DOJ shuffles resources to cope with border crisis

The Justice Department is reprioritizing cases, reassigning immigration judges and moving to appoint new ones, as the agency scrambles to respond to the deluge of migrant children pouring across the southwest border. 

The steps announced Wednesday reflect the Obama administration’s latest efforts to counter the growing crisis while the president awaits a decision from Congress on his request for $3.7 billion in emergency funding. 

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The government estimates that more than 52,000 immigrant children have crossed the southern border illegally this year, with advocates saying that as many as three quarters are escaping violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

“We have an obligation to provide humanitarian care for children and adults with children who are apprehended on our borders, but we also must do whatever we can to stem the tide of this dangerous migration pattern,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole said. “The efforts we are announcing today are intended to address the challenges of this influx in a humane, efficient and timely way.”

The agency is directing the Executive Office for Immigration Review to reprioritize its dockets to focus on recent border crossers, with a focus on unaccompanied children, current detainees and families who recently crossed the border but are on “alternatives to detention.” 

To handle the workload, judges in immigration courts around the country will be reassigned to handle those cases. In some instances, the judges will hear cases via video teleconference to avoid relocation expenses. 

Cases no longer seen as top priorities would be rescheduled, the agency said, though there was no immediate estimate of how many proceedings would be shelved. 

The Justice Department is also drafting regulations — to be issued this week — that would empower the administration to install temporary immigration judges to help address the crush of new cases.

Through the president’s request, the DOJ is seeking funding to place legal and law enforcement advisors at U.S. embassies in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to help tamp down immigrant smuggling.