By ELLIOT SPAGAT
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The National Association of Immigration Judges on Thursday asked the federal government to restore its union recognition after the Trump administration stripped its official status and the system’s chief judge resigned after two years on the job.
The two developments come at a critical time for the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the courts.
The judges’ backlog of immigration cases has tripled to 1.8 million since 2017. Cases for people who are not detained take several years to resolve.
Tracy Short, who was named chief immigration judge in June 2020 by then-Attorney General William Barr, said in a message to immigration judges that his decision to step down as of July 30 was “difficult and not one that I envisioned I would be making.”
Short, a longtime government attorney with extensive experience in immigration, did not explain why he was leaving in the message, which was obtained by The Associated Press. Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, confirmed that Short resigned.
Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Jim Jordan, top Republicans on the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, wrote Attorney General Merrick Garland last week about news reports that “multiple” judges appointed during the Trump administration were recently ousted.
They claimed some departures were due to“the result of a coordinated effort between the Biden-Harris Administration and far-left immigration advocates.” Mattingly did not immediately provide responses to questions about those allegations.
The National Association of Immigration Judges, which was founded in 1971 and has long sought more independence from the Justice Department, was a frequent target of Trump administration officials who said judges took too much time to decide cases.
His administration ordered each judge to complete 700 cases annually in return for satisfactory performance reviews, a target that was scrapped during the Biden administration.
The Federal Labor Relations Authority stripped the National Association of Immigration Judges of its official status, siding with the Trump administration that judges were akin to management employees without collective bargaining rights. But the union hopes for a reversal after the three-member panel shifted to Democratic control in May.
The union said a majority of the roughly 550 immigration judges have signed a petition in the last two months to restore the union’s recognition.
The Trump administration “went to extraordinary lengths to unjustly silence immigration judges,” said Mimi Tsankov, president of the union, which operates under the AFL-CIO.
Tsankov, who is also an immigration judge in New York, said lack of official status ended the union’s influence on collective bargaining agreements and diminished its say on court spending and other operations.
“We don’t have a way to make known what the concerns are,” she said. “We need someone to say this is what’s not working.”
Mattingly, the court spokeswoman, said the Justice Department “supports employees’ rights to organize but is bound by orders issued by agencies and courts.”
While immigration judges wear black robes and preside in courtroom settings, they are considered federal attorneys with the Justice Department and can be removed from their positions by the attorney general.
In contrast, federal judges who oversee criminal and civil matters are appointed for life and work for the independent judicial system.
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