In another effort to expedite deportation cases, Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday (September 19) unveiled new limits on the ability of immigration judges to terminate removal cases. The American Immigration Lawyers Association panned the move as an attack on judicial independence.
The attorney general said that immigration judges don’t have "free-floating power" to terminate removal proceedings, adding that judges can only dismiss deportation cases in "specific and circumscribed" situations. He said that judges "have no inherent authority to terminate removal proceedings even though a particular case may pose sympathetic circumstances."
The directive stipulates that judges can dismiss deportation cases only if the Department of Homeland Security fails to "sustain the charges of removability" against an immigrant, or if the immigrant has established eligibility for naturalization.
Attorneys blasted Sessions’ decision as an attack on judicial independence and immigrants’ due process rights.
"The decision is the next step in a concerted effort by the A.G. to undermine judicial independence and to minimize the role of judges in immigration court," Kate Voigt, associate director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told Reuters.
Wednesday’s announcement is the latest in a series of moves that limit judicial independence in immigration cases. In May, Sessions issued a directive prohibiting immigration judges from pausing removal cases while immigrants await visa application decisions or the outcome of appeals to criminal convictions.
In March, the Department of Justice, in an effort to expedite deportation cases, announced a series of production quotas for judges. That directive requires immigration judges to clear 700 cases a year or face negative performance reviews. Immigration judges said the directive would curtail judicial independence and integrity.
“We believe the imposition of numerical performance metrics is completely, utterly contrary to judicial independence,” Dana Leigh Marks, spokesperson for the National Association of Immigration Judges, said at the time. “We believe assessing quality is fine, not quantity.”
There are some 650,000 pending deportation cases in immigration court, including over 120,000 cases in California and more than 100,000 cases in Texas, the states with the largest backlogs, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.