Attorney General Jeff Sessions highlighted the need for more immigration judges and increased backlog efficiency in his September 10, 2018 remarks to welcome the largest new class of Immigration Judges (IJs) in history.

Among other things, Mr. Sessions said more IJs will be added by the end of this calendar year, “with a goal of seeing a 50 percent increase in the number” of IJs since the beginning of the Trump administration.

He also complained that “[g]ood lawyers, using all of their talents and skill, work every day—like water seeping through an earthen dam—to get around the plain words of the [Immigration and Nationality Act] to advance their clients’ interests. Theirs is not the duty to uphold the integrity of the act. That is our most serious duty.” He called attention to the fact that earlier in 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “announced that it would seek to refer 100 percent of illegal border crossers to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution in Federal courts.” He said that U.S. Attorneys are prosecuting over 90 percent of those cases referred to the Department of Justice, which he noted is a “two to threefold increase” and is the ” ‘zero tolerance’ policy you have heard about. You don’t get to enter the border unlawfully, between ports of entry, and place our [Customs and Border Protection] officers at risk without consequences.”

Mr. Sessions also said that the asylum system “has been abused for years to the detriment of the rule of law, sound public policy, and public safety.” He said that “[s]aying a few simple words—claiming a fear of return—has transformed a straightforward arrest for illegal entry and immediate return…too often into a prolonged legal process, where an alien may be released from custody into the United States and possibly never show up for an immigration hearing.” He asserted that “the vast majority of the current asylum claims are not valid under the law.” He said that for the past five years, only 20 percent of claims have been found to be meritorious after a hearing before an IJ, and that in addition, roughly 15 percent are found invalid by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as a part of their initial credible fear screenings. “Further illustrating this point,” Mr. Sessions said, “in 2009, DHS conducted more than 5,000 credible fear reviews. By 2016, only seven years later, that number had increased to 94,000. The number of these aliens placed in immigration court proceedings went from fewer than 4,000 to more than 73,000 by 2016—nearly a 19-fold increase—overwhelming the system and leaving legitimate claims buried.”

Mr. Sessions said it is the duty of the IJs to carry out his ruling on the principles of asylum and immigration law, and said “there will be more still to come.” “When we depart from the law and create nebulous legal standards out of a sense of sympathy for the personal circumstances of a respondent in our immigration courts, we do violence to the rule of law and constitutional fabric that bind this great nation. Your job is to apply the law—even in tough cases. As we work to restore rule of law in our immigration system, we will send a clear message to the world that the lawless practices of the past are over. The world will know what our rules are, and great numbers will no longer undertake this dangerous journey.”

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