Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke to 44 new immigration judges, the largest class ever, Monday, at Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia.
“You have an obligation to decide cases efficiently and to keep our federal laws functioning effectively, fairly, and consistently,” Sessions told the new judges in his prepared remarks.
“[The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)] gives me responsibility to ensure that our immigration system operates in an effective and efficient manner consistent with law enacted by Congress,” Sessions explained. “Many in this country take a different view. They object to any enforcement that works. They evidence an open borders philosophy.”
The attorney general continued to slam open borders ideology with reference to America’s strained social safety net.
Let me say this clearly: it is perfectly legitimate, moral, and decent for a nation to have a legal system of immigration and to enforce the system it adopts. No great and prosperous nation can have both a generous welfare system and open borders. Such a policy is both radical and dangerous. It must be rejected out of hand. Open borders is directly contrary to the INA, which governs our work. The INA is not perfect, but it plainly lays out a rational scheme for immigration that tells our officers and judges who is to be admitted, how many and under what circumstances. (Emphasis added)
The ceremony marks major progress in Sessions’ long-articulated goal of expanding EOIR’s corps of immigration judges from the roughly 300 woefully overloaded judges at the start of the Trump administration. The Justice Department (DOJ) requested funds for 75 new judges in last years’ budget and began to make progress on this goal almost immediately, increasing hiring throughout 2017. By last August, EOIR had 334 active immigration judges. A year later, with the swearing in of 23 new immigration judges — the largest class in years — last month, strength reached 351.
Speaking to September’s record breaking class of 44, Attorney General Sessions spoke of a even more ambitious goal. “But we won’t stop there—we will add even more by the end of this calendar year, with a goal of seeing a 50 percent increase in the number of judges since the beginning of the Trump administration,” he said.
EOIR’s immigration judges, who make all initial determinations as to deportations, asylum, and other everyday functions of INA, are special employees of the Department of Justice. They reach their judgments independently, but are subject to review by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and, ultimately, the attorney general. Reform at EOIR has been one of the main priorities of the Sessions Justice Department. Sessions selected EOIR Director James McHenry — who introduced Sessions in Falls Church Monday — to replace Obama era holdovers last May.
Beyond simply increasing the numbers of judges, Sessions has sought to rein in immigration lawyers, who have massively expanded the number of migrants claiming asylum by coaching otherwise illegal aliens to speak what Sessions has called “magic words” after being apprehended illegally crossing the U.S. border. “Good lawyers, using all of their talents and skill, work every day—like water seeping through an earthen dam—to get around the plain words of the INA to advance their clients’ interests,” Sessions said.
“Magic words” can lead to a migrant being released into the American interior with a dictate to return — perhaps years later — for a hearing on his asylum case. This is popularly known as “catch-and-release.” Sessions explained Monday:
Saying a few simple words—claiming a fear of return—has transformed a straightforward arrest for illegal entry and immediate return to too often into a prolonged legal process, where an alien may be released from custody into the United States and possibly never show up for an immigration hearing. Powerful incentives were created for aliens to come here illegally and claim a fear of return. In effect, word spread that by asserting this fear, they could remain in the United States one way or the other.
In response, Sessions has personally issued a series of rulings aimed at reversing the steady expansion of what qualifies otherwise illegal aliens to asylum, much to the chagrin of the immigration bar.
“Under the INA, asylum is available for those who leave their home country because of past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” Sessions told the new judges, claiming only one in five “credible fear” claims were found worthy of asylum. “Asylum was never meant to provide escape from all the problems—even serious problems—that people face every day all over the world.”
Sessions also touted his efforts to curtail immigration judges’ ability to “administratively close” cases, which often allows illegal aliens to avoid deportation, and his embattled “zero tolerance” policy for criminal prosecution of illegal border crossers and people smugglers.
“As members of the Executive Branch, it is our duty to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed,'” the attorney general imparted to his new judges. “When we depart from the law and create nebulous legal standards out of a sense of sympathy for the personal circumstances of a respondent in our immigration courts, we do violence to the rule of law and constitutional fabric that bind this great nation. Your job is to apply the law—even in tough cases.”