Immigration Judges Cry Foul on Sessions Role in Deportation

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ personal involvement in speeding up the deportation of an individual immigrant drew a sharp rebuke from the union representing immigration judges.

The unusual actions by the nation’s top law-enforcement officer in a local case undermines judicial authority and could mark a shift toward making judges more an arm of the government than arbiters of law, the National Association of Immigration Judges said in a complaint filed Wednesday with the Justice Department, which Sessions oversees.

The case marks the latest attempt by the department to strip immigration judges of their already limited judicial independence, according to Ashley Tabaddor, president of the union and an immigration judge in Los Angeles. In March, the department outlined a quota system that links judges’ job performance with how quickly cases are closed. Judges contend the program, set to start in October, will backfire.

Sessions got involved in the case of Reynaldo Castro-Tum by yanking the case from a judge who had paused the proceedings and reassigned it to another, the union said. The new judge ordered the deportation, which occurred on Tuesday.

“This is minimizing the importance of due process while turning the court into a factory for processing cases and turning judges into law-enforcement officers in rogue,” Tabaddor said.

The National Association of Immigration Judges has asked the Executive Office of Immigration Review, the Justice Department agency in charge of the more than 300 immigration judges, to acknowledge its error and reassign the case along with some 86 others back to the original judge, Steven Morley. The government has 60 days to respond.

“There is reason to believe that the immigration judge in question committed potential violations of processes and practices,” Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said in an emailed statement. “We look forward to fully vindicating the issues surrounding this matter.”

U.S. immigration judges, who are appointed by the attorney general, face a multiyear backlog of some 730,000 cases divided unevenly among 330 judges. President Donald Trump signed a budget in March that increases spending on immigration courts by $500 million while adding more than 100 judges to the system by 2020. Critics contend the administration is trying to speed up deportations at any cost, without considering due process rights.

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