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Biden Admin. Suspends Immigration Judge Quotas, Prompting Similar Requests Elsewhere

Following news that the Justice Department will no longer enforce strict caseload quotas on immigration judges, administrative law judges at SSA called on the agency to suspend the requirement to schedule at least 50 disability cases per month.

Officials at the Justice Department last week announced that it would suspend a controversial system for managing immigration judges’ performance based on the number of cases they decide, prompting judges at other agencies to request an end to similar quotas.

In 2018, the Trump administration implemented controversial new quotas for immigration judges at the Executive Office for Immigration Review. Judges were expected to complete at least 700 cases per year, with a remand rate of less than 15%, as well as comply with a series of secondary benchmarks depending on the types of cases.

Judges objected to the system, both due to the sheer volume of cases required to meet the quota, but also because it failed to take into account the fact that different immigration judges handle different types of cases. For instance, immigration judges on the family docket effectively completed several cases at a time, by virtue of the fact that they would hear an entire family’s case at once.

Last week, Chief Immigration Judge Tracy Short announced that the Justice Department is suspending those quotas immediately in an email to judges obtained by Government Executive.

“The Office of the Director and the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge are conducting a comprehensive review of the immigration judge performance work plan and performance measures,” Short wrote. “The agency is in the process of developing new performance measures, drawing from past successful measures and appropriate input that will accurately reflect the workload of an immigration judge. These new performance measures will focus on balance and equity for the various types of docket assignments, and we look forward to sharing them with you shortly.”

Mimi Tsankov, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, whose union is still fighting for the Justice Department to recognize the labor group after the Federal Labor Relations Authority voted to decertify it last year, applauded the decision and urged management to consult with the union on a new performance management system.

“This week’s actions by the Department of Justice under Executive Office for Immigration Review Director David Neal are a step in the right direction toward restoring a greater measure of integrity to our nation’s immigration courts,” Tsankov said. “Our organization looks forward to working with management to restore a fairer process that allows judges to focus on doing their jobs properly. The performance metrics developed by the Trump administration were a violation of judicial ethics; they belong in the trash bin.”

The decision has raised the hopes of another union of judges that its agency will abandon its own controversial quota system. The Association of Administrative Law Judges said they have been operating under an onerous requirement from the Social Security Administration to schedule at least 50 disability cases per month since 2017.

“We have to submit a calendar that demonstrates that we will hold at least 50 hearings in a month, and if you don’t, you have to make up the difference in other months,” said AALJ President Melissa McIntosh. “The consequences include discipline, and judges who have received proposed removal actions are cited for ‘not managing’ their docket . . . In addition to this scheduling rule, they repeatedly say that you must have between 500 and 700 legally defensible decisions per year.”

McIntosh’s organization is urging acting Social Security Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi to abandon the performance metrics, arguing that they effectively deprive claimants of their due process rights, particularly as cases have gotten more complex in recent years.

“We have a small amount of time to review a large amount of data, and the case files keep getting longer, but despite that, the scheduling requirement remains in place,” McIntosh said. “[These] documents are important, and claimants deserve full and fair hearings, and we’re committed to giving them full and fair hearings.”

Additionally, McIntosh said that the quotas have wrecked many administrative law judges’ work-life balance, often forcing them to forfeit benefits like annual leave.

“What happens is the judges lose thousands of hours of leave in the form of forfeited annual leave, credit hours or donated leave because of their effort to respect the rights of these claimants, and we’re at a tipping point,” she said. “We’re honored to be administrative law judges and we’re honored to hear and decide these cases, and we’re in no way complaining or suggesting that we aren’t very fortunate individuals. But it’s also true that these decisions are important and they deserve more time for us to hear them.”

The Social Security Administration did not respond to a request for comment.