Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland speaks during an event with President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., on Jan. 7.

Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland speaks during an event with President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., on Jan. 7. Susan Walsh/AP

Lawmakers Urge Attorney General Nominee to Restore Immigration Judges Union

The National Association of Immigration Judges was decertified as a union by the Trump administration last year following a controversial decision by the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

The leadership of the House Oversight and Reform Committee last week urged President Biden’s nominee to be attorney general to “take all necessary actions” to ensure that a union representing immigration judges does not lose its certification following a controversial decision last year to bust the labor group.

In 2019, the Justice Department asked the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the agency tasked with overseeing unions and management across the federal government, to decertify the National Association of Immigration Judges, arguing that immigration judges are management officials. Last November, the FLRA voted along party lines to grant the department’s request, overruling its own regional director and overturning 20 years of precedent.

In a Jan. 22 letter, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., urged Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland to work swiftly to restore the immigration judges union to good standing. Critics of the Trump administration’s effort to bust the union have described it as part of an effort to politicize the immigration judge corps.

“Decertification of the immigration judges’ union is contrary to longstanding precedents and clear retaliation against immigration judges for their fair and impartial adjudication of the nation’s immigration laws,” Maloney and Connolly wrote. “I request that you, as attorney general-designate, take all necessary actions to ensure that immigration judges can continue to be represented by their union.”

Faraz Khan, a legislative representative for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, the judge union’s umbrella organization, said the union is still waiting for the FLRA’s regional director to issue an order implementing the agency’s decision. But despite the fact that the union is legally still certified, the Trump Justice Department moved immediately to excise the union from the Executive Office of Immigration Review.

“The agency certainly wasted no time in interpreting the authority’s decision to mean that the immigration judges union was effectively without certification,” he said. “And that’s not, in fact, the case. So immediately, meetings to handle grievances were taken off the schedule and cancelled, and right away we saw our union’s ability to collect dues through employees’ paychecks taken out. We’ve filed grievances on all of that, but in keeping with the Trump DoJ’s approach to this, they basically refused to consider those grievances.”

In the meantime, the union has filed a motion for reconsideration with the FLRA, in the hopes that the agency, under new Chairman Ernest DuBester, who dissented in the original decision, would reverse the ruling. Khan said the union hopes that the Justice Department will join the effort to ensure that the FLRA reverses course on this matter.

“What we’re seeking is for the DoJ to file a motion with the FLRA that would seek to withdraw the original petition that would classify the immigration judges, mistakenly, as management officials. That’s what we’re asking for, and we think that the Biden administration’s DoJ can seek a motion to send the matter back to the FLRA with instructions to vacate the opinion.”

A possible sign of whether the Biden administration will follow through on the union’s requests could be in a recent staffing decision. Ashley Tabbador, who until this month was the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, has been tapped to serve as chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The union announced Tuesday that it has chosen Judge Amiena Khan to serve as its president moving forward.

“Since 2017, Judge Tabbador has provided dedicated, steady and visible leadership as NAIJ’s president during a turbulent time for the nation’s immigration courts,” Amiena Khan said in a statement. “As the new NAIJ president, I welcome the opportunity to work with the Biden administration and our colleagues at the Department of Justice to improve the immigration courts and address the workplace concerns of judges.”