In a move prompted by the Department of Homeland Security and being carried out by the Department of Justice, immigration judges are being temporarily reassigned to a dozen cities, including San Francisco, with high populations of illegal immigrants. As Reuters reports, the plan for the reshuffling of judges is just getting underway, but the purpose is to speed up deportation proceedings in places where backlogs of cases have been building up.
Cities that will be receiving an influx of judges for their immigration courts are New York; Los Angeles; Miami; New Orleans; San Francisco; Baltimore, Bloomington, Minnesota; El Paso, Texas; Harlingen, Texas; Imperial, California; Omaha, Nebraska and Phoenix, Arizona.
There are some 18,000 cases pending in immigration courts relating to crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, which can include crimes like driving without a license, as ABC 7 reports.
As of December, according to figures from the University of Syracuse, California had the highest number of backlogged immigration cases, with 97,860, and Texas came in a close second, at 95,193.
The choice of cities for the judge reshuffling is interesting in that Imperial, California is home to a large number of undocumented immigrants who came to the country for agricultural work, and Bloomington, Minnesota is home to a large number of Somali immigrants who sought asylum here.
Meanwhile, SF Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors have been debating how much of the city budget to allocate to adding public defenders specifically for immigration cases. As of this month, the mayor OK'd the hiring of three new lawyers at an expense of $200,000 per year.
Paul Schmidt, a former immigration judge and chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals, tells Reuters that all this will amount to is "aimless docket reshuffling" in which judges will have to postpone hearing cases they would normally be hearing in their home courts. Also, he says, "It seems they have an assumption that everyone who has committed a crime should be removable, but that's not necessarily true. Even people who have committed serious crimes can sometimes get asylum."
Some similar judge shuffling occurred under the Obama administration as well, and rather than physically relocating judges, they would sometimes hear immigration cases via video conference.
Fox News notes that the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review will additionally be temporarily transferring judges to six immigration detention centers along the southern border of the country at four locations in Texas and one each in Louisiana and New Mexico, starting Monday.