Immigration judges across the country are reportedly being told to speed-up the deportation process by cramming additional hearings into their schedules, according to a new report from BuzzFeed.
The instruction comes as the Trump administration continues its efforts to round-up as many documented and undocumented immigrants as possible under the president’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which refers anyone detained at the border for criminal prosecution, including some asylum seekers.
Advocates are worried the mandate, which reportedly came from assistant chief immigration judges, who supervise separate immigration courts, could violate the due process rights of immigrants, as it forces judges to rush through three merit hearings per day, starting in October.
Currently, immigration judges hold an average of two hearings per day, though the number of hearings they want to schedule each day is up to them, BuzzFeed noted.
The mandate appears to be part of a larger strategy by the Trump administration to increase the number of immigrants ejected from the country each year. Earlier this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered immigration judges to complete 700 cases per year so they could “speed up deportations.”
Through June in fiscal 2018, the immigration court system faced a backlog of 733,365 court cases, according to TRAC Immigration, a “data gathering, data research and data distribution organization” housed at Syracuse University.
Former immigration judge and current immigration attorney Jeffrey Chase told BuzzFeed the increased caseload could force judges to speed through hearings that might otherwise require deeper analysis, potentially impacting an immigrants’ ability to call witnesses, provide evidence, and make their case for remaining in the country under asylum.
While National Association of Immigration Judges Dana Marks did not confirm or deny the instructions, she told BuzzFeed such instructions “hinder” judges. “Micro-managing our dockets from afar does not help us to do our job more efficiently and effectively,” she said.
Nearly 3,000 families were separated under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance family separation policy earlier this year, with hundreds of parents deported without their children. Many of those parents say they were rushed through the deportation process by officials who convinced them — often using confusing forms and unclear explanations — to sign reunification waivers before forcing them out of the country.
Although the administration has since claimed it is reuniting those still in the country, it has abandoned those who’ve already been deported, forcing the ACLU, which is representing the families, to figure out how to contact the parents and reunite them with their children.
According to the most recent government figures, more than 500 families remain separated.