The Trump Administration Wants to Decertify the Union Representing U.S. Immigration Judges—Here's What Will Happen If It Does

The Trump administration has been accused of trying to "evade transparency and accountability" with its new push to decertify the union representing immigration judges in the U.S.

Last week, a Department of Justice (DOJ) spokesperson told The New York Times on Friday that the department had filed a petition to the Federal Labor Relations Authority seeking to know whether the National Association of Immigration Judges could have its certification revoked.

The union's members, the DOJ argued, are technically "management officials" and should therefore be unable to collectively organize.

But while the Trump administration has sought to defend the bid, leaders of the union have condemned the move as a "desperate attempt" to "evade transparency."

"This is nothing more than a desperate attempt by the DOJ to evade transparency and accountability, and undermine the decisional independence of the nation's 440 Immigration Judges," said Judge Ashley Tabaddor, who serves as president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, in a statement to NPR.

"We are trial court judges who make decisions on the basis of case-specific facts and the nation's immigration laws. We do not set policies, and we don't manage staff," she said.

The DOJ's suggestion that immigration judges should be viewed as managers is "absurd," she said, adding: "We don't even have the authority to order pencils."

The relationship between immigration judges and the DoJ has long been a subject of debate, with the judges' union having publicly argued that the former should be separate from the latter.

Despite that public push, the DoJ has continued to assert its authority over immigration judges, with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions setting quotas for immigration judges encouraging them to speed up deportations in the name of reducing the country's case backlog.

Meanwhile, since taking office in 2017, the Trump administration has appointed as many as 190 immigration judges, according to a July analysis by the Associated Press.

Currently, the Trump administration's appointees account for roughly 43 percent of immigration judges, with the government expanding the immigration bench by more than 100 since September 2016, which is more than double the net gain of the fewer than 50 added under former President Barack Obama.

Unlike federal judges, however, immigration judges are appointed by the attorney general and are technically considered employees of the DOJ, as The Times has noted. As such, representatives of the immigration judges' union are able to speak publicly about any DOJ policies that are considered to be political.

If the Trump administration does get its way in seeing the union decertified, representatives worry that transparency will take a major hit, with one less body to hold the DOJ to account.

"This is a misguided effort to minimize our impact," Judge Amiena Khan, vice president of the judges' union, weighed in to The Times. "We serve as a check and balance on management prerogatives and that's why they are doing this to us."

A Department of Justice sign is seen on the wall of the U.S. Department of Justice building in Washington, D.C. on April 18, 2019. The DoJ has expressed interest in seeing the National Association of Immigration Judges decertified. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP