What Will Happen If Dozens of Immigration Judges Retire?

Swimming pool at VIP villas, Antalya, TurkeyAccording to a recent report by Laura Wides-Munoz for ABC News, nearly half of the nation’s 220 immigration judges (IJs) will be eligible for retirement next year, in 2014.

I’ve got to confess, my first reaction upon reading that was to think “Phew, I know of one or two judges who should have found themselves a sunny beach in Florida years ago.” (More on that, I shall not say.)

But apparently, clearing away deadwood comes at a price. Wides-Munoz identifies a number of foreseeable problems if even the average number of judges retire next year (which would be 11), and quotes the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges as saying that the increasing difficulty of the job may push that number up higher.

It’s a burnout job. IJs deal with a complex law, a high number of unrepresented noncitizens, a lack of support staff to deal with an often overwhelming caseload, the emotional toll of issuing what may be life-or-death decisions, and so on.

The main issue to do with coming retirements that Wides-Munoz  discusses is the inevitable increased delay for hearings to be scheduled and conclude.  (Many hearings last for more than one session.) This will lead to deserving cases being harder to present convincingly, and undeserving cases consuming resources if the noncitizen is in detention.

Another possible issue is that, even in the best-case scenario, in which many of the vacant positions are filled (which doesn’t look likely to happen quickly), the immigration courts will be increasingly populated by judges who don’t really understand immigration law all that well. Sure, the government will pick qualified candidates, but most immigration practitioners specialize in one area, and may be unfamiliar with others.

So, I officially withdraw my initial reaction. Don’t go! Retirement is overrated! Excessive sun exposure is dangerous!