Immigration judges are reportedly leaving their roles or anticipating their departures citing sweeping changes to the court under Trump administration policies, BuzzFeed News reported Wednesday.
Judges told the outlet that they and their colleagues are departing their posts due to concerns about their jobs becoming politicized, as well as the increasing backlog driven in part by the administration's policies ending immigration judges' ability to indefinitely suspend certain cases and new restrictions on when asylum can be granted.
BuzzFeed reported that the case backlog for immigration judges has reached more than 800,000 under the Trump administration, while wait times have reached hundreds of days.
“It has become so emotionally brutal and exhausting that many people I know are leaving or talking about finding an exit strategy,” one judge told the news outlet. “Morale has never, ever been lower.”
Judge Rebecca Jamil said the Trump administration's previous "zero tolerance" policy of prosecuting those found crossing into the U.S. illegally motivated her decision to step down from the bench. The policy drew national backlash for resulting in the separation of thousands of migrant children from their families.
“I’d seen the faces of these families,” Jamil told BuzzFeed. “They weren’t abstractions to me.”
“I felt that I couldn’t be ‘Rebecca Jamil, representative of the attorney general’ while these things were going on,” she added.
Another judge, Laura Ramirez, said the changes made under the Trump administration pushed her to choose to retire as early as she could. Ramirez told BuzzFeed that the administration's case quota policies and what she perceived as a politicization of her job contributed to her decision.
“The job has become exceedingly more difficult as the court has veered even farther away from being administered as a court rather than a law enforcement bureaucracy,” said Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge who heads a union that represents roughly 350 immigration judges.
There are about 400 immigration judges in the U.S.
Tabaddor said the union noticed a higher level of retirements and resignations than in the past.
John Richardson, who worked as an immigration judge in Phoenix, stepped down on Sep. 30, 2018, according to the outlet.
"The timing of my retirement was a direct result of the draconian policies of the Administration, the relegation of [judges] to the status of 'action officers' who deport as many people as possible as soon as possible with only token due process, and blaming [judges] for the immigration crisis caused by decades of neglect and under funding of the Immigration Courts,” he said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
Richardson retired the day before the Trump administration instituted its quota on the number of cases judges need to complete.