Mother Jones magazine says the country’s 235 immigration judges are overworked and their dockets drastically overloaded. A historic backlog is partly to blame, but so is the Obama administration’s goal of deporting 400,000 people this year, or about 1,700 cases per judge. The focus is on numbers, not the quality or fairness of the process, says Bruce Einhorn, a former Los Angeles immigration judge. Successive administrations have viewed the courts as a “widget factory,” he says. “The only issue they consider is how many people are needed to produce as many widgets as possible.”
Caught in the middle are the judges, for whom mind-numbing bureaucracy collides with thorny moral issues. Most of the time, they work without even basic staff like bailiffs and stenographers. Increased immigration enforcement means that their workload is the highest it has ever been–three to four times larger than caseloads in other federal courts–but a combination of slow hiring and high turnover has left one in six judge positions vacant. In a recent survey, immigration judges reported dramatically more stress than other professionals: They were more burned out than doctors, international aid workers, even prison wardens.