Congressman helps secure 50 immigration judges amid DOJ hiring freeze

Current immigration case backlog stands at 850,000

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said he helped secure 50 new immigration judges in an effort to increase the efficiency of immigration courts at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a news release.

Cuellar, a member of the Conference Committee on Homeland Security Appropriations, made the announcement Thursday that he helped secure 50 new immigration judge teams in the fiscal year 2019 appropriations package.

The appropriations were allocated for judges, support staff, technology and work space, in addition to “border security measures and language that increases immigration court efficiency,” the release states in part.

The congressman, according to the release, has been a longtime champion for increasing immigration court efficiency at the border.

“In the FY18 appropriations bill, Cuellar helped secure 100 judge teams, totaling 484 immigration judge teams,” the release stated. “With the addition of 50 judge teams in FY19, the Executive Office for Immigration Review will have a total of 534 immigration judge teams to address the current backlog of more than 850,000 immigration cases. The goal is to field 750 judges nationwide, including supervisors.”

Cuellar in the last three years has made it a priority to place additional immigration judges into border communities, including 55 new immigration judge teams in fiscal year 2016; at least 10 judges in FY2017; and at least 100 judges in FY2018, the release stated.

“Increasing the number of judges to process immigration cases is a common sense solution that should appeal to everyone, no matter how you feel about immigration policy,” Cuellar said in the release. “With a backlog of hundreds of thousands pending active cases, our immigration courts are in dire need of additional judges to expeditiously adjudicate these cases. For this reason, I requested additional judges at the border, so that we can expedite these processes and ensure the fair and humane treatment of migrants.”

The backlog of nearly 900,000 immigration cases has been exacerbated due to the lack of judges working along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Due in part to the lack of available judges, immigrants at the border are either detained for long periods of time or released into the United States with a promise to return at a later court date. Neither of those is a good option for immigrants or the enforcement of our laws. Having more judges at the border will help treat immigrants more fairly,” Cuellar said.

The timing of the approval for more judges comes as multiple publications have reported that the Department of Justice is placing a hiring freeze of any new immigration judges due to budgetary constraints.

According to one such report from The Hill, a Justice Department official confirmed that the agency is no longer prioritizing the addition of new immigration judges and support staff due to funding shortfalls.

The revelation also comes just weeks after President Trump signed a spending bill with money for the additional immigration judges, but the department said unexpected costs will make that — and previously funded hiring — “impossible.”