The requirement is an effort to clear a backlog of immigration cases and will ask judges to close out 700 cases per year. Furthermore, the decisions made must pass muster with a higher court with no more than 15 percent being reversed, according to the report.
The changes take effect on Oct. 1, and the judges will have to meet the new standards in order to receive a positive performance review, according to the report.
A Justice Department official downplayed how much the quotas will change the judges’ work, noting that based on averages from 2011 to 2016, immigration judges will only need to hear 22 more cases per year to meet the new requirements.
The official also said in an email that the department was not allowed to impose metrics like the quota system before because of a provision in the collective bargaining agreement that the immigration judges’ union has now agreed to drop.
Niels Frenzen, the director of the immigration clinic at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, is skeptical the reported quota system will have much of an effect on the immigration court backlog. But he warned it could whittle away at basic protections for people in immigration proceedings.
Frenzen said the new system might incentivize judges to cut witness testimony short or take other steps to make their cases move along.
This could be especially damaging for the significant number of people who appear before immigration judges without a lawyer to object to such shortcuts, Frenzen said.
“Judges are going to be not looking at what they’re doing in the courtroom, per se, they’re going to be looking over their shoulder to an assistant chief immigration judge who is wanting results and those results are completed cases,” Frenzen said in an interview. “That’s going to impact the system.”
While Frenzen acknowledged the backlog in immigration cases is a significant concern, he said anything short of hiring more judges or changing immigration laws will have little impact.
CASA, a Maryland-based immigration activist group, said the report of the quotas is not surprising given other policies the organization has seen coming out of Washington.
“We have been saying this for a while now. When it comes to immigration, the Justice Department is full of quotas when it comes to jail beds, raids, number deported, etc.,” said George Escobar, CASA’s director of services. “Nothing is shocking here.”