Wed | Aug 21, 2019

Sessions: Immigration judges must be efficient with backlog

Published:Tuesday | September 11, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Attorney General Jeff Sessions greets new immigration judges after discussing Trump administration policies in Falls Church, Virginia, on Monday, September 10, 2018. Immigration judges work for the Justice Department and are not part of the judicial branch of government.

FALLS CHURCH, Virginia (AP):

Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a group of new immigration judges on Monday, they have an obligation to decide cases efficiently in a system besieged by ballooning dockets and lengthy backlogs.

Speaking to the group of 44 new judges - the largest class of immigration judges in US history - Sessions told them that they must keep "our federal laws functioning effectively, fairly, and consistently".

The attorney general has pushed for faster rulings in immigration cases and issued directives preventing judges from administratively closing cases, which has reignited a debate about the independence of immigration judges, who work for the Justice Department and are not part of the judicial branch.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department sent a memo to immigration judges telling them that they would need to clear at least 700 cases a year in order to receive a "satisfactory" rating on their performance evaluations.

On Monday, the attorney general also reiterated the Trump administration's plan to increase the number of immigration judges by 50 per cent compared to the number of judges when Trump took office last year.

James McHenry, the director of the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review, said the department would "keep hiring until we run out of space or money".

Sessions cautioned that the jurists would face challenges because "we have a lot to do right now".

"As you take on this critically important role, I hope that you will be imaginative and inventive in order to manage a high-volume caseload," he said. "I do not apologise for expecting you to perform at a high level, efficiently and effectively."

Sessions said that the system for seeking asylum in the US has been "abused for years", and while the judges must respect the rights of immigrants, they should also "reject unjustified and sometimes blatantly fake claims".

Sessions also defended the government's "zero tolerance" policy to prosecute people illegally crossing the US-Mexico border, which he said would deter others from doing the same.