Sessions criticizes 'fake' asylum claims, reportedly seeks numeric goals for immigration judges

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Jeff Sessions

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. mark reinstein / Shutterstock.com

Updated: Immigration judges are raising concerns about a reported proposal by the U.S. Justice Department to evaluate their performance based on numeric standards.

The Washington Post reported it obtained documents outlining the plan for “numeric performance standards,” which raised concerns among judges about assembly-line justice and threats to judicial independence. Its story is here.

Immigration arrests are up by more than 40 percent since Trump became president, according to the story. The aim of the plan for numeric goals is to reduce a backlog of 600,000 cases.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a speech Thursday that part of the backlog is because of “fake claims” in asylum applications that are overwhelming the system. Claims by immigrants at the border that they have a “credible fear” of returning to their homeland, justifying asylum, have surged from about 3,000 cases in 2009 to more than 69,000 in 2016, he said in prepared remarks. Politico and the Hill covered his comments.

The judges’ union says the current contract bars performance ratings based on case numbers or time to complete cases. The administration is trying to rescind that language, immigration judges say. Critics of the proposal also say it could violate a federal regulation requiring judges to exercise independent judgment and discretion.

The goals are part of a broader immigration plan. President Donald Trump is also seeking more detention beds, more immigration-enforcement lawyers, and funds for 370 more immigration judges.

In a statement, Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns at the American Civil Liberties Union, called the plan for numeric standards “a quota system would prioritize numbers over justice and would imperil fair process.”

“If implemented, this policy would undermine any semblance of a fair and impartial court process intended to serve as a basic check on the Department of Homeland Security’s draconian detention and deportation goals,” the statement said.

ABA President Hilarie Bass said in a statement released Monday that the ABA “strongly disagrees with any attempt to establish mandatory case completion quotas for immigration judges.

“It is imperative that judges be allowed to adjudicate fairly, impartially, and with sufficient deliberation,” Bass said. “Establishing performance metrics based on the number and speed of cases resolved undermines the independence of the judiciary and threatens to subvert justice.”

The case backlog is due to “an unprecedented global refugee crisis” and increased enforcement, rather than false claims or judges working inefficiently, Bass said. Many immigration judges have more than 2,000 cases on their docket.

“Instead of seeking to expedite cases in a manner that will undermine both the independence of immigration judges and the public’s confidence in the adjudicatory process,” Bass said, “the administration needs to provide significantly increased resources—including additional immigration judges and support personnel—for our immigration courts and support measures that increase access to counsel.”

Updated at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 16 to include statement by Bass.

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