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Trump Exaggerates Immigration Judge Proposals

DOJ, lawmakers have proposed fewer judges at the border than president asserts

President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s tweet Monday opposing “hiring manythousands” of immigration judges for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border goes far beyond the number of judges lawmakers want to add to speed up the nation’s deportation system, and is also significantly more than what the Justice Department says it needs.

The DOJ has made the hiring of additional judges a key component of its immigration enforcement agenda, despite Trump’s assertion in his tweet that it’s “not the way to go.” A department official told lawmakers last November it will take around 700 immigration judges total to make a dent in a massive backlog of cases in immigration court.

Two Republicans, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia, have proposed increasing the number of immigration judges by 375 in companion bills introduced this month, more than doubling the Justice Department’s current 335 immigration judges.

Other measures propose different increases, but all far more modest than Trump’s tweet would suggest. A bill from Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Repulibcan, would require the DOJ to add 225 immigration judges, while a bill from Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, proposes an additional 55 immigration judges in fiscal years 2018, 2019 and 2020.

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In the meantime, appropriators in the House and Senate have included more funds to hire immigration judges in their fiscal 2019 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bills, as they have in previous years, to get rid of a backlog of around 700,000 cases.

An additional $126 million in the House version would allow for 100 more immigration judges in fiscal 2019, a committee report states, which would bring the total number funded under law to 584.

That’s on top of funding for 100 additional immigration judges in the fiscal 2018 spending bill. “This addition of 200 new immigration judge teams over a two-year period should have a dramatic impact on reducing the immigration case backlog,” the House committee report states.

Under the Senate’s version, the Justice Department would get funding for 75 additional immigration judges in fiscal 2019. The Senate committee report on the bill noted that the DOJ’s hiring process for immigration judges has become more efficient.

Both the House and Senate spending bills, which fund the immigration judges under the DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, propose other changes to speed up the work of current judges.

Dean DeChiaro contributed to this report.

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