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National Association Of Immigration Judges Says It Needs Help With Backlog Of Cases


One fix proposed for the huge backlog of immigration cases on the books is to hire more judges. President Trump thinks that's the wrong approach. He said this in the past and did so again this morning in a tweet. He wrote, quote, "hiring many thousands of judges and going through a long and complicated legal process is not the way to go, will always be dysfunctional. People must be stopped at the border and told they cannot come into the U.S. illegally." For some reaction to this, we're going to hear now from Ashley Tabaddor. She's speaking to us as president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. Welcome to the program.


CORNISH: So given what we have heard about the backlog of cases in immigration courts, and given what the president has said, is Trump correct that hiring more judges won't really help this problem?

TABADDOR: Well, we disagree. We believe that the problem that we've been dealing with with the immigration court has been years and years of lack of adequate budgeting. We have had to deal with a ballooning budget for law enforcement agencies that deal with immigration that has not been matched by the immigration court. So we've seen a situation where, if you imagine a one-lane highway with one exit ramp being now built out to a three or four-lane highway, and the exit ramp remains a single lane, and then trying to blame the exit ramp for the traffic. So we really do believe that the appropriate answer is to make sure that the courts are given appropriate resources to match the law enforcement budgets that have been increasing.

CORNISH: At the same time, we have heard some lawmakers, including Republican Ted Cruz, call for the appointment of more immigration judges - right? - just ramping up the number dramatically. So would that help?

TABADDOR: Absolutely, absolutely. We need additional judges, more than, actually, the numbers that have been called for by even our department. We believe we need at least 1,000 or 1,200 judges to be able to combat the backlog we are seeing today.

CORNISH: So that's total? What do you have now?

TABADDOR: We have 334 judges. So we need to be able to get at least three or four times that amount.

CORNISH: Where would these judges even come from? When I see people saying, like, look, let's just double the amount of judges, I just think, like, are there a bunch of people sitting around who are looking for work?

TABADDOR: Well, the qualifications for a judge has been relatively consistent for a number of years until the past year or year and a half, which we have raised some concerns regarding some of the emphasis that's being placed on litigation experience over just general qualifications for the job. But there are many applicants who are interested. At least, that's what we've been told by the department, that the number of applicants remains pretty hardy.

CORNISH: When we say a backlog of cases, what does that actually mean at this point?

TABADDOR: At this point, it's about 330 judges - or 334 judges for about 715,000 cases. What this means on a daily basis is that judges are in court four and a half or sometimes up to five days a week, morning and afternoon. They will have dockets that sometimes can handle or need to process somewhere from 20 to 40 or 50 cases in a morning session. So they're in court all the time.

CORNISH: So this past spring, immigration judges were told by the Department of Justice that there would be quotas - right? - that they would have to meet upwards of 700 completed cases a year. What are the concerns now going forward, considering this backlog?

TABADDOR: It's an unprecedented move, and it's a move that is going to destroy the position. Once you introduce quotas and deadlines as an individual judge's condition of unemployment, basically, now you're introducing a judge's personal interests into a case. We have been functioning under less resources trying to do more with less for years and years. In Baltimore, I believe the last time I looked we had 31,000 cases for five judges. To try to even imply through imposition of these quotas and deadlines that somehow judges need to be incentivized to do more cases and do them faster is frankly insulting.

CORNISH: That's Ashley Tabaddor. She's president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

TABADDOR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.