Trump Justice Dept. immigration judges take on…Trump Justice Dept.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a speed-up in immigration case processing. | Jeff Owen / AP

Yet another group of federal workers is challenging their boss. The union local representing the nation’s immigration judges, who are part of President Donald Trump’s Justice Department is taking on…Donald Trump’s Justice Department.

In a grievance filed August 8 by union President A. Ashley Tabbador, a Los Angeles immigration judge, the National Association of Immigration Judges challenges the quotas and speed-ups in decision-making that Trump Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions ordered earlier this year. NAIJ represents the nation’s 350 immigration judges.

More broadly, she says, the union challenges DOJ’s violation of due process of law for the immigrants whose cases the judges handle, as well as DOJ’s quotas for each judge and orders to speed up case handling. Both violate the union contract, the grievance says.

Under Sessions, due process often leaves migrants with little help, unless attorneys volunteer to represent them. DOJ regulations say the migrants must appear when ordered, even without a lawyer. As a result, Kaiser Health News reported, some 70 babies and toddlers under the age of 1 were forced into immigration hearings since October 1. So have 609 other kids aged 1-5. One-fourth had no lawyers.

That isn’t good enough for DOJ. Following Trump’s dictates, it wants to make sure every migrant gets thrown out of the country, regardless of the quality of their claims for entry or asylum.

Specifically, Tabbador told a telephone press conference, NAIJ, a local within the Professional and Technical Engineers, is challenging Sessions’ decision to yank the case of immigrant Reynaldo Castro-Turn away from the immigration judge involved, Steven Morley, take it himself, and deport Castro-Turn. DOJ also yanked Morley’s other cases, mostly involving teenagers, when Morley said there was inadequate or non-existent evidence DOJ actually notified the migrants of their hearings.

“This started with removal of the case right in the midst of the proceedings,” because of Sessions’ “concern” that Morley wasn’t moving fast enough, Tabbador said. CNN added Sessions acted also because Morley had—or so Sessions claimed—previously criticized the Trump administration’s “deport everybody” policy.

“Immigration judges are concerned with due process of law, consistent with the U.S. Constitution” and their oaths of office, Tabbador said. “If a person (an immigrant) is not properly notified of the charges” against him or her, “then the case cannot be handled properly. By interfering with due process, the agency undermined the integrity of that and of immigrants’ rights” to a fair hearing on their claims.

But the issue goes beyond the single case which resulted in the grievance, Tabaddor explained. The immigration appeals process “is being used” by DOJ to turn the judges “into front-line law-enforcement police. They”—Justice Department superiors—“are coming up with quotas and deadlines for decisions.”

That conversion breaks both the union contract—hence the grievance—and the judges’ oaths to uphold the Constitution, she says. After all, the nation’s basic charter makes no distinction for due process of law between citizens and everybody else.

NAIJ’s grievance against their Justice Department boss says the speedup and quotas violate the independent authority which Section 23 of the union’s contract guarantees for the immigration judges. The union also wants DOJ to return Morley’s cases to him and “a commitment by the department not to use its authority” to pre-judge all migrants’ cases against the migrants.

Tabbador admits NAIJ’s contract with the department gives the agency authority to assign cases to individual immigration judges. “But not for the purposes of determining a decisional outcome”—deport the immigrant—she says. “When an agency withdraws a judge’s decisional authority” in an immigrant’s case, “you have to file a grievance.”

The immigration judges’ case against their agency is separate from the ongoing struggle administrative law judges, in agencies like the Labor Department and the National Labor Relations Board, face against Trump. Those ALJs are all the initial deciders in labor law-breaking cases, before workers, unions or bosses appeal the verdicts upwards.

Citing a recent court ruling involving ALJs at the Securities and Exchange Commission, the anti-worker Trump government wants to politicize all other ALJs, inserting only minimally qualified, but politically right-wing, lawyers into their spots.

That court ruling doesn’t affect the immigration judges, since they’re part of another DOJ agency. But they are affected by Trump’s anti-federal worker executive orders issued just before Memorial Day.

Those orders, which started taking effect July 1, curb governmental worker rights in general, evict unions from their small offices in federal buildings, make it easier to fire workers within 30 days, and say union shop stewards, including those representing the immigration judges, may handle the grievances only on their own time and on their own dime. Federal worker unions sued to overturn them.

Those Trump executive orders also allow agencies “to put anyone on probation—and they can use that to influence decision-making” by the immigration judges, Tabbador says.

“We don’t have the other protections in place,” she adds. “Our ability to raise our concerns is severely constricted. Unlike the others, we can’t go to U.S. District Court” to overturn the quotas, the anti-immigrant tilt and the speedups.  Instead, the immigration judges must go through the federal worker appeals process, starting with their grievance.

But they do have one other avenue, Tabbador notes: Taking their cause into the open.

“We’re educating members of Congress and the general public on how devastating this all is,” both for the judges and the immigrants, she says.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).