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Overwhelmed US Immigration Judges Encouraged to Spend 2.5 Hours Per Case

Immigration judges in the US are under more pressure than ever before to handle a backlog of more than 750,000 impending immigration cases.

Under new quotas announced by the Department of Justice in March, immigration judges in the U.S. are under more pressure than ever before to handle a backlog of more than 750,000 impending immigration cases.

Starting October 1, a new set of performance standards for immigration judges will take effect, structured primarily around completion numbers, remand rates, and meeting case completion deadlines.

In order to meet what would be considered “satisfactory performance” standards, between October 1, 2018, and September 30, 2019, immigration judges are expected to complete 700 cases per year, maintain a remand rate of less than 15 percent and meet predetermined time deadlines based on the nature of the case.

Speaking in her capacity as the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ), Ashley Tabaddor, a federal immigration judge in Los Angeles, claimed that these guidelines are unrealistic if high-quality rulings are to be issued.

“According to [the DOJ’s] own numbers which are faulty … that means the entire lifespan of a case is supposed to be two-and-a-half hours, three hours max,” Tabaddor told audience members at the National Press Club on Friday. “I just want you to imagine two-and-a-half hours to review filings, to have a hearing, to hear testimony, to deliberate and to issue a decision.”

Despite inquiries into the DOJ as to how these specific quotas and deadlines were reached, Tabaddor said that to date, it remains unclear how department officials came up with this “one size fits all approach” to immigration hearings.

In the realm of immigration law these time constraints can have severe consequences and in many situations, could be the difference between life or death, according to Tabaddor.

“In the context of cases we hear, rush decisions carry a much higher risk of error, especially considering that immigration law is one of the most complicated areas of the law,” she said. “Rush decisions can impede ensuring fairness of the proceedings and lead to due process violations.”

Looking towards the future, the only way for immigration judges to exercise pure, uninfluenced authority over immigration cases is for the creation of a “truly independent immigration court, established outside of the Department of Justice and divorced from all political influences” to take place, Tabaddor noticed. 

“The immigration court suffers from a fundamental flaw of being housed in the Department of Justice, headed by the nation’s top federal prosecutor, the United States attorney general,” she said. “As a result, the decision making authority of our judges to be independent decision makers presiding over hearing in immigration court is under unprecedented attack.”

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