In an effort to reduce the case backlog in U.S. immigration courts, the Department of Justice enacted a new quota for judges. In a memo to immigration judges, the Executive Office for Immigration Review said in order to receive a ‘satisfactory’ performance review, judges would need to complete 700 immigration cases a year, or roughly three each day.
Justice Department spokesperson Devin O’Malley said it’s not that different from what some judges are already doing.
“On average, immigration judges are completing about 678 cases per year in one estimate and 807 in another estimate,” he said.
Groups like the National Association of Immigration Judges and the American Immigration Lawyers Association oppose the move. They say it would strip judges of independence and deny defendants due process.
“It pits the judge’s personal livelihood to the mere completion of cases faster through the system, rather than making decisions that are based on the facts and the law of the case, as they took the oath to do,” said NAIJ President Ashley Tabaddor.
In Georgia, there are more than 21,000 cases pending in immigration courts.
Tracie Klinke, an Atlanta immigration attorney and local AILA chapter chair, said under the new rules, judges could feel pressure to rush cases.
“It might help the backlog, but does it help justice and getting cases heard fairly and accurately?” Klinke says. “I don’t think it will.”
Klinke said cases that involve clients seeking asylum can take up to four hours. She says that kind of time is often needed, since those cases can be complex.
“[Those clients] won’t have the chance to fully tell their story, to have the types of evidence presented that really should be presented, because these judges are looking at the clock going, ‘I’ve only adjudicated one case today and it’s 4:30,'” she said.
O’Malley says the Justice Department made an agreement with the immigration judges’ union that includes some relief for those who can’t meet the quota.
“There’s an internal process that they can go through to provide a reasonable explanation for not hitting that metric, and it will be reviewed internally,” he says.
The AILA says upgrading to an electronic filing system would be a more effective way to ease the backlog. O’Malley says the DOJ is working on that.