Immigration judges exempt from Trump’s federal hiring freeze

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By Mica Rosenberg and Kristina Cooke

<span class="articleLocation”>President Donald Trump’s federal hiring freeze
will not apply to immigration court judges under an exception
for positions that are needed for national security and public
safety, the Executive Office for Immigration Review told Reuters
on Friday.

The Trump administration has called for faster removal of
immigrants in the United States illegally, but immigration
courts, which rule on asylum applications and deportation
appeals, are weighed down by a record backlog of more than
542,000 cases.

On Jan. 23, Trump froze hiring for all federal government
positions, except for military personnel and in some other
limited circumstances.

New Attorney General Jeff Sessions “determined that
Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) positions can
continue to be filled,” EOIR spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly told
Reuters in an email response to questions about the freeze.

“As such, EOIR is continuing to advertise and fill positions
nationwide for immigration judges and supporting staff,”
Mattingly said. The immigration courts are run by the Justice
Department, unlike federal courts which are independent.

In a Feb. 20 enforcement memorandum, Homeland Security
Secretary John Kelly said that long delays in immigration court
hearings were “unacceptable” and allow “removable aliens with no
plausible claim for relief to remain unlawfully in the United
States for many years.”

There are currently 301 sitting immigration judges in 58
courts nationwide, falling short of the 374 positions Congress
has authorized. More than 50 immigration judge candidates are at
various stages of the hiring process, which typically takes
about a year, according to EOIR. The courts would need about 520 judges to eliminate the
backlog, according to a July 2016 study by the advocacy group
Human Rights First.

The new immigration enforcement guidelines expand the number
of people that could be targeted for deportation. Depending on
the circumstances, immigrants who are arrested or detained by
immigration agents have the right to claim asylum or request
deportation relief in immigration court.

“The issue for the immigration court has really just been
the pressing crush of cases,” said retired immigration judge
Eliza Klein, who sat on the bench in Miami, Boston and Chicago
from 1994 to 2015. “Judges are told this case is a priority this
week and this other kind of case is a priority next week,” she

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