In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled out a Justice Department’s judge relocation program “to reduce the significant backlogs in our immigration courts.” Yet many of the courts where the judges went had little work for them to do, Politico reports.
On April 11 in Nogales, Az., Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled out the Justice Department’s judge relocation program “to reduce the significant backlogs in our immigration courts.” DOJ “already surged 25 immigration judges to detention centers along the border,” he said, reports Politico. The idea was to send U.S. immigration court judges currently handling “non-detained” immigration cases—cases such as final asylum decisions and immigrants’ applications for legal status—to centers where they would only adjudicate cases of those detained crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, along with others who had been picked up by ICE for possible deportation.
As Sessions spoke, nearly half of those 25 “surge” judges—whose deployments typically last two weeks or a month—were largely unoccupied. One week before the announcement, the Justice Department office that handles immigration cases published an internal memo identifying six of 13 detention centers as offering inadequate work for visiting justices. “There are not enough cases to fill one immigration judge’s docket, let alone five,” the DOJ wrote of Texas’ T. Don Hutto facility, which had been assigned five Miami judges to hold hearings via video teleconference with the women detained there. One judge sent to the South Texas Residential Center had no cases at all; a judge at another family facility, Karnes Residential Center, had a “light” docket; and Texas’ Prairieland Detention Center, which had received a judge, also was “not receiving enough cases to fill a docket or even come close to it,” the memo said. Meanwhile, judges sent to the border were forced to abandon thousands of home court cases—which the DOJ was aware could increase pressure on the U.S. immigration court system, where a specialized cadre of judges handles questions over whether people can remain in the U.S.