Durbin Releases Statement for the Record for Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Hearing on Immigration Courts

CHICAGO – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today released a statement for the record for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety hearing entitled “Preserving Due Process and the Rule of Law: Examining the Status of Our Nation’s Immigration Courts.”

Key Quotes:

“Our immigration courts are essential to a functional and orderly immigration system, but they are in desperate need of reform and improvements.  As of August 2023, there were more than 2.6 million pending cases before the nation’s immigration courts.  As a result, many immigrants must wait for years until their cases are decided.”

“While the Department of Justice has made significant progress in hiring more immigration judges, reducing this backlog will require additional efforts.”

“The Trump Administration played a significant role in the growth of the backlog, due to the Administration’s efforts to restrict the ability of immigration judges to manage their dockets… I was pleased to see the Department of Justice’s proposal to reverse those harmful Trump Administration changes and codify administrative closure in regulation.  This will permit immigration judges to better manage their dockets and be more efficient.”

“Access to legal counsel in immigration court also contributes significantly to court efficiency… Noncitizens in removal proceedings generally show up for their hearings, and having a lawyer actually further increases the rates at which immigrants show up.  Improving access to counsel thus is a win-win proposition, making courts more efficient, increasing appearance rates, and helping ensure meritorious cases are successful.”

“The immigration court backlog has been building over the past 15 years across both Democratic and Republican Administrations.  As with so many aspects of our immigration system, we need legislation to fix this problem.”

“To reduce the backlog, we must work together on a bipartisan basis to adequately fund the hiring of additional judges and support staff, and improvements in technology.  Congress must also act to ensure that immigration courts are not subject to the political whims of any administration.”

Full text of Durbin’s statement for the record is availablehere.

At the beginning of the Biden Administration, Durbin led eight of his Committee colleagues in a letter to Attorney General Garland urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) to reverse the Trump Administration’s attacks on the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) and the independence of immigration judges more broadly.  In their letter, the Senators emphasized that an independent NAIJ is critical to protecting immigration judges from political pressure and restoring the efficiency and integrity of our immigration court system.

Durbin routinely called out the Trump Administration’s mismanagement of the immigration court system.  In 2018, Durbin and other top Democrats sent a letter requesting that the DOJ Inspector General investigate whistleblower allegations of politicized hiring practices for immigration judges and Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) positions.  Durbin also asked James McHenry, the Director of Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), about these allegations during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee.

That same year, Durbin also called out the Justice Department’s decision to halt the Legal Orientation Program (LOP), which informs more than 50,000 detained non-citizens every year about their legal rights and responsibilities and improves the efficiency of immigration courts.  Durbin latersecured a victory when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed his position and said at an Appropriations Subcommittee hearing that there would be “no pause” in the Justice Department’s LOP.

In August 2020, Durbin led a request from all Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats to the top congressional watchdog to investigate the practices of the EOIR under President Trump, including its management of immigration courts during the COVID-19 pandemic.  This followed a letterthe Senators sent in February of that year raising concerns they voiced to DOJ about mismanagement of the EOIR under Attorney General Bill Barr, as well as the Trump Administration’s regulatory and procedural changes at the Justice Department that curtailed the independence of immigration courts.