Beginning Oct. 1, immigration judges will be required to process a minimum of 700 cases annually in order to receive a top rating of satisfactory, according to a memo first obtained by The Wall Street Journal. A satisfactory rating also requires judges to complete 85 percent of removal cases within three days of a merit hearing.
The quota amounts to completing three cases per day, DOJ spokesman Devin O’Malley told The Washington Post, “so it’s not that big of a lift.” Judges have handled an average of 678 cases per year over the past five years, he said.
“The purpose of implementing these metrics is to encourage efficient and effective case management while preserving immigration judge discretion and due process,” James McHenry, director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, wrote in an email to judges on Friday.
The Justice Department, which oversees immigration courts, floated judicial performance metrics in an immigration reform package in October as a way to help reduce the backlog of immigration cases, which has ballooned to more than 600,000 under the Trump administration’s increased deportation arrests. DOJ announced in November it would hire new judges, enhance technology and encourage judges to complete more cases.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has imposed other measures to trim the backlog, including elimination of a provision that awards asylum seekers a full hearing before a judge.
Some judges affected by the new quotas noted that the emphasis on quantity over quality could damage the system.
“We’re incredibly concerned in that judges should not feel undue pressure to dispose of these cases rapidly in an effort to manage the enormous backlog,” Laura Lynch, senior policy counsel for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told The Daily Beast. “We’re very concerned that cases will be rushed through the system and due process will be circumvented with these new quotas.”
Telling immigration judges “to simply ‘go faster’ will lead to some obvious problems,” tweeted Stephen Robbins, an immigration lawyer in Washington state. “Judges squeezing together hearings, allowing less time for testimony, issuing brief, often rushed decisions.”
Robbins also raised the issue of people who represent themselves in immigration court because they lack government-appointed lawyers.
“Imagine having a first grade education and going up against a ICE prosecuting attorney and a Judge who is in a hurry to reach quota,” Robbins wrote.