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Justice Department welcomes new immigration judges in struggle to reduce case backlog

Molly O'Toole, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- A girl in a pink bow stood proudly center stage Friday at the Justice Department, dwarfed by two statues and adults in black judicial robes behind her.

"We need more judges," said James McHenry, director of the executive office of immigration review, which administers the country's clogged immigration courts. "We're now recruiting children too," he joked.

Thus went the ceremony for officials, family and friends to welcome 31 new immigration judges, the second-largest class ever.

The Trump administration has hired more immigration judges in two years than in the previous seven years, according to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

But the hiring surge is unlikely to resolve the backlog of nearly 830,000 immigration cases that continues to grow.

Rosenstein said the new judges -- on top of 414 currently serving -- will help cut the logjam.

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"Whether the immigration backlog continues to grow depends in large part on how immigration judges discharge their duties," Rosenstein said.

It will also depend on money. McHenry notified immigration court staffers last week that budget shortfalls had blocked the hiring of additional judges and would delay recruitment of court support staff, BuzzFeed reported.

The caseload worsened significantly during the 35-day government shutdown over President Donald Trump's demands for a border wall. About 400 immigration judges were furloughed, and tens of thousands of hearings were canceled or delayed, exacerbating delays that now exceed two years on average.

With continued fighting with Congress over immigration and border security funding, the White House has requested money for 100 additional teams of immigration judges for 2020.

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