Judge rescinds Trump-era decision to block unionization of judges, raises political ramifications

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The Biden administration, a close ally of unions, has fully restored the standing of an immigration judges’ union that had been sidelined during the Trump administration.

According to Bloomberg, the restoration is part of a settlement agreement between the Department of Justice and the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ).

It comes a year after the Federal Labor Relations Authority ruled “in favor of the Trump administration and held that the judges weren’t entitled to union representation because they are ‘management officials.”

At the time, then-President Donald Trump faced scorching backlash from the establishment left, with them deriding the decertification of NAIJ as an “unwavering attack against federal employees’ labor rights.”

And with the decertification having since been reversed, critics, including the union itself, are still crying foul about the original decision.

“Finally, this unjust and cynical attempt to silence immigration judges has ended,” NAIJ president Mimi Tsankov reportedly said in a statement.

“NAIJ has represented immigration judges for 42 years and with this settlement we can continue to negotiate collective bargaining agreements for and to be a voice for those who adjudicate immigration decisions now and into the future.”

Left unmentioned by Trump’s critics has been that former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, had once unsuccessfully sought to decertify the union as well.

Also left unmentioned is the union’s apparent political activism. The Center for Immigration Studies points to a November 2019 report from NPR containing an anonymous quote from a union member.

“Clearly they want to use the judges to ramrod through cases and ramp up deportation regardless of any due process defects their policies have,” a judge who NPR noted wasn’t “authorized” to speak publicly complained about the then-President’s tough policies on illegal migration.

“Without the union, judges would be effectively muzzled and unable to publicly share their views about the courts, the judge added,” according to NPR.

Writing for CIS, former Department of Justice official Andrew R. Arthur noted that “there is certainly a question as to whether IJs [immigration judges] should be able ‘to publicly share their views about the courts’, as all judges are supposed to be neutral arbiters who perform their duties faithfully, without political considerations. ”

One of the issues the judges had with the Trump administration was its case quota, which was instrumental in reducing the growing case backlog and quickly removing illegal aliens.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other immigration hard-liners say that backlog allows people who should be deported quickly to stay in the United States for years while they wait for a court date,” as reported at the time by NPR.

With Biden now in office, the backlog has predictably grown by leaps and bounds.

“The new president’s apparently softer stance on immigration, as well as the pressures of the pandemic, have encouraged ever more people to try to cross the border illegally. Their number is now the highest in 21 years. In the past seven weeks alone, border agents have sent nearly 50,000 cases to the courts,” The Economist confirmed last month.

“That is increasing pressure on the country’s already overstretched courts. According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data research centre founded at Syracuse University, immigration courts have nearly 1.5m pending cases in their dockets—the most on record and nearly triple the number in 2016.”

The backlog has come amid Biden’s reversal of other Trump-era policies, including “Remain in Mexico”:

(Source: The Economist)

“Donald Trump’s solution to illegal immigration was to extend a wall on America’s southern border and to demand those with a reasonable claim for staying in the country wait in Mexico while that was processed. … On his first day in office, in January 2021, President Joe Biden halted work on the wall and ordered the suspension of the MPP,” according to The Economist.

It has also come amid a reversal of the Trump-era case quota.

“The settlement follows an announcement in October that [the DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review] would no longer enforce a quota system the Trump administration implemented in 2018, forcing judges to complete at least 700 cases and reach other benchmarks,” according to Government Executive.

“The judges frequently and passionately criticized the system, saying their performance evaluations should not be tied to quickly churning out verdicts in their courtrooms. Biden also named Ashley Tabaddor, a former immigration judge and NAIJ president, as chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.”

These moves fit with a pattern of the president prioritizing his union alliances.

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Vivek Saxena

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