Immigration detainees walk down a hall at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, California, on March 14, 2017. (AFP photo)
Justice Department says it is developing plans to temporarily transfer immigration judges from around the country to detention centers in 12 cities to expedite deportations of undocumented immigrants who have been charged with crimes.
The department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review said Friday the judges will be sent to cities which have high populations of illegal immigrants with criminal charges.
The plan to increase deportations is in line with a pledge made frequently by President Donald Trump
during his election campaign last year to deport more illegal immigrants who are charged with or convicted of a crime.
Under an executive order signed by Trump in January, illegal immigrants with pending criminal cases are regarded as priorities for deportation whether they have been found guilty or not.
That is a shift from the policy of former president Barack Obama, which prioritized deportations only of undocumented immigrants convicted of major crimes.
Immigration advocacy groups have criticized the policy shift because they say it unfairly targets immigrants who may be acquitted of their charges and do not pose a threat.
Former immigration judge Paul Schmidt said the White House should not assume that all undocumented immigrants charged with crimes can be deported from the US.
“It seems they have an assumption that everyone who has committed a crime should be removable, but that’s not necessarily true. Even people who have committed serious crimes can sometimes get asylum,” Schmidt told Reuters.
He also criticized the effectiveness of transferring immigration judges from one court to another, noting that the reshuffling could further logjam a national immigration court system which has more than 540,000 pending cases.
“That’s what you call aimless docket reshuffling,” he said.
Under the Obama administration, to avoid the expense and disruption of immigration judges traveling, they would often hear proceedings from other courthouses via video conference.