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Immigration courts add 23 judges

The Justice Department has sworn in 23 new immigration judges, increasing the number of judges by about 10 percent in one day, according to a post Tuesday on the DOJ website. (The post, strangely, does not say what day the justices were sworn in, noting only that it happened “recently.”) The new hires should help with large backlogs in the immigration courts, where the average wait time for cases is 459 days.

It also means the DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review is finally following through on its promise to fill vacancies in the courts, where one in six positions stood vacant as of March. The agency promised to fill the 48 vacancies on immigration courts by the end of the year. They’re not there yet, but Chief Immigration Judge Brian M. O’Leary said the recent addition put the courts on their way to being fully staffed.

“These new immigration judges bring the judge corps of our 59 immigration courts to 262, and we expect to further enhance the corps by additional immigration judges before the end of the calendar year,” he said in a press release.

Vacancies mean longer wait times for hearings and more time in detention centers — plus shorter hearings in a system that already is considered assembly-line justice. Immigration judges had about 70 minutes per case, the shortest time on record from 1998 to the present, according to a March study from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. In some cases, this means considering multiple cases at the same time, including mass hearings of up to 80 people.

Immigrant rights advocates argue the backlogs make real justice next to impossible, adding to a number of other complaints about the way immigrants are treated in the civil deportation process.

Some rights groups might have one problem with the new judges hired by the DOJ. A look at their biographies shows that a majority have experience in immigration law specifically, but at least 15 of the 23 worked for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security, its predecessor Immigration and Naturalization Services or the Executive Office for Immigration Review at the Justice Department.

Immigration attorneys argue that taking judges from DHS adds to the tension of the process. “They’re your archenemies for fifteen years and now they’re the judge,” Glenn Fogle, an Atlanta immigration attorney, told The Nation.

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