The Department of Justice is giving more power to a top official to decide immigration cases, a move which comes at a time when the Trump administration is making efforts to exert greater influence over the nation’s immigration courts.
The director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the immigration court system, will have more power to make such decision thanks to a new rule that is set to take effect on Monday. The rule gives Director James McHenry the authority to issue a ruling if appeals aren’t completed within a specific time frame, CNN informs.
In cases where appeals are not adjudicated within 90 or 180 days, McHenry will decide the appeal. Such a move by the DOJ has attracted criticism from the union representing immigration judges, which said that it eliminates transparency and independence when making decisions on the issue.
“It’s essentially creating an immigration court czar,” said Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. “It’s the final nail in the coffin of any semblance of independent decision making,” she added, arguing that the rule puts in danger the non-political legal analysis.
Immigration advocates have condemned the regulation, which they perceive as an effort by the administration to deprive independent immigration judges of their powers and centralize them “in the hands of administration officials.”
The department’s spokeswoman Sarah Sutton defended the decision, dismissing claims that it conflicts with “core functions” of the Board of Immigration Appeals.
“It is evident from the text of the regulation that these changes do not interfere with the core functions of the Board of Immigration Appeals,” she said in a statement.
Immigration courts fall under the Justice Department, which has issued a number of rulings making it more difficult for people to qualify for asylum, both under the current and under the former attorney general.
Critics of the system that includes over 60 immigration courts and 400 judges have been calling for greater autonomy from the DOJ.
“The current system is irredeemably dysfunctional and on the brink of collapse,” said the American Bar Association earlier this year.