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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson January 5, 2022

Biden has increased the number of immigration judges, but hasn’t doubled them

Amid concerns about backlogs in adjudicating immigration claims, Joe Biden promised during the 2020 presidential race to double the number of immigration judges and staff.

Biden has increased the number, but he hasn't doubled it.

At the time Biden took office in January 2021, there were roughly 500 immigration judges, said Mimi Tsankov, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. (Tsankov was speaking in her own capacity as president of the group, not as a federal immigration judge based in New York City.)

In the subsequent year, 74 new immigration judges have been seated, she said. That's an increase of about 15%, not double.

In fact, Biden didn't even seek a doubling in his initial proposed budget, said Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Instead, his budget proposal asked for up to 100 new immigration judges.

Staff counts are not publicly available, but Tsankov said that, anecdotally, "immigration courts continue to be understaffed." Increases in staff that have already been funded by Congress are not yet operational, she said. This means that "files may not be complete, and when calling the court, people may have difficulty accessing a staff member in a timely manner."

If Biden has fallen short on the numerics of his promise, however, Tsankov said that other moves by the administration have been helpful in improving immigration adjudication.

Notably, the administration has suspended a policy instituted under President Donald Trump that effectively required judges to fulfill case quotas. The Trump-era rules required judges "to move cases through so fast that they potentially compromised individuals' due process rights," she said. The suspension of the old policy was implemented by David Neal, a Biden appointee who heads the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts.

Neal also worked to increase access to pro bono legal aid for people appearing before immigration courts, Tsankov said.

Biden didn't fulfill his promise of doubling the number of immigration judges and staff, but he has so far enacted a 15% increase in judges. We rate this promise In the Works.

Our Sources

AZ Mirror, "Up to 100 new immigration judges would be added under Biden budget request," April 13, 2021

CNN, "Justice Department eliminates Trump-era case quotas for immigration judges," Oct. 20, 2021

Government Executive, "Biden Admin. Suspends Immigration Judge Quotas, Prompting Similar Requests Elsewhere," Oct. 26, 2021

Email interview with Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Jan. 4, 2022

Interview with Mimi Tsankov, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, Jan. 4, 2022

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