Trump schemes to smash immigration judges union
Ashley Tabaddor, head of the immigration judges union. | Susan Walsh/AP

WASHINGTON —Anti-worker President Donald Trump, infamous for hating federal workers and their unions, has now taken the next step. Not satisfied with cutting back on workers’ rights, he’s scheming to literally obliterate the union sector that represents federal immigration judges.

And, in the process, he’s trashing immigrants, too – an even higher Trump priority.

Trump’s Justice Department filed papers with the Federal Labor Relations Authority on August 9 seeking to declare every single one of the nation’s 440 immigration judges a “manager.” That means under labor law, the judges, all members of the National Association of Immigration Judges, a Professional and Technical Engineers sector, can’t be union members.

“It’s absurd that anyone would consider us managers,” replies Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge from Los Angeles who’s NAIJ president. “We don’t even have the authority to order pencils.”

But there’s an even bigger reason for Trump’s scheme to make the immigration judges “at will” managers whom his Justice Department – their agency employer – can fire on a whim.

They’ve been raising questions about the speedups and prejudgments of migrants’ cases Trump’s DOJ is imposing. Its speedup and other moves are designed to guarantee rejection of the overwhelming majority of migrants and reflect Trump’s hatred of non-white migrants, including asylum seekers.

In short, Trump wants the immigration judges to carry out his version of the Queen’s statement in Alice In Wonderland: “Sentence first – verdict afterwards!”

The judges, carrying out immigration law as it is written and supposed to be enforced, anger Trump. And the mounting number of applicants at the U.S.-Mexico border also means a mounting backlog of cases the 440 judges, who are severely overworked, must handle.

As a result, immigrants’ hearings are delayed. Until last month, they could stay in the U.S. – until Trump changed that policy, too. Now he wants new migrants to stay in Mexico until the judges can hear their cases. His Acting Homeland Security Secretary admitted on August 21 that non-detained migrants – those already in the U.S. – could wait years for the immigration judges to hear their pleas.

“This is nothing more than a desperate attempt by the DOJ to evade transparency and accountability and undermine the decisional independence of the nation’s 440 Immigration Judges,” said Tabaddor. “We are trial court judges who make decisions on the basis of case-specific facts and the nation’s immigration laws. We do not set policies, and we don’t manage staff.”

She also pointed out that even though the immigration judges are unionized, Trump’s Attorney General, now William Barr, can unilaterally over-rule the judges’ decisions in any or every specific case. The AG also has the power to hire, fire, and control the immigration judges.

Right now, DOJ sets an immigration quota for each judge of deciding 700 cases per year. DOJ also wants the judges to move cases more quickly, regardless of the evidence or the law, the union says. And the Trump Justice Department now micromanages each judge’s docket schedule “to advance law enforcement priorities rather than priorities or scheduling set by an individual judge.”

The union has protested that, too, along with Trump’s shorting the immigration judges of needed supplies, such as computers, and staff, such as interpreters. And Trump’s seven-week federal shutdown earlier this year – over his demand that Congress pony up $5 billion for his Mexican Wall – only made a bad case backlog worse, the union documented.

Paul Shearon, president of the judges’ parent union, the Professional and Technical Engineers, called Trump’s plan to make all the judges managers “nothing more than union busting plain and simple, and part of a disturbing pattern. “Added Shearon, “This administration doesn’t want to be held accountable, and they especially don’t want anyone looking over their shoulder on immigration issues.”

“It’s in the best interests of the American people for judges to hear cases based solely on the law and the facts presented, free from political considerations,” said Tabaddor, whose union will also take its case to Congress. “This is not a Democratic or Republican or a left, right issue. The move to decertify NAIJ is a clear effort to thwart criticism,” she concludes.


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 tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.