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Where Do the Candidates Stand on Immigration Court Reform?


We asked the 2020 presidential candidates where they stood on immigration court reform:

  1. Do you support the creation of an independent Article I immigration court system?
  2. How would you reform the immigration court system to ensure the fair and effective administration of justice?

Here's where the candidates stand:

Opposes an Independent Immigration Court No Position on Immigration Courts Supports Immigration Court Reforms Supports Creating an Independent Immigration Court
Donald Trump

Donald Trump (R)

Roque De La Fuente

Roque De La Fuente (R)

Mark Sanford

Mark Sanford (R)

Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh (R)

William Weld

William Weld (R)

John Delaney

John Delaney (D)

Tulsi Gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard (D)

Wayne Messam

Wayne Messam (D)

Deval Patrick

Deval Patrick (D)

Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang (D)

Michael Bennet

Michael Bennet (D)

Joe Biden

Joe Biden (D)

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg (D)

Steve Bullock

Steve Bullock (D)

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris (D)

Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar (D)

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson (D)

Cory Booker

Cory Booker (D)

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg (D)

Julián Castro

Julián Castro (D)

Beto O'Rourke

Beto O'Rourke (D)

Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan (D)

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders (D)

Joe Sestak

Joe Sestak (D)

Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer (D)

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren (D)


AILA's Position:

For years, the nation’s immigration courts have been plagued by systemic problems that have severely undermined their ability to deliver just and fair decisions in a timely manner. Housed within the Department of Justice (DOJ), the immigration court system is vulnerable to executive branch interference—a structural flaw which the current administration has exploited and which undermines the very integrity of the system. Under-resourced for years and now burdened by inefficient policies, the court system is struggling to manage a growing backlog of over one million cases. To ensure the immigration courts can operate with the integrity needed to ensure a fair process, Congress must create an independent immigration court system under Article I of the Constitution that is separate from DOJ. In addition, DOJ and the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which administers the immigration courts, should rescind policies such as case completion quotas that are now part of judges’ performance reviews, that have stripped judges of judicial independence and made it more difficult for them to rule on cases in a fair, consistent, and efficient manner. For more information: www.aila.org/immigrationcourts

Candidates' Positions:

The following candidates stand out in calling for an independent Article I immigration court system that is separate from the Department of Justice (DOJ): Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, Bernie Sanders, Joe Sestak, Tom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren. Other candidates recommend reforms to the courts but have not called for creating an independent immigration court: Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Steve Bullock, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Marianne Williamson. These candidates have pledged, among other things, to halt the use of case completion quotas, to restore judges’ authority to manage their own dockets, or to increase funding to hire more judges, interpreters, and other staff to alleviate the case backlog. While AILA also supports these reforms, alone they are not sufficient to address the court’s systemic problems. President Trump has systematically undermined the integrity and independence of the immigration courts and compromised their ability to deliver a just decision in each case.

Candidates Supporting Creation of an Article I Court System:

Cory Booker (D)

“The Trump Administration has increased the backlog of immigration cases by establishing unrealistic case quotas for immigration judges and by ending the use of administrative closure. Cory will roll back the executive actions that have increased the backlog, including case quotas, and reinstate administrative closure authority to give judges the ability to waive automatic inadmissibility or deportation.” – Campaign website

In his response to the AILA Survey, Sen. Booker states publicly for the first time that he supports the creation of an independent Article I immigration court system. He also states:

Despite hiring immigration judges at a faster rate than ever before, and imposing draconian quotas on immigration judges, the immigration court system’s backlog has ballooned under this administration—the number of days to complete a court case has reached a 10-year high and the backlog has grown by roughly 68 percent. I will roll back the executive actions that have increased the backlog, including case quotas, and reinstate administrative closure authority to give judges the ability to waive automatic inadmissibility or deportation

We also need to expand legal counsel for all immigrants, and create a fair and human bond process by shifting federal enforcement priorities from a presumption of detention to a presumption of liberty.

Read More

Pete Buttigieg (D)

In his response to the AILA Survey, Mayor Buttigieg states publicly for the first time that he supports the creation of an independent Article I immigration court system. He states:

Yes. We have witnessed the politicization of these courts under Trump’s Attorneys General and seen how these appointees’ decisions to insert their political agenda into the court system have devastated the lives of immigrants seeking lawful status. Accordingly, we will create an independent immigration court system under Article I. This will ensure that immigration judges are guaranteed full independent power and that all immigrants seeking lawful permanent residence in the United States will be entitled to the protections and due process under the Constitution.

In addition to making the immigration court system more independent by putting it under Article I, we can also change the degree to which we rely on the courts. Certain forms of relief for immigrants are only available in immigration court, which increases the backlog of cases for judges and continues the fear and uncertainty of immigrants and their families. We can allow USCIS to adjudicate technical fixes instead, such as cancellation of removal requests and readjustments, thereby freeing up the courts. In addition, encouraging ICE to agree to relief from deportation in currently pending cases via written motion, rather than in a hearing before an immigration judge, can reduce court backlogs, and will be more efficient. Establishing a system where the parties are required to meet and confer in advance of an individual hearing with an immigration judge will lead to resolution—or at least a narrowing of issues—in a high percentage of cases in advance of full court hearings. This will dramatically reduce court backlogs, and reserve court time for matters where there are real disputes.

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Julián Castro (D)

In his response to the AILA Survey, Mr. Castro stated:

Our immigration court system has been plagued by systemic problems that have severely undermined its ability to deliver just and fair decisions in a timely manner. With my People First Immigration Plan we will create a well-resourced and independent immigration court system under Article I of the Constitution.

These courts would outside the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice, where it has been vulnerable to executive branch interference, which this current administration has exploited and which undermines the very integrity of the system.

An independent immigration court system would be followed by increased hiring of independent judges to adjudicate immigration claims, managing a backlog of over 900,000 cases, and an end to case completion quotas and other actions instituted by the Trump administration that deny due process for immigrants and the effectiveness and independence of judges.

I am proud to have been the first candidate to support independent Article I courts and thank AILA and the American Bar Association in leading on this issue.

Mr. Castro states that he will “[c]reate a well-resourced and independent immigration court system under Article 1 of the Constitution, outside the Department of Justice, to increase the hiring and retention of independent judges to adjudicate immigration claims faster.” Campaign website

Read More

Beto O’Rourke (D)

Mr. O’Rourke will “take immediate steps to upgrade and increase staffing in the asylum system, streamline how cases move through the process, and provide timely and fair asylum decisions, while laying the foundation for a more fundamental reform to the immigration court system that restores due process and ensures equal access to justice, including by: increasing court staff, clerks, interpreters, and judges; making the courts independent under Article I, rather than administered by the U.S. Department of Justice; [and] ending policies that prevent judges from managing their dockets in the most effective way.” – Campaign website

Tim Ryan (D)

In his response to the AILA Survey, Rep. Ryan states publicly for the first time that he supports the creation of an independent Article I immigration court system:

The immigration court system must be independent of the U.S. Department of Justice. I would take the necessary steps to create an Article I immigration court.

Bernie Sanders (D)

In his response to the AILA Survey, Sen. Sanders for the first time expresses support for an independent Article I immigration court:

Bernie believes that justice demands ensuring judicial independence in our immigration system so that cases may be adjudicated in a fair, efficient manner. We have seen the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine our immigration court system, and we must ensure a fair and independent judiciary. Bernie is open to creating an independent Article I immigration court system but believes that much more must be done to reform our broken immigration court system.

Bernie will work with Congress to fix our badly broken immigration adjudication process by fully funding the court system and hiring more immigration judges to eliminate the backlog of immigration cases. He believes that it is ridiculous that we have 400 immigration judges to handle nearly 1 million immigration cases. Bernie will end case quotas for immigration judges, restore discretion to judges and allow them to consider the unique circumstances of an individual’s case, and guarantee immigrants a right to counsel.

In Sen. Sanders’ immigration platform, he states that he will “restore case-by-case discretion for immigration judges” and “establish immigration courts as independent Article I courts, free from influence and interference.” Sen. Sanders will also provide “more than double funding for immigration adjudication to fully fund and staff immigration courts and eliminate the case backlog,” and “authorize and fund community-based alternatives to detention, which will connect immigrants with health, legal, educational, and work resources.

Read More

Joe Sestak (D)

In his response to the AILA Survey, Mr. Sestak states publicly for the first time that he supports the creation of an independent Article I immigration court system:

An independent Article I immigration court system would go a long way toward ensuring the fair and effective administration of justice for immigrants. The current system has almost unbelievable backlogs and is deeply unfair to many immigrants and asylum-seekers, especially children. It is simply abhorrent that children who should be in kindergarten are facing justice alone, without even a court-appointed lawyer. We need a full overhaul of our immigration court system in order to stamp out systemic injustices and create something better. I will consult with a range of organizations, policy makers, and immigrants themselves to develop a comprehensive plan. But I believe the Federal Bar Association’s model for an Article I immigration court system would be a great start.

In their words: ‘The June 2017 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report documented EOIR [Executive Office for Immigration Review] backlogs of epic size, costly and ineffective case management, and reliance on outdated technologies and reported that a majority of immigration court experts and stakeholders interviewed favored EOIR replacement with an independent Article I immigration court. Establishing an Article I court would substitute for an overstaffed, bloated bureaucracy a new structure, modeled on the federal courts, their case management expertise, and their demonstrated record for delivering prompt, effective justice. Cheaper, faster, better justice is possible through an Article I immigration court.’

Read More

Tom Steyer (D)

On his campaign website, Mr. Steyer says he will “move to institute an independent immigration court system under the legislative branch.”

Elizabeth Warren (D)

In her response to the AILA Survey, Sen. Warren states that she supports the creation of an Article I independent immigration court:

As President, I will fight for professional, independent Article I immigration courts. DOJ both oversees the immigration court system and enjoys massive authority to manipulate those courts to implement the president’s immigration policy agenda. Immigration court rulings can even be overturned by the Attorney General—a fundamental conflict of interest exploited by Jeff Sessions. That’s why I’ll work to create a credible, independent system by passing legislation establishing Article I judicial review for immigration cases modeled on our federal courts. I’ll deploy smart efficiency measures, beginning by restoring judges’ ability to prioritize and manage their own dockets. And my administration will recruit highly qualified immigration judges with a diverse set of legal experiences so that everyone receives appropriate justice.

We also need to ensure that migrants moving through the system are treated in a way that reflects our Constitution and our values. Due process ensures basic fairness for individuals attempting to navigate complex laws and prevents law enforcement and presidents from abusing authority. In fact, one-third of deported immigrants never even see a judge: instead, the immigration officer serves as both prosecutor and jury. A Warren administration would eliminate expedited removal proceedings and guarantee due process throughout our immigration system.

Read More

Candidates Supporting Reforms to the Immigration Court:

Michael Bennet (D)

Sen. Bennet cosponsored S.2113 in 2019, which would reform the immigration court system but does not create an independent court system.

Michael Bloomberg (D)

Mr. Bloomberg wrote a piece for his media company in 2017 acknowledging that “the surge in asylum cases has fed a backlog in the court system.” In the same op-ed, he further stated that “President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on border security rightly calls for more asylum officers and immigration judges. Speedier case handling must also make provision for the adequate legal representation that judges have called for.”

Joe Biden (D)

Mr. Biden’s campaign website calls for doubling “the number of immigration judges, court staff, and interpreters” in order to support “timely and fair adjudications for asylum and other cases.”

Steve Bullock (D)

“Increase the number of immigration judges hearing cases. Currently, just 400 judges are hearing nearly 850,000 immigration cases, leading to a backlog of cases out to 2023. We can also quickly and fairly adjudicate asylum claims by placing kids from outside of Mexico or Canada directly into administrative proceedings.” – Campaign website

Kamala Harris (D)

Sen. Harris cosponsored S.1445 in 2019, which would reform the immigration court system but does not create an independent court system.

Amy Klobuchar (D)

Sen. Klobuchar cosponsored S.1445 in 2019, which would reform the immigration court system but does not create an independent court system.

Marianne Williamson (D)

“For the benefit of the U.S. and asylum seekers alike, we must speed up the process so our government can determine the validity of an asylum claim. It is necessary to fund and authorize a vast increase in immigration judges to adjudicate the backlog of asylum seekers and other related cases.” Campaign website


Candidates with No Position on Immigration Court Reform:

The following candidates have no stated position on the immigration court system. The Republican candidates: Roque De La Fuente, Mark Sanford, Joe Walsh, and William Weld. The Democratic candidates: John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Wayne Messam, Deval Patrick, and Andrew Yang.


Candidates Opposing an Independent Immigration Court:

President Trump (R)

Through numerous DOJ policies and Attorney General decisions, the Trump administration has undermined the independence of immigration judges and the integrity of the court system. Among the most harmful changes are AG decisions that restrict immigration judges’ authority to administratively close, continue, and terminate cases; an EOIR policy subjecting judges to case quotas as part of their performance reviews; an August 2019 DOJ petition to decertify the National Association of Immigration Judges; and in September 2019, the launch of port courts that use video to decide asylum cases for those subject to Remain in Mexico.