Federal immigration judges push for greater independence from DHS | St. Louis Immigration & Deportation Attorney Jim Hacking

Federal immigration judges are calling on Congress to make changes with the Department of Justice. Their call for independence may have significant effects on opening up immigration court records to the public for the first time in history.

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Judges lobbying for independence

The judges have intensified lobbying backed by the American Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association. Among phone calls, letters and personal trips to the Capitol, the judges say the immigration courts are backlogged and they need freedom. Judges are asking to have the power to control their own budgets, issue timely decisions and prevent unfair treatment of judges. The Justice Department bureaucracy is being blamed for causing some of the issue which the judges hope Congress can relieve. The DOJ has contributed to selling the Immigration Courts short rather than defending their independence or enhancing their stature,” the judges’ union, the National Association of Immigration Judges, said in a report given to Congress. “This has serious and insidious repercussions.”

New propositions for the Justice Department

Judges claim that a move out of the Justice Department would allow immigrant judges to decide which court records are to be kept from the public. Traditional court records are available to the public, but immigration court cases are kept confidential to protect the immigrant’s privacy. By creating a more transparent system of justice, not only will this create more credibility and trust for its workers but also give judges more authority. “These people work for the taxpayers. Why should they be able to hide anything?” The judges’ lobbying demonstrates a disconnect between immigration officers working at the front lines and lawmakers in Washington. This issue is urgent because if Congress passes a new immigration bill, immigration courts will be flooded with new cases. The Senate showed little support for judge’s pleas, but they are targeting the House for support. Critics say the costs of creating an independent immigration court are too high to consider although neither House nor Senate would state how much this would cost.

As of June the courts have over 300,000 cases pending, which is a record high. Judges handling about 1,500 cases each compared to 440 that federal judges have caused judges to suffer burnout. In cases of life-or-death matters, immigrants facing deportation where countries where their lives may be in danger and the separation of families requires individuals who are not burdened by a bureaucratic system and who can judge each case in a timely manner.

Our office has seen some real problems with the immigration courts that we have dealt with – specifically, Oakdale, Louisiana and the immigration court in Kansas City.  While we do believe that the people working there are doing their level best, the fact is the Courts are swamped and underfunded.  The Kansas City court expecially has been hit by funding cuts and a prohibition on hiring replacements when underpaid court staff leave for greener pastures.  Let’s hope that if immigration reform passes, that increased funding comes with it.

If you have questions regarding the new immigration reform, applying for a visa or the changing immigration laws, contact us at 314-961-8200 or visit our contact page.