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Trump Administration Wants to Implement “Performance Metrics” for Immigration Judges

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The Trump Administration wants to “establish performance metrics for immigration judges”, reported the Washington Post yesterday, an idea which advocates say might threaten judicial independence and lead to worse outcomes for immigrants and families in deportation cases.

The proposal consists of six words tucked into Donald Trump’s “immigration principles”, released last Sunday night, in which Trump said that he wouldn’t support the Dream Act unless it came with a border wall, more enforcement agents, and a whole host of other anti-immigrant poison pills. There is a current backlog of 600,000 immigration cases, which is limiting Trump’s ability to deport more immigrants — and is keeping immigrants in detention for years.

As the Washington Post writes, the immigration judges’ union has contract language that prevents the government from rating them based on how many cases they decide or how long it takes them to do so. Rescinding that language might violate a federal regulation requiring judges to “exercise their independent judgement and discretion” when deciding cases, since they would be unable to properly do if subjected to arbitrary time pressures.

The proposal elicited concern from the National Association of Immigration Judges, which said it would be the “death knell for judicial independence,” as well as from advocates and immigration legal groups like the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the National Immigrant Justice Center (NILC).

Dana Leigh Marks, a former president of the National Association of Immigration Judges and a judge for more than 30 years, said the idea “is a huge, huge encroachment on judicial independence. It’s trying to turn immigration judges into assembly-line workers.”

Heidi Altman, director of policy at NILC, said that “immigration judges should have one goal and that goal should be the fair adjudication of cases. That’s the only metric that should count.”

Added Annaluisa Padilla, AILA President:

Subjecting judges to numeric case completion goals undermines one of the core principles of our judicial system – entitlement to a fair day in court. What the administration is proposing is akin to the assembly line justice that America has opposed in oppressive regimes around the globe.

Immigration court is already where critical decisions are made, often in very short amounts of time. It’s where asylum cases are considered and judges decide whether to send women and children back to countries where they may be harmed. It’s where deportation cases are adjudicated, which determine if immigrant mothers and fathers are allowed to stay in the US with their families. Undocumented immigrants are not entitled to have a lawyer if they can’t afford one, leaving many to try and (unsuccessfully) argue their cases by themselves. A 2014 Washington Post profile of one judge’s courtroom found that the judge decided cases in an average of seven minutes.

Instead of trying to improve this process, Trump wants to harry it — to make judges take on more cases, and decide them faster, which would give immigrants even less time to explain why they should be allowed to stay. From Feb. 1 to August 31, immigration judges have issued 88,383 rulings, and in 69,160 of them immigrants were ordered deported — a 36 percent increase over the corresponding period in 2016.

Watch this video from AILA explaining the problem with case quotas for immigration judges: