Chairman Nadler Statement for Hearing on "For the Rule of Law, An Independent Immigration Court"
Washington, January 20, 2022
Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during a Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship hearing on "For the Rule of Law, An Independent Immigration Court":"
"With today’s hearing, we take a close look at our nation’s immigration court system—a system that bears little resemblance to other courts charged with the administration of justice.
"The U.S. immigration court system is administered by the Executive Office for Immigration Review—also known as 'EOIR'—an agency housed under the Department of Justice.
"Since its founding in 1983, EOIR has struggled with its quasi-judicial status. Simply put, because it lacks independence from the Executive Branch, the immigration court system is highly susceptible to political interference.
"This interference—from administrations on both sides of the aisle—has greatly diminished the effectiveness of the immigration courts, as well as the quality of justice served in such courts.
"Our country deserves an immigration court system that works. To be truly effective, the immigration courts should function just like any other judicial institution, where judges serve as independent, neutral adjudicators, free from political pressure.
"Unfortunately, under the current system, the opposite is the case. Immigration judges are subject to the whims of the executive. Unable to function as independent judicial officers, judges lack the autonomy to manage their dockets and, in some cases, to render fair and impartial decisions.
"Although these issues have been evident for decades, the need for an independent immigration court system could not have become clearer under the Trump Administration, which used EOIR as a pawn to advance its anti-immigrant agenda.
"As Chair Lofgren mentioned, the Attorneys General of the Trump era used the 'self-certification' process 17 times to unilaterally change immigration policy or to limit judges’ discretion. In contrast, under the Obama and Bush Administrations, both of which lasted 8 years, the self-certification mechanism was only used four and ten times, respectively.
"The Trump Administration also targeted the National Association of Immigration Judges—or 'NAIJ'—the recognized representative of immigration judges and a vocal critic of many of the Administration’s policies that limited judicial discretion. It even went so far as to successfully petition the Federal Labor Relations Authority to strip the NAIJ of its union status.
"Fortunately, the Justice Department once again recognizes the NAIJ for collective bargaining purposes and many of the policy changes implemented under the Trump Administration have now been reversed or enjoined by federal courts.
"But policy whiplash is no way to run a court. A true court system must be defined by the separation of powers. It must prioritize judicial independence, due process, and the rule of law.
"Because of these issues, nonpartisan groups, including those represented by several of our witnesses today, have long called on Congress to pass legislation establishing an independent immigration court system. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today as to why this is so critical and how such a system should be structured."I thank the Chair, Ms. Lofgren, for her leadership on this issue, and for holding this important hearing. I yield back the balance of my time."