A congressional oversight committee held a hearing this week on the need for immigration court reform and the systemic due process challenges within the immigration court system.
The House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship heard from several experts on the issue. Most experts made the case that the immigration court should transfer from the executive branch to the judiciary.
The immigration court system—or Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)—is housed within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The U.S. attorney general (AG) heads the department. This means the AG oversees immigration judges and the lawyers who respectively adjudicate and prosecute cases in immigration court.
Immigration judges do not enjoy many of the protections other federal judges receive. For example, federal judges typically enjoy life-tenure. But immigration judges have no fixed term of office and can be fired by the AG or be relocated to another court.
This inherent conflict of interest has plagued the immigration courts from the start. But a series of changes with the immigration court system in the past several years has made things even worse.
Beginning October 1, 2018, the AG subjected all immigration judges to individual case completion quotas tied to their performance evaluations. Critics claimed the move threatened to turn immigration judges into “assembly-line workers.”
Rushing judges through complicated cases that carry life-or-death consequences threatens to compromise due process. The hurried pace may also lead to an increase in appeals and federal litigation. This in turn could slow down the process and exacerbate a mounting immigration court backlog. Several other changes resulted in undermining the ability of immigration judges to adjudicate fairly and impartially.
The ever-growing backlog of immigration cases has served to justify the AG’s actions, without evidence that the policies would decrease the backlog. In fact, the policies have contributed to the backlog.
“America needs an immigration court that is free from improper influence on the decisions of immigration judges… The judicial role of the Immigration Court is simply irreconcilable with the law enforcement mission and role of the DOJ.”
The AG’s actions have shown us time and again that the current structure of the immigration court system makes a fair day in court one that impedes due process. The creation of an independent and impartial immigration court is essential.
Immigration judges, the American public, and immigrants appearing in immigration courts across the country would benefit. Our country needs an independent immigration court that reflects and advances our core values of fairness and justice.
FILED UNDER: Department of Justice, EOIR, immigration judges