Where Are the Immigration Judges?

Human Rights

This is an editorial from La Opinión.


The federal government has invested an enormous amount over the last decade in hiring border patrol agents and creating space in detention centers for immigrants arrested on violations of immigration law. What is has not done with equal zeal is address the issue of the lack of immigration judges to hear the cases.

For example: in 1998 there were 39 border patrol agents for every judge. One decade later, in 2008, this figure was 72 agents per judge. Waiting time in cases has increased 23% since 2006 and a total of 64% over the last 10 years. The police force has increased, but not the capacity to impart justice.

If this weren’t enough, the quality of the judges has also been widely debated. The hiring of immigration judges was suspended for some time after it was discovered that the Justice Department under Alberto Gonzalez (George W. Bush’s second Attorney General) had politicized the hiring of these judges in the same way it had with federal prosecutors. That is to say that it recruited people not who had experience in immigration, but rather who were sufficiently ideologically compatible with the administration or had links to it.

Although Gonzalez himself undertook reforms to remedy some of these problems, not enough was done, posing a major challenge for President Barack Obama’s administration. The scrutiny of sitting judges has increased, but judges covered by the budget have yet to be hired and immigration law experience is not being required.

Most of those tried are charged with misdemeanors, such as entering the country illegally, or felonies, in the case of repeat offenders.

In other words, a great deal of effort and money is being invested in arresting them, but then there are not enough judges to try them, and these judges lack the necessary experience. The quality of immigration courts, therefore, falls below the standards that should prevail in this country and the most serious cases also tend to overflow into regular federal courts.

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