The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) said the new standards would take effect on October 1, the start of the 2019 fiscal year, and judges must complete 700 cases a year, the Wall Street Journal initially reported. Judges’ job performance will be evaluated “based on how quickly they close cases,” the publication added. The EOIR also imposed measures such as the amount of time judges should spend on different types of cases and court motions. According to the standards, a judge who decides between 560 and 700 cases a year “needs improvement” and a judge who makes fewer than 560 cases gets an unsatisfactory mark.
The immigration court system currently faces a backlog of about 684,000 court cases so far in the 2018 fiscal year. That averages to 678 completed cases per judge annually.
“These performance metrics… are designed to increase productivity and efficiency in the system without compromising due process,” a Justice Department official told Fox News. The new standards would mean judges would have to complete an average of three cases per day.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who oversees immigration courts, has previously supported judges making quick decisions to clear the backlog. As the AP pointed out, Sessions wrote in December that “performance measures would aid in ‘the efficient and timely completion of cases and motions’ while maintaining fairness.”
“Using metrics to evaluate performance is neither novel nor unique to (the Executive Office for Immigration Review),” James McHenry, director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, wrote in an email to the roughly 350 immigration judges nationwide. “The purpose of implementing these metrics is to encourage efficient and effective case management while preserving immigration judge discretion and due process.”
In general, the new requirements make it possible for judges to rule the same day that an asylum seeker goes to court to prove that the individual has passed the first threshold of establishing whether the individual has a “credible” or “reasonable” fear of being returned to their country.
Critics say that the new standards could make it more difficult for judges to rule with fairness and may in turn add to their backlog because more immigrants may choose to appeal decisions by arguing that they were denied a fair hearing.
“We believe the imposition of numerical performance metrics is completely, utterly contrary to judicial independence,” Dana Leigh Marks, an immigration judge in San Francisco and an union spokesperson for National Immigration Judges Association told the AP. “We believe assessing quality is fine, not quantity.”
Although the new standards will not take place until later this year, fast-tracking decisions in the past have led to major outcry by pro-immigrant groups. When Central American children fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries began showing up on the southern U.S. border in large numbers in 2014 through 2016, the Obama administration put in place a “rocket docket” to make immigration judges decide on cases within 21 days. Several immigration organizations filed a lawsuit in 2016 to force the administration at the time to release information on the deportation procedures.