A federal labor authority has sought for a second time to strip the collective bargaining powers of a national union for U.S. immigration judges, even though the agency that employs the judges isn’t opposing their right to organize.
In a ruling late last week, the Federal Labor Relations Authority determined that the country’s more than 500 immigration judges cannot belong to an employee union because they are akin to management.
The move sparked outcry from the immigration judges because their employer, the Justice Department, under President Joe Biden stopped seeking to try to end the union, in a marked contrast to the Trump administration.
“This is a poorly reasoned decision and overrules the will of the parties,” Immigration Judge Mimi Tsankov, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said in a statement. “It is rooted in the majority FLRA board members’ anti-union bent and reflects a deep desire to silence immigration judges.”
The union said it planned a legal challenge but did not immediately provide details.
A message seeking comment with the Justice Department Wednesday was not immediately returned.
It’s the second time the authority — which governs labor relations between the U.S. government and its employees — has ruled against the immigration judges since the Trump administration sought to put an end to their union.
The decision was written by two members of the three-member authority, while a third dissented, saying it made no sense to issue a ruling in response to a petition that the administration was seeking to withdraw.
In 2020, the authority ruled that immigration judges shouldn’t be in a union. The union asked for reconsideration of that decision, and in the meantime, the Justice Department said it no longer opposed the judges’ position.
Immigration judges are Justice Department employees and answer to the attorney general, who sets policies and criteria on how they should rule on cases. The union has long advocated for independent immigration courts, which are tasked with deciding whether immigrants should be deported or allowed to remain in the country.
The Trump administration imposed measures on the immigration courts that it said were aimed at increasing efficiency, such as case completion quotas.
Since then, the immigration docket has ballooned further. There are nearly 1.6 million cases pending before the courts, more than double the number reported five years earlier, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
According to the union, this means each judge on average has more than 2,700 cases. As a result, immigrants can wait years for a court hearing, let alone a decision on their cases.
The delays mean immigrants with weaker cases sometimes wind up staying in the country much longer than they would have been allowed to, while those with strong claims for asylum or green cards must wait to be able to access vital benefits.