Top Senate Democrats are accusing the Trump administration of deliberately undermining immigration courts, NPR reports. In a bluntly worded letter to the Justice Department, which oversees the courts, the senators accuse the administration of waging an “ongoing campaign to erode the independence of immigration courts,” including changing court rules to allow more political influence over decisions and promoting partisan judges to the Board of Immigration Appeals. “The administration’s gross mismanagement of these courts,” they write, threatens to do “lasting damage to public confidence in the immigration court system.” The letter was sent Thursday to Attorney General William Barr. It was signed by nine members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. They are requesting extensive information about the department’s hiring practices for trial-level and appellate judges.
The senators’ concerns echo those voiced by former and current immigration judges, including the head of the union representing those judges. Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told the House Judiciary Committee last month that immigration courts should no longer be overseen by the Justice Department. “The only real and lasting solution is the establishment of an independent Immigration Court,” Tabaddor said. “It must be free from the constantly changing (often diametrically opposed) politicized policy directives of the Department of Justice.” The judge’s union has pushed back against productivity quotas for immigration judges, which were announced in 2018. The union also opposed new Trump administration rules that gave more power to the director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, a political appointee. The Trump administration has moved to decertify the judges’ union. Immigration courts face a massive backlog of more than a million cases.