As noted in our April 3rd blog, the Department of Justice sent a memo to immigration judges at the end of March announcing that it would impose a quota for immigration judges in an attempt to address the nearly 700,000 case backlog in immigration courts. Immigration courts are not independent; they report to the Attorney General, which allows the department to impose the quota.
Not everyone is in favor of such a quota. Dana Leigh Marks, the spokeswoman for the National Association of Immigration Judges, says the quota will only complicate matters in immigration courts. Because an individual can move to reopen a case so long as they are still in the country, Ms. Marks believes that the quota might lead to more appeals. Since a judge’s performance is in part measured by the quota, individuals can use that as leverage to appeal more cases.
There are also ethical concerns with imposing such a quota. Ms. Marks highlighted in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) how people may question if the judge made a decision based on legal judgement or were they only concerned with meeting the quota. Such a question can lead to more appeals in an already backlogged system.
Ms. Marks does not just point out the problems with a case quota in immigration courts; she proposes two solutions as well. The first is to get more resources, which Congress has worked to address through budgeting for 100 more immigration judges in the last budget cycle. The second proposed solution is to make the immigration courts independent from the Department of Justice. Ms. Marks notes that “the mission of an independent and neutral court is incompatible with the role of a law enforcement agency.”
VERDICT: The idea of an independent immigration court has already been studied, and it has been endorsed by the American Bar Association, the Federal Bar Association, and other legal scholars. Imposing a minimum quota on immigration judges infringes on the judicial independence of judges and the due process of individual cases in the system.
It is unlikely the immigration court system will be moved outside of the Department of Justice anytime soon, so we may be able to see if the quota system has its desired effects on the backlog in the immigration court system.