Exclusive: Immigration judges headed to
12 U.S. cities to speed deportations
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[March 18, 2017]
By Julia Edwards Ainsley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice
Department is developing plans to temporarily reassign immigration
judges from around the country to 12 cities to speed up deportations of
illegal immigrants who have been charged with crimes, according to two
How many judges will be reassigned and when they will be sent is still
under review, according to the officials, but the Justice Department has
begun soliciting volunteers for deployment.
The targeted cities are New York; Los Angeles; Miami; New Orleans; San
Francisco; Baltimore, Bloomington, Minnesota; El Paso, Texas; Harlingen,
Texas; Imperial, California; Omaha, Nebraska and Phoenix, Arizona. They
were chosen because they are cities which have high populations of
illegal immigrants with criminal charges, the officials said.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department's Executive Office of
Immigration Review, which administers immigration courts, confirmed that
the cities have been identified as likely recipients of reassigned
immigration judges, but did not elaborate on the planning.
The plan to intensify deportations is in line with a vow made frequently
by President Donald Trump on the campaign trail last year to deport more
illegal immigrants involved in crime.
The Department of Homeland Security asked for the judges' reshuffle, an
unusual move given that immigration courts are administered by the
Department of Justice. A Homeland Security spokeswoman declined to
comment on any plan that has not yet been finalized.
Under an executive order signed by Trump in January, illegal immigrants
with pending criminal cases are regarded as priorities for deportation
whether they have been found guilty or not.
That is a departure from former President Barack Obama's policy, which
prioritized deportations only of those convicted of serious crimes.
The policy shift has been criticized by advocate groups who say it
unfairly targets immigrants who might ultimately be acquitted and do not
pose a threat.
The cities slated to receive more judges have more than half of the
18,013 pending immigration cases that involve undocumented immigrants
facing or convicted of criminal charges, according to data provided by
the Justice Department's Executive Office of Immigration Review.
More than 200 of those cases involve immigrants currently incarcerated,
meaning that the others have either not been convicted or have served
their sentence. The Justice Department did not provide a breakdown of
how many of the remainder have been convicted and how many are awaiting
As part of the Trump administration crackdown on illegal immigrants, the
Justice Department is also sending immigration judges to detention
centers along the southwest border. Those temporary redeployments will
[to top of second column]
A man, who was deported from the U.S. seven months ago, receives
candy from his nephew across a fence separating Mexico and the
United States as photographed from Tijuana, Mexico, March 4, 2017.
Picture taken from the Mexican side of the border. REUTERS/Jorge
'AIMLESS DOCKET RESHUFFLING'
Former immigration judge and chairman of the Board of Immigration
Appeals Paul Schmidt said the Trump administration should not assume
that all those charged with crimes would not be allowed to stay in
the United States legally.
"It seems they have an assumption that everyone who has committed a
crime should be removable, but that's not necessarily true. Even
people who have committed serious crimes can sometimes get asylum,"
He also questioned the effectiveness of shuffling immigration judges
from one court to another, noting that this will mean cases the
judges would have handled in their usual courts will have to be
rescheduled. He said that when he was temporarily reassigned to
handle cases on the southern border in 2014 and 2015, cases he was
slated to hear in his home court in Arlington, Virginia had to be
postponed, often for more than a year.
"That's what you call aimless docket reshuffling," he said.
Under the Obama administration, to avoid the expense and disruption
of immigration judges traveling, they would often hear proceedings
from other courthouses via video conference.
The judges' reshuffling could further logjam a national immigration
court system which has more than 540,000 pending cases.
The cities slated to receive more judges have different kinds of
Imperial, California, for example, is in one of the nation's largest
agriculture hubs, attracting large numbers of immigrant farmworkers
from Mexico and Central America.
Bloomington, Minnesota, near St. Paul, is home to a large number of
African immigrants, many of whom traveled from war-torn countries
like Somalia to claim asylum in the United States.
(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Sue Horton and
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