Top
626 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share
+1