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Immigration Judges Request Separation from the Department of Justice

1409595_gavel_5.jpgImmigration judges have joined the litany of interest groups lobbying Congress during immigration reform – but this group is lobbying for a very different reason. Immigration judges are requesting that Congress remove their court system from the purview of the Department of Justice (DOJ). If Congress grants their request, the immigration court system would be completely revolutionized and publicly open for the first time in history.

The Current Organization of the Immigration Court System

At present, the immigration court system is overseen and administered by the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), and EOIR itself is an agency with the DOJ.
The purpose of the immigration court system is to preside over removal (deportation) proceedings for foreign nationals. Any cases that are appealed from the immigration court go to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is also part of EOIR. There are approximately fifty-nine immigration courts across the country, staffed by more than 200 judges.

Why the Judges Want Separation

A large part of the impetus for the current immigration reform is the present backlog at immigration courts. With approximately 325,296 cases, the average wait time for a foreign national to come before an immigration judge is 553 days – though this wait time increases to about three years in major cities such as Chicago and New York. Additionally, the judges state that the high amount of cases has resulted in judges “burning out” since they preside over an estimated 1,500 cases each – quite a large docket when compared to the average 440 cases federal judges hear per year.

The Rant

Separating the immigration courts from the DOJ may go a long way towards decreasing the case backlog and streamlining case processing and resolution. Quicker processing times would greatly affect those foreign nationals who are facing deportation and could also affect U.S. taxpayers whose tax dollars in part fund detention centers that house foreign nationals while they await trial. Check back with our blog for updates on this interesting aspect of immigration reform.

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According to the judges, this backlog had resulted in large part due to the DOJ bureaucracy, and if the judges were separated from the DOJ, they would have the freedom to implement their own budgets and issue faster court decisions.

The judges also state that by separating the immigration courts from the DOJ, the judges will be able to decide which court records can be made public (an institutional practice that is similar to other courts). Currently, many immigration court records are kept private.

Congress’s Response

The judges are lobbying Congress about this issue right now because they predict that once the new immigration reform passes, the already congested court system will be flooded with new cases. While this is a valid concern, the judges have met with little success in the Senate. An aide in the Senate stated that the Senators feel that separating the immigration courts from the DOJ would be too expensive, and that is why they did not include any related provisions for separation in the bill. A spokeswoman for EOIR voiced similar concerns about the cost to separate the immigration courts, stating that to do so would require significant resources at a time when all branches and agencies of the federal government are trying to cut costs.

The judges are now contacting members of the House of Representatives in the hopes that these legislators will heed their request.

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Appeal on Controversial Alabama Immigration Law, ImmigRantings, May 8, 2013
More States Expected to Exert Control Regarding Illegal Immigration Problems, ImmigRantings, August 3, 2012
Congressional Black Caucus Opposes Immigration Reform Bill, ImmigRantings, May 14, 2013