DOJ Issues Policy That Rewards Judges For Speeding Up Deportation Proceedings

Under the new policy, job performance evaluations will include how quickly immigration judges close deportation cases.

Beginning in October, job performance evaluations of U.S. immigration judges will include how quickly they close deportation cases in an effort to clean up backlogged cases more quickly, according to a memo sent by the Department of Justice.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the backlog of immigration court cases is closing in on 700,000, up from fewer than 225,000 in 2009.

The new quotas for judges to meet—laid out in a memo sent Friday to immigration judges—follow other directives by the department to expedite handling of cases. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said that the backlog at the immigration courts allows people who should be deported to linger inside the U.S.

Judges will now be required to close 700 cases per year and have fewer than 15 percent of their rulings tossed back by a higher court.

In addition, they will be required to meet other metrics, depending on their particular workload. One standard demands that 85% of removal cases for people who are detained be completed within three days of a hearing on the merits of the case. Another metric demands that 95% of all merits hearings be completed on the initial scheduled hearing date.

In the email sent Friday, James McHenry, director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, said the new metrics are intended "to encourage efficient and effective case management while preserving immigration judge discretion and due process"; however, immigration lawyers and the union representing judges are concerned over unintended consequences.

“This is a recipe for disaster,” said A. Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge in Los Angeles who is president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. “You are going to, at minimum, impact the perception of the integrity of the court.”

Union officials also complained that they had not been given details needed to determine how performance will be calculated. And they said that some judges, for instance those working on the U.S.-Mexico border, have dockets with lots of quick cases and others have more cases that are complex and drawn-out.

Some are also concerned about tying quotas to job performance:

Greg Chen, director of government affairs for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said his group worries that judges will make decisions based on how it affects their status rather than according to the law.

“These are not mere target goals,” he said. “This is your job depends upon your ability to make sure you come in at these levels.”