I’m writing today because I’m deeply disturbed by recent news reports about immigrant parents being separated from their children when they illegally cross the U.S. southern border.
I understand that the Trump administration has chosen to prosecute all illegal border crossers as criminals and there is little you can do about that. However, Congress does have the power to authorize the hiring of more immigration judges and require those positions be filled in under a year. I believe that the only way to enforce “zero tolerance” constitutionally is to ensure that immigrant families are released in under 20 days. If we had enough judges, the cases could be heard fast enough that detention longer than 20 days could be rendered unnecessary.
In an April 18th hearing in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration, witness Patrick McHenry, the Director of the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, had the following exchange with Sen. Mike Lee. You can also watch this 2 minute long exchange for yourself at this link:
– Timestamp: 41:50: Senator Mike Lee (UT): I believe you recently testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee that it would take about 700 immigration judges in order to be able to address the backlog and address the current case load. Is that correct? James McHenry: Yeah, last fall the president proposed adding additional immigration judges, up to a number of 700. If we can get 700 on board, especially with our performance measures, we could complete over 450,000 cases a year. That would eviscerate the backlog. Sen. Lee: So, 700 would do it. James McHenry: Based on the current numbers, it would certainly go a very long way toward eliminating it, yes. Sen. Lee: How many do you have right now? James McHenry: We have 334 on board. Currently, we’re authorized, based on the recent omnibus spending bill, for up to 484. Even getting to that number would allow us to begin completing more cases than new receipts that we have in. Sen. Lee: How long does that normally take? My understanding is that between 2011 and 2016 it was taking about two years to hire a typical immigration judge. Is that still the case? James McHenry: No. We have reduced that average. The attorney general issued a new hiring process memo to streamline the process last April. In using that process, we’ve put out five advertisements since the end of June for up to 84 positions in total. The first of those advertisements closed at the end of June last year. We expect to bring on the first judges from that advertisement in May, which will be right at approximately 10 months, and we anticipate bringing on the rest of them in July, which will be right at one year. And we think we can get to a stage where we are bringing on judges in eight months, 10 months, 12 months—a year at the most.
By my calculations, if 700 judges could clear the backlog and we already have 334 judges, that means that we need to hire 366 more judges. The Trump administration has only been authorized to hire 484, so I would like to see Congress change that authorization as soon as possible to at least 700 judges, preferably more. I would also like Congress to provide the funding necessary to hire these judges immediately.
As a taxpayer, I would much rather pay the salaries of 366 more judges than pay to house, clothe, and feed families in detention camps indefinitely.
Please consider this proposal. I think this is a way for the administration to keep their zero tolerance policy while minimizing the damage to immigrant families.