Immigration judges around the country are denouncing the Trump administration’s latest move to “disband and destroy” their union.
The judges’ union has been openly critical of the administration’s immigration enforcement agenda.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a petition to the Federal Labor Relations Authority on Friday asking to revoke the National Association of Immigration Judges’ (NAIJ) union certification. Department officials claim that NAIJ members are “management officials” and therefore banned from collectively organizing.
Judge Amiena Khan, vice president of NAIJ, says the step to decertify is a “a misguided effort to minimize our impact. We serve as a check and balance… and that’s why they are doing this to us.”
Under their official capacity as DOJ employees, immigration judges cannot publicly speak out on issues that could be considered political. But representatives of the union can discuss—and criticize—DOJ policies on behalf of its members. They have done so since the union’s founding in 1971.
But tensions between the department and immigration judges have only escalated in recent years. The union has even called on Congress to remove the immigration court system from the DOJ and establish it as an independent entity.
In 2018, the Trump administration implemented case completion quotas as part of immigration judges’ performance reviews, compelling them to decide cases under strict deadlines. The quota was set in place to tackle the growing backlog of pending cases, which now totals more than 930,300.
The quotas do not take the complexity of a case into consideration, nor the due process rights granted to all immigrants in court. Judges also risk termination if they do not complete the quota deadline.
NAIJ called the move a “death knell for judicial independence in the immigration courts.”
At the same time, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions stripped judges of their ability to manage their caseload by taking away a vital case management tool. He also made it more difficult for judges to grant asylum to domestic violence victims, as well as dismiss cases.
These changes are amounting to a slower system with an increased backlog. Immigration judge and NAIJ President Ashley Tabaddor noted last month:
“…It’s just a lot of chaos and counterproductive measures that undermine the ability of judges to use their expertise to help a case go through the system.”
The call to dismantle the union appears to fall under that same goal of undermining and silencing immigration judges.
NAIJ plans to respond to the administration’s petition once it receives an official notice from the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The agency will then likely investigate NAIJ to determine whether its certification can be revoked.
The union once faced similar threats under President Bill Clinton and survived. For the sake of due process, the outcome will hopefully be the same this time too.
FILED UNDER: Department of Justice, immigration court backlog, immigration judges, Jeff Sessions