Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to be raising the stakes in his cruel deportation game, now ordering federal immigration judges to meet a quota of completing 700 cases per year.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department plans to evaluate judges' job performance by how quickly they close cases, with the explicit intention of speeding up deportation decisions.
Sessions complained that there is a lengthy backlog of unsettled immigration cases — and that allows people who should be deported to linger in the United States.
But there's an obvious counter argument: The new job performance evaluation criteria creates a bad incentive for judges. If they are in some sense "judged" by the number of cases they finish, then the temptation will be to rush through more cases without giving immigration defendants a fair shot.
The Journal reports that federal immigration judges complete 678 cases per year on average, but there is a range — with some judges knocking out 1,500 cases per year. Will these judges curry favor from the Justice Department, find after dinner mints on their desks, or earn prestige that helps advance their career?
This situation echoes the multiple problems of poorly-aligned incentives in the legal professions, such as elected prosecutors whose career-growth is often based on the number of cases they win, not fair application of justice.
One judge named A. Ashley Tabaddor, who is president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, spoke out about the potential side effects of Sessions' new quota system.
“This is a recipe for disaster,” he told the Journal. “You are going to, at minimum, impact the perception of the integrity of the court.”
The judge probably nails it with that. Our political discourse around immigration is fraught, and this feels like Sessions' trademark misapplication of justice, which, in this case, could inflict callous and rushed judgment on immigrants.