A House Judiciary Committee subcommittee heard testimony Thursday about making immigration courts independent of the Department of Justice as the system faces a historic backlog of nearly 1.6 million cases, reports Courthouse News Service. The panel's subcommittee on immigration heard from immigration judges and leaders of national bar associations calling for reorganization of an immigration court system that many said is strained by an increasing caseload and political pressures. With a rise of 140,000 cases since October, the unprecedented backlog is only getting worse, says Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Mimi Tsankov, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges and a former immigration judge, attributed the backlog partly to oversight by DOJ.
Tsankov said this makes the immigration courts subject to political whims and can create whiplash for immigration cases when there's a transition between administrations with different immigration priorities.
"That ping-pong between one administration's priorities and another’s, reducing judicial effectiveness," Tsankov said. “Our inability to complete cases is a function of those shifting priorities.” She said this means judges are constantly shuffling which cases they prioritize, an issue that slows the pace of cases getting resolved. Subcommittee chair Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) expressed her support for reorganization. "I believe Congress should act to pass legislation to create an immigration court system independent of the executive branch,” she said. Elizabeth Stevens, speaking for the Federal Bar Association, joined in the call for immigration courts to be reorganized as independent Article I courts, referring to federal tax courts as a potential model. Art Arthur of the Center for Immigration Studies argued that removing DOJ oversight would do nothing to improve the shortage of resources that plagues immigration courts.