The Department of Justice last week announced new metrics for immigration judges linking their annual performance reviews to the number of cases they complete in a fiscal year. Under the new metrics, which are to take effect October 1, 2018, judges will have to complete 700 cases annually—roughly 3 cases per day—to earn a “satisfactory” rating. These measures threaten the critical independence of immigration judges and hamper access to due process and humanitarian relief for the most vulnerable, especially children fleeing extreme violence and abuse.
“Immigration judges are tasked with deciding the fate and future of the most vulnerable among us, including children seeking safety from unthinkable violence in their home countries,” said Wendy Young, President of Kids in Need of Defense. “Children deserve a fair opportunity to tell their story and navigate cases with the highest of stakes.”
Children face daunting hurdles in immigration proceedings, in which they frequently must confront an intimidating and unfamiliar setting—and a trained government attorney and judge—alone. Child survivors of violence and trauma experience unique difficulties in making their cases for relief and require sufficient time to reveal their painful stories and prepare to appear in an adversarial setting. Procedural tools such as administrative closure and continuances allow judges the ability to reschedule, temporarily close, or terminate cases to allow these children the time they need to secure legal counsel and work through their cases without repeated or unnecessary hearings. These tools—and the discretion of judges to use them as necessary—are essential to ensuring due process for the most vulnerable in our immigration system.
Most unaccompanied children are eligible for forms of relief from deportation that require adjudication beyond immigration court, including in family court or before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. With performance metrics acting as a disincentive for rescheduling or delaying proceedings, judges may be reluctant to grant the time necessary for those claims to be fairly adjudicated. As a result, children may be unjustly returned to grave harm and abuse in their home countries.
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