USA and the UK
Biden administration appoints Trump-era immigration court judges
Immigration advocates are questioning why President Biden’s list of immigration court judges is filled entirely by Trump picks.
Last week, the Justice Department released its list of 17 new immigration court judges – each and every one of them had received their offer during Trump’s presidency. Many view this as great cause for concern, since Trump’s administration notoriously worked to heavily restrict immigration.
Those appointed are responsible for deciding whether to grant asylum claims or to deport migrants, leading a number of immigration advocates to demand answers as almost all of the judges appointed by Biden have backgrounds as prosecutors at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with nearly none having any experience defending migrants.
Immigration courts under Trump
During his time as President, Trump heavily cut funding to the immigration courts, restricting how much control immigration judges had by barring them from allowing migrants with pending cases to remain in the country.
Under his administration, two-thirds of the 520 seats filled went to former ICE officials. The impact was severe as asylum claims were drastically clamped down on, with the rejection rate rising from 50% under previous administrations to a staggering 70% under the Trump administration.
The Executive Director of AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association), Ben Johnson, has criticised the Department of Justice under Biden for continuing to hire ‘the same profile’ – namely, those who have a prosecutorial or ICE background.
Via Twitter, he described the move as a “threat to the pursuit of fairness and justice and an insult to the fundamental principles of our system of justice”.
Difference in approach
Echoing these concerns, César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, a professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, emphasised that “people who work as immigration lawyers and immigration defense lawyers develop a different perspective than people that work as immigration prosecutors.”
This difference in approach must not be understated. In fact, the difference between an asylum seeker being granted residency or facing deportation largely depends on who hears the case. For this reason, it is crucial that the US immigration courts are represented by those from a variety of backgrounds – including former defense attorneys.
Diversifying court appointments should be a priority; regrettably, the Biden administration has once again failed to make long-needed change to the US immigration system.
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