Head of U.S. immigration judges' union denounces Trump quota plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration’s plan to impose a quota system on U.S. immigration judges represents a “new and dark era,” the head of the judges’ union said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Undocumented immigrants arrive by bus at a U.S. federal court for hearings in McAllen, Texas, U.S., June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

The Justice Department notified immigration judges earlier this year that it would begin evaluating their job performance on the basis of how many cases they complete, considering 700 completions annually “satisfactory performance.” The policy is due to take effect Oct. 1.

“This is an unprecedented act which compromises the integrity of the court” and pressures judges to quickly complete cases, possibly pitting their job security against the interests of immigrants, said Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“In 10 days our nation’s immigration courts and judges will enter a new and dark era,” she said.

Unlike the federal judiciary, an independent branch of government, U.S. immigration courts are run by the Department of Justice.

Asked about Tabaddor’s statements, a Department of Justice spokesman said the union “consistently attempts to block the Justice Department’s common-sense reforms to fix decades of immigration court mismanagement.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Republican former U.S. senator appointed by President Donald Trump, has ordered changes in how the immigration courts operate, saying he wants to speed up cases and reduce the courts’ backlog of about 700,000 pending cases.

Last month, seeking to speed up deportations, Sessions told immigration judges they should postpone cases in removal proceedings only “for good cause shown,” which he said would limit judges’ discretion and prohibit them from granting continuances “for any reason or no reason at all.”

Sessions has also rewritten decisions of the Board of Immigration Appeals, including one on Wednesday in which he limited judges’ ability to terminate deportation cases, saying they could only terminate or dismiss cases in “specific and circumscribed circumstances.”

Sessions said in a speech in June that the 700 case completions per year expected of judges was “about the average” and that “volume is critical” to addressing the courts’ backlog.

The judges’ union says that the country’s more than 300 immigration judges deal with cases of widely varying complexity and that no uniform quota is appropriate.

Tabaddor repeated the union’s position that Congress ought to remove the immigration court from the purview of the Justice Department.

“The only durable solution is to get the court away from the Justice Department. Let it be a real court, let it be real judges, so that we can do what we’re supposed to do,” she said.

Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Sue Horton and Cynthia Osterman