Federal immigration judges filed a formal grievance Wednesday against Atty. General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, and the Department of Justice, saying they want to stop federal law enforcement officials from interfering with their autonomy.
The complaint from the National Assn. of Immigration Judges comes after Sessions removed Judge Steven Morley from a high-profile immigration case in July and replaced him with another judge who ordered the immigrant at the center of the proceedings swiftly deported.
The Justice Department has since removed more than 80 cases from Morley, who sits in Philadelphia, through other administrative reassignments or appeal procedures, according to their complaint.
“He is very, very disturbed over this,” Ashley Tabaddor, president of the association, said of Morley, calling the case reassignments the latest example of the Trump administration undermining the independence of immigration judges to advance its political priorities.
“It is a further example of what we have seen as a step-by-step encroachment of a judge’s ability to handle cases,” Tabaddor said.
The judge’s union – which represents 350 federal immigration judges – wants the Justice Department to return the cases to Morley and publicly recognize that taking them away was improper.
It also wants to stop the department from using its authority to reassign cases to get an outcome more favorable to the administration.
The case that first sparked attention was that of Reynaldo Castro-Tum, a Guatemalan teenager who crossed the border illegally when he was 17 and had been fighting deportation for years.
Tabaddor said immigration courts, which are run by the Justice Department, have been used for political messaging, consistent with law enforcement priorities, under past administrations.
But “all of these issues have become more pronounced” with the administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, she said.