Resilience Refugees

Immigration judges are quitting and retiring early due to job stress

immigrant judges stress tired trump administration policies unfair law and order due process national association of immigration judges la times james mchenry homeland security us department of justice
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Story at a glance

  • Immigration judges are quitting and retiring at quicker levels due to frustration with their positions.
  • Having to work through up to 700 cases a year, judges do not feel that they can work within a “fundamentally unfair” system.
  • While new judges are quickly replacing empty seats, they face a battle against the U.S. Department of Justice as to whether or not they can unionize.

U.S. immigration judges are quitting or retiring early at faster than average rates, according to the Los Angeles Times. Judges across the country are reportedly finding it difficult to guarantee an immigrant defendant’s right to due process under President Trump’s strict immigration laws. 

A. Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge based in Los Angeles and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges union, said that, “We’ve seen stuff which is unprecedented — people leaving the bench soon after they were appointed.”

“Judges are going to other federal agencies and retiring as soon as possible. They just don’t want to deal with it. It’s become unbearable.”

This could potentially be offset by the spike in appointing immigration judges seen over the course of Trump’s presidency. A graph from the U.S. Department of Justice shows a solid upward trajectory in the number of immigration judges hired since 2010. In 2019, a record-high 94 immigration judges were appointed. 

Moreover, the judges who appear to be resigning from judicial posts early say that “they would have gladly worked another five or 10 years, but they just reached a point under this administration where they can’t,” said Jeffrey Chase, a retired New York City immigration judge.

The fluctuations come at an unwelcome time; applications for asylum reached a high at 200,000 last year, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security filed 443,000 cases for deportation, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

The strife is hardly new, with Trabaddor speaking as president of the National Association of Immigration Judges at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., about the 700-case quota the Trump administration required judges to meet in 2018, a rule still in effect today.

“This is an unprecedented act which compromises the integrity of the court and pressures judges to quickly complete cases, possibly pitting their job security against the interests of immigrants,” said Trabaddor in 2018

Conversely, the director of the Department of Justice, James McHenry, believes the quota to be working, citing an average of 708 cases being completed per judge, and complaints against judges decreasing. 

“These results unequivocally prove that immigration judges have the integrity and competence required to resolve cases in the timely and impartial manner that is required by law,” McHenry stated in a hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Regardless, the testimonies of immigration judges who have been claiming “morale has never, ever been lower” since 2018 reports and a backlog spiking to 1 million cases in January 2020 were enough for the Trump administration to call for the decertification of the National Association of Immigration Judges in October 2019. 

In response, the union paired with the Law Firm Latham & Watkins to defend its right to organize. The Federal Relations Authority Board is reportedly expected to decide on it next year.