WASHINGTON – The U.S. Justice Department has dropped its opposition to reviving a union for immigration judges that had been stripped of authority during the final months of the Trump administration.
With a backlog that exceeds 1.3 million cases, immigration courts will take center stage in any meaningful effort to revamp a nearly dysfunctional system. It is under growing strain as large numbers of families and children have appeared on the border this year to seek asylum, claims that often take years to resolve.
In November, the Federal Labor Relations Authority ruled that the nearly 500 immigration judges in the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review were management officials and therefore ineligible for collective bargaining rights.
The Justice Department, under pressure from labor groups and Democrats in Congress, told the labor relations board in a brief filing Friday that it no longer opposed efforts by the National Association of Immigration Judges to regain its authority.
The judges' union said in a statement Tuesday that it was optimistic the move would lead to restoration of collecting bargaining rights and reverse what it said was an attempt by the Trump administration to silence judges. The union had faced an attempt to be decertified once before and prevailed before the labor relations board in 2000.
The Trump administration imposed measures on the courts that it said were aimed at increasing efficiency without sacrificing rights to a fair hearing but often alienated the judges' union, which became an outspoken critic. Judges were required to complete 700 cases a year for satisfactory job performance ratings and prohibited from indefinitely suspending cases before them.
Judges are employees of the Justice Department and answer to the attorney general, who sets policies and criteria on how judges should rule on cases. The union has advocated for independent courts, a position that the Biden administration has not embraced.