DOJ moves to appoint temp immigration judges

The Obama administration issued an expedited regulation Thursday empowering the Justice Department to appoint a number of temporary immigration judges, as officials struggle to address the torrent of young immigrants pouring over the southwest border.

The DOJ’s interim rule will take effect immediately after it is published Friday in the Federal Register. The regulation delegates to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), a branch of the DOJ, the authority to name an unspecified number of temporary judges to renewable, six-month terms. 

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The reinforcements are necessary to handle the fast-growing workload for the nation’s roughly 250 federal immigration judges, the agency said. 

“EOIR is currently managing the largest caseload the immigration court system has ever seen,” the agency said. 

There were more than 350,000 cases pending in the immigration courts at the end of the last fiscal year. And that was before an estimated 52,000 children crossed the border illegally this year. 

The Justice Department announced Wednesday that it would prioritize those cases and reassign judges to hear them, meaning other pending cases would have to be rescheduled. 

At the same time, a DOJ effort to bolster its ranks has led to the hiring of 50 new federal judges. But accounting for retirements, there has only been a net increase of 13 immigration judges over the last five years. 

“Due to attrition in the immigration judge corps and continuing budgetary restrictions, the Department believes that the designation of temporary immigration judges will provide an appropriate means of flexibility in responding to the increased challenges facing the immigration courts,” the agency said. 

The new judges, subject to approval by the attorney general, are largely intended to fill in the void left by the newly reassigned judges, but the regulation explicitly does not place limits on their mission. 

The rule specifies that the agency should select former immigration judges, judges who are employed within or retired from EOIR, administrative law judges from other executive branch agencies or lawyers with at least 10 years of experience in immigration law.