MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I’m Michel Martin. Immigration, both legal and unauthorized, has been a central issue for Donald Trump since he announced his candidacy for president. Last week, he announced his plan for an overhaul to the current system, which emphasizes family ties and employment, moving to a system that would prioritize certain education and employment qualifications.
Overshadowing all of this, however, is the huge backlog of immigration cases already in the system waiting to go before the courts. More than 800,000 cases are waiting to be resolved, according to The New York Times. We wanted to get a sense of how the immigration courts are functioning now and how the new system could affect the courts, so we’ve called Jeffrey Chase. He is a retired immigration judge in New York. He worked as a staff attorney at the Board of Immigration Appeals. We actually caught up with him at the airport on his way back from a conference on national immigration law, which was held in Austin, Texas.
Mr. Chase, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.
JEFFREY CHASE: Thank you. Yeah, it seems appropriate to be at JFK Airport talking about immigration. So…
MARTIN: It does.
CHASE: It worked out.
MARTIN: So, first of all, just – as you said, you’re just coming back from this conference. Could you just give me – just overall, what are you hearing from your colleagues, particularly your former colleagues in the courts, about how this system is functioning now? How do they experience this backlog? Is it this unending flow of cases that they can’t do anything with? Or – how are they experiencing this?
CHASE: Yeah. You know, the American Bar Association just put out a report on the immigration courts recently in which they said it’s a dysfunctional system on the verge of collapse. And that was, basically, agreed to by everybody at the conference, including sitting immigration judges. What the judges have said is that the new judges being hired are pretty much being told in their training that they’re not really judges, that instead, they should view themselves as loyal employees of the attorney general and of the executive branch of government. They are basically being trained to deny cases not to fairly consider them.
So, you know, the immigration court itself has to be neutral, has to be transparent and has to be immune from political pressures. And unfortunately, the immigration courts have always been housed within the Department of Justice, which is a prosecutorial agency that does not have transparency and which is certainly not immune from political pressures. So there’s always been this tension there, and I think they’ve really come to a head under this administration.
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