Will federal immigration judges throw off the yoke of DOJ oversight?

When you stand in court, you hope and believe that the man or woman judging your case is able to exercise discretion to issue a fair, independent ruling. Yet, a growing number of federal immigration judges claim this is not always the case in the current immigration system.

Amidst the current debate over the immigration overhaul, federal immigration judges have seized the opportunity to lobby for independence from the Department of Justice. For those in need of immigration services, the possible change could mean fewer delays in a system that is now often bogged down in bureaucratic red tape.

Judges hope to pare back immigration case backlog

The National Association of Immigration Judges is a union comprised of more than 200 immigration judges working in 59 courts across the nation. Supported by legal groups including the Federal Bar Association and the American Bar Association, the National Association of Immigration Judges is stepping up lobbying efforts in the U.S. House of Representatives aimed at cutting federal immigration judges loose from the DOJ.

"The DOJ has contributed to selling the Immigration Courts short rather than defending their independence or enhancing their stature," said the judges' union in a statement to Congress, according to the Boston Globe.

Today, federal immigration judges are named by the DOJ head, the attorney general. The National Association of Immigration Judges claims that their DOJ ties have impaired the impartial functioning of the federal immigration courts. According to the judges' union, ties to the DOJ led to judges being appointed for political affiliations and even punishment for some judges who handed down rulings unfavorable to the DOJ. In addition, the judges believe that the DOJ bureaucracy is at least partially to blame for the backlog of immigration cases, which currently stands at around 300,000 cases pending.

The judges want Congress to exercise its power to create an independent body of judges. Under their proposal, the judges would have a fixed term, and would be confirmed by the Senate. The arrangement would be similar to that which created the U.S. Tax Court.

Future of immigration measures uncertain

Is the proposal to form an independent federal immigration court feasible? Many legal experts applaud the plan. But, they also recognize that it could be difficult to get enough support to move the measure forward.

The recommendations of the National Association of Immigration Judges met with a chilly reception in the Senate, which is why they are currently focusing their efforts on the House. But, with legislators unable to reach a compromise on the larger issue of an immigration overhaul, many commentators question whether the immigration judges will be able to succeed in their lobbying efforts.

Part of the reason these judges are pushing for independence now is that they expect the backlog of cases to swell even more once Congress does pass some sort of immigration overhaul; by putting the tracks in place for a more efficient model now, the judges hope to avoid a potential immigration gridlock.

The strategy of the federal immigration judges' union may be a good one to emulate if you are facing immigration issues. It may be better to contact an immigration lawyer today than to wait to see what happens in Congress and potentially be pushed to the back of a very long line.