The Justice Department has moved to decertify the union of immigration judges, a maneuver that could muffle an organization whose members have sometimes been openly critical of the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement agenda.
The department filed a petition on Friday asking the Federal Labor Relations Authority to determine whether the union, the National Association of Immigration Judges, should have its certification revoked because its members are considered “management officials” ineligible to collectively organize, according to a Justice Department spokesman.
The move suggested escalating tensions between overwhelmed immigration judges desperate for greater resources and a Justice Department pushing them to quickly address a backlog of immigration cases.
“This is a misguided effort to minimize our impact,” said Judge Amiena Khan, vice president of the judges’ union, which has publicly criticized the use of a quota system in immigration court and other attempts to speed up proceedings.
“We serve as a check and balance on management prerogatives and that’s why they are doing this to us,” said Judge Khan.
Unlike other federal judges who are part of the judicial branch, immigration judges are appointed by the attorney general and are employees of the Justice Department. Though sitting judges are prohibited from speaking publicly about issues that could be considered political, representatives of the immigration judges’ union can speak publicly about Justice Department policies on behalf of its members.
This is not the first time an administration has challenged the organization. The Clinton administration also tried to decertify the immigration judges’ union, a move that the Federal Labor Relations Authority rejected, according to former immigration judges.
Both Judge Khan and the union president, Judge Ashley Tabaddor, have spoken out repeatedly against what they say is an attempt to turn immigration judges from neutral arbiters of the law to law enforcement agents enacting the White House’s policies. They have called for immigration judges to be independent of the Justice Department.
By Christina Goldbaum for THE NEW YORK TIMES
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