Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced today that he wants to increase the number of immigration judges by 50 percent by the end of the year. He made the announcement in remarks to a class of 44 new immigration judges. Currently, there are approximately 330 immigration judges in 58 courts nationwide, meaning the Attorney General would have to hire at least one hundred additional judges over the next four months to meet his goal.
Immigration judges are not independent judges. They are part of the Justice Department and are hired by the Attorney General. In the past, in most years, a few dozen new judges joined the ranks. New judges often learned their roles from veterans of the immigration courts and developed an understanding of the law and a dedication to due process. They entered the courtroom prepared to carry on the serious work of the Executive Office for Immigration Review.
When Jeff Sessions came in as Attorney General, he got a lot of pushback from the immigration judges against his efforts to bypass normal courtroom procedures in the Trump administration’s rush towards mass deportations. He has taken a number of actions to short-circuit due process, and the judges have dug in their heels to resist him.
If Sessions is successful in his hiring plans, he will transform the immigration judge corps. The Attorney General ultimately chooses the new judges from a pool of candidates and Sessions is likely to pick only the most anti-immigrant judicial candidates. These new judges will be trained by lawyers aligned with Sessions and Trump. When they arrive in the immigration courts, their large numbers will quickly swamp the current judges and remake the courtroom culture.
Judges selected by Sessions, trained according to his views, and then empowered to carry out his mandates will remake the way justice is meted out to America’s immigrants.