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Very Real

Sessions Outlines Plan To Evaluate Immigration Judges On A Quota System

 Would quotas on immigration judges violate due process? Some lawyers and activists are coming out against Sessions’s latest memo.

By Eric Shorey

It’s clear that the Trump administration feels very strongly about immigration. The administration empowered ICE, declared Defend Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) "dead," and appear to be targeting immigrant activists.

Now, stressing efficiency, Sessions and Trump are placing production quotas on immigration judges, pressuring them to push cases through the system. The move has been criticized by immigration advocates and judges themselves, who have characterized the new policies as a potential “violation of due process,” according to CNN.

Immigration judges will now be evaluated based on how many cases they close, and how fast they do so. In a memo first obtained by The Wall Street Journal sent on March 30, Sessions detailed the plan which not only prioritized speed and volume, but would also put caps on the amount of time a case may proceed.

The hope is that the new prerogative will address the massive backlog of cases in immigration courts — currently clocking in over 680,000. "These performance metrics, which were agreed to by the immigration judge union that is now condemning them, are designed to increase productivity and efficiency in the system without compromising due process," a Justice Department official said of the memo, according to CNN. The official added that penalizations will be implemented for judges that can not keep up to pace.

James McHenry, director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, clarified the statements.

"Using metrics to evaluate performance is neither novel nor unique to (the Executive Office for Immigration Review)," McHenry wrote, according to NBC News. "The purpose of implementing these metrics is to encourage efficient and effective case management while preserving immigration judge discretion and due process."

As per the memo, judges would be expected to complete at least 700 cases per year, about three per day. The average immigration judge currently completes 678 cases per year, according to Justice Department statistics.

Immigration advocates have already begun voicing their opposition to the maneuver.

"Creating an environment where the courts care more about the speed than the accuracy, and where judges are evaluated and even rewarded based on quantity rather than quality is unacceptable and a violation of due process," said Laura Lynch, a senior policy counsel with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, according to CNN.

"Our biggest concern about asylum seekers and vulnerable populations is that immigration judges are making these important decisions, often life-and-death decisions, every day," Lynch continued. "They must be afforded the time to properly make that decision."

Jeremy McKinney, secretary of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, echoed Lynch’s statements.

"Decisions in immigration court have life or death consequences and cannot be managed like an assembly line," said McKinney, according to NPR. "These unprecedented numeric quotas are so onerous that many judges will rush through cases to protect their own jobs.”

Former immigration judges have also voiced their outspoken disapproval of the plan.

"Evaluating somebody's performance on the number of cases they close is obviously going to have some effect on the substance of the decisions," said retired immigration judge Paul Schmidt, according to CNN. "You know the boss wants removal orders, not grants -- all those things have to have some sort of effect."

A union representing immigration judges has already begun fighting the procedural change.

"[We’re] working diligently to fight the implementation of any 'numeric based performance measures' on judges, and ensure that any future standards that may be imposed on judges or the Immigration Courts are legally defensible, fair, and would not encroach on our independent decision making authority," wrote president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, Judge Ashley Tabaddor, according to CNN.

(Photo: Jeff Sessions by Stephen Lam / Getty Images)