The Trump administration 'is doing everything in its power to completely destroy the immigration court system,' said Ilyce Shugall, a former immigration judge who quit her job in 2019.
Immigration judges left their positions in 2019 at nearly twice the rate of previous years, with many citing the Trump administration's anti-immigrant policies as a deciding factor, CNN reported on Friday.
The Trump administration "is doing everything in its power to completely destroy the immigration court system, the board of immigration appeal and the immigration system in general," Ilyce Shugall, an immigration judge from 2017 through March 2019, told CNN. "And I just couldn't be a part of that."
Immigration judges are employees of the Department of Justice, not the federal court system, and therefore must follow the policies and guidance coming from each administration.
"The nature of the job ebbed and flowed as administrations changed," Lisa Dornell, who served as an immigration judge for 24 years before retiring in April, told CNN. "It was always tolerable." But then the Trump administration arrived, and Dornell called it both a "toxic environment" and "intolerable."
Starting with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and continuing with the current attorney general, William Barr, former judges bristled at the way the administration tightened control of immigration courts and issued more dictates on how judges should handle cases.
In 2018, the Trump administration issued new performance guidelines for immigration judges that included quotas for hearing cases, with the goal of speeding up deportations and reducing the backlog of cases within the immigration system, the Wall Street Journal reported. The backlog of immigration cases has almost doubled since Trump took office, according to USA Today, from roughly half a million cases to over a million as of September 2019.
Judges are leaving their positions due to "hostility and insulting working conditions," Judge Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told CNN.
In fact, one judge found it difficult to implement the Trump administration policies and stay true to the U.S. Constitution.
"I felt like as more and more policies were coming down, it was making it harder and harder to effectively hear cases in the way that I felt was appropriate and in compliance with the statute regulations and Constitution," Shugall told CNN.
Outside the court system, Trump has made immigration a marquee issue since coming to power. In 2018, the Trump administration's family separation policy provoked national and international outrage as images of children ripped from their parents dominated the headlines. In order to stem immigration, the administration siphoned money allocated to the military in order to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. In the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly promised Mexico, not military families, would pay for the wall.
In April, the Trump administration floated an idea to bypass immigration courts altogether in order to more swiftly deport immigrants. That idea did not sit well with one member of Congress.
"This is an administration obsessed with attacking immigrants," Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) said in a statement at the time. "And they will go to any lengths in order to make America white again, including executive overreach and circumventing courts," she added.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.