The Justice Department said Friday that it will temporarily transfer immigration judges to six detention centers mostly near the U.S. border with Mexico in an effort to put President Trump's immigration directives into effect.
The department's Executive Office for Immigration Review said the transfers to four locations in Texas and one each in Louisiana and New Mexico will occur Monday. Judges were previously moved to two immigration detention centers in San Diego and Adelanto in California.
Trump's executive order on border and immigration enforcement in January says judges should immediately be assigned to immigration detention centers. Many courts are for immigrants who are freed before their cases are heard.
The clogged immigration courts have gotten less attention than other aspects of Trump's orders, such as construction of a wall on the 2,000-mile border with Mexico and the addition of 5,000 Border Patrol agents and 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and agents. There was a backlog of 542,646 cases at the end of January, including 20,856 people who were being held in custody.
The president's budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year released Thursday calls for a 19% increase in immigration judges to 449 positions.
There are currently about 300 judges, even though the office is funded for 374 slots. Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, said 50 applicants are in various stages of the hiring process, which can take up to a year.
Dana Marks, president of the National Assn. of Immigration Judges, said hiring is "exceedingly slow and cumbersome."
Marks, also a judge in San Francisco, said the temporary assignments are expensive and will cause delays elsewhere. "There's always going to be some dockets that are going to suffer when a judge is taken from one location," she said.