Staff shortages and ever-increasing caseloads have plagued U.S. immigration courts for years, compounded by successive administrations using the courts to achieve political and policy goals. Cognizant of the burden the immigration court system is under, and the additional strain its goal of having zero unauthorized immigration into the U.S. would represent, the Trump administration is going to great lengths to try and streamline immigration court proceedings, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Unlike every other court, immigration courts are part of the executive, not judicial, branch. The judges who staff those courts are not independent but are employees of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), a wing of the Justice Department. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has significant authority to reshape how the courts operate.
The changes the Trump administration is engineering, however, have experts and former immigration judges concerned that the immigration court system could be even more burdened. “All those weaknesses, those weak points, are being highlighted by the measures this administration is taking,” says Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. When he retired in 2016, Judge Paul Schmidt was scheduling cases through 2022. In a system with a 720,000-case backlog, that wasn’t unusual. The backlog has been growing for decades. When thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America traveled to the border in 2014, the Obama administration told immigration judges to prioritize those cases. “Each administration comes in and moves their priority to the top of line and everything else goes to the back,” Schmidt says. “You have aimless docket reshuffling, and the whole system after a while loses credibility.” The Trump administration is telling immigration courts to prioritize the cases of detained families. What concerns the judges even more are changes Sessions is making to how they can hear and resolve the cases before them.