Trump's Justice Department Is Now Using Quotas to Get Judges to Deport People Faster

Photo via Getty Images
Photo via Getty Images

The Justice Department will begin rating immigration judges’s job performance based on how quickly they close cases, according to a memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. While there is a massive backlog of cases—leaving immigrants in limbo for years—it’s hard, given the extra extra racist ambitions of this administration, to see this as a good faith approach to alleviating a bloated system. Under the helm of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, expediting these cases sure seems like an attempt to deport more people.


A March 30 memo sent to immigration judges from the Executive Office for Immigration Review emphasized that these new quotas will, “encourage efficient and effective case management while preserving immigration judge discretion and due process.”

From The Wall Street Journal:

Under the new quotas, judges will be required to complete 700 cases a year and to see fewer than 15% of their decisions sent back by a higher court. Over the past five years, the average judge completed 678 cases in a year, said Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley. But there was a range, he said, with some judges completing as many as 1,500 cases in a year.

In addition, they will be required to meet other metrics, depending on their particular workload. One standard demands that 85% of removal cases for people who are detained be completed within three days of a hearing on the merits of the case. Another metric demands that 95% of all merits hearings be completed on the initial scheduled hearing date.

The union representing the judges warns that these quotas could encourage rushed court proceedings and influence judges’ decision-making. While the backlog of cases, and arbitrary nature of many deportation cases, forces many undocumented immigrants to live in a world of uncertainty, immigration advocates point out that creating a speedier deportation factory isn’t the solution.

Laura Lynch of the American Immigration Lawyers Association told CNN, “Creating an environment where the courts care more about the speed than the accuracy, and where judges are evaluated and even rewarded based on quantity rather than quality is unacceptable and a violation of due process.”

Another way to address the glut in our system? Stop detaining hundreds of thousands of people.

Staff writer, mint chocolate hater.


The Noble Renard

Fun fact; if an immigration judge (IJ) actually relies on any of these quotas in making an individual decision to refuse a request to delay a hearing, it’s a clear-cut violation of the law; judges cannot use case completion goals in making decisions. This is because IJs are required to decide cases based on the individual circumstances of the person in front of them. However, these case-completion goals will create undue pressure on IJs to speed up decisions. Even more frustratingly, the imposition of these binding case completion goals don’t come with any additional logistical and administrative support for IJs, who typically do not have their own law clerk but have to share clerks with other judges. Without additional law clerks, judges are going to have a hard time issuing expedient decisions without having to essentially make quick calls on a lot of things that actually demand substantial time taken to evaluate the issue.

The late, great, Harry Pregerson of the Ninth Circuit wrote a few years back about why the Immigration Court’s pursuit of expediency is really awful for immigrants who find themselves screwed over by the immigration courts’ reluctance to delay proceedings. From the 2007 case Mendoza-Mazariegos v. Mukasey:

Though the IJ does not specifically cite his crowded docket in the decision, it is clear from the hearing transcript that the two-year delay that would have been required to grant [his attorney]’s request for a “short continuance” was a significant reason why the request was not granted. This is not an acceptable justification for the denial of the right to counsel.   The IJ, BIA, and the government all repeatedly lament that Mendoza’s proceeding had stretched on for almost five years. It should be clear to the government that Mendoza should not be blamed for the fact that two minor scheduling conflicts required that his case be delayed for three years. Neither is it Mendoza’s fault that the short continuance [his attorney] requested would have required another two-year delay. It is disturbing that an individual petitioner was, in effect, punished for the crowded docket of the immigration courts. Petitioners should not be forced to proceed without counsel because of the scheduling problems of the immigration court. As frustrating as delays might be, an immigrant’s right to counsel should not be sacrificed because of the shortcomings of the immigration system itself.

The person quoted from AILA is completely correct; this decision will push a lot of IJs towards speed over accuracy. The great IJs, the ones who have been doing this for years and have established their own sense of independence away from the bullshit, will likely stand firm. But this is especially bad for IJs who are still in their first two years of service, when they are still technically in a probationary period and getting a negative performance review could have serious career consequences.

Finally, I encourage people who want to get some sense of how ridiculous the immigration court system is to watch John Oliver’s piece from last Sunday, which covered topics like the huge backlogs, rapid hearings, lack of judicial independence seen in almost any other court system, and any right to court-provided counsel even for children.