A record number of immigration judges quit last year, placing added pressure on a system already burdened by a backlog of over 1.5 million cases, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.
Some 35 judges left the bench in 2019, swelling an exodus that that began in 2016, when President Donald Trump took office. There were 27 immigration judge departures in 2018; and 20 in 2017.
While the numbers appear comparatively small, and hiring has increased, nearly one-third of the nation’s immigration courts are currently administered by judges appointed since FY 2019, according to figures based on data obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act and other sources.
Nearly two-thirds of currently serving judges started their tenure in FY 2017.
“The record judge turnover means the Court is losing its most experienced judges—judges whose services would be of particular value in helping mentor the large number of new immigration judges now joining the Court’s ranks,” TRAC reported.
“Even with mentoring, new judges appointed without any background in the intricacies of immigration law face a very steep learning curve; and without adequate mentoring, there is a heightened risk that some immigrants’ cases could be decided incorrectly.”
The TRAC report did not include the reasons for judges’ departures.
Meanwhile active backlog in immigration courts across the country has increased to more than 1.5 million cases, when so called “inactive” pending cases are included—nearly triple the number when Trump assumed office, TRAC added.
The complete TRAC report, along with tables, can be downloaded here.