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To address backlogs, DOJ sets new quotas for immigration judges

In the U.S., immigration courts are part of the Department of Justice. That allows the DOJ to set their policies and even reverse the precedents they set. Recently, the DOJ issued a memo setting a new, high quota for immigration judges.

In order to receive a "satisfactory" rating on their annual performance evaluations, immigration judges are now required to complete at least 700 cases each year, with less than 15 percent of those cases reversed on appeal. This is meant to help clear out a 700,000-case backlog which, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is allowing deportable immigrants to linger in the U.S. while they await a court date.

The National Association of Immigration Judges opposes the new quotas, warning that a system which focuses more on speed than on quality outcomes may undermine judges' independence and what due process rights immigrants have.

"Decisions in immigration court have life-or-death consequences and cannot be managed like an assembly line," adds a spokesperson for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "These unprecedented numeric quotas are so onerous that many judges will rush through cases to protect their own jobs."

How onerous are the quotas? Between 2011 and 2016, the DOJ says, the average immigration judge cleared 680 cases per year. The agency feels that 700 is not a big jump. However, most observers would agree that the courts, including immigration courts, have been chronically understaffed in recent years.

These new performance standards are not the only effort by Sessions and the DOJ to speed up deportations and other matters before the immigration courts. Sessions has been taking steps to limit asylum in the face of an unprecedented flow of immigrants fleeing violence in Central America. He is also expected to cut back on administrative closure, where immigration courts give deserving but otherwise deportable immigrants a chance to legally adjust their status before being deported.

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