AILA Public Statements, Press Releases

New Documents Reveal Immigration Judge Hiring Plan Designed to Stack the Courts, Prioritize Politics Over Justice

5/4/20 AILA Doc. No. 20050441. Asylum, Removal & Relief
Maria Frausto
George Tzamaras

Washington, DC – Today, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the American Immigration Council released documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation revealing the Department of Justice (DOJ) Executive Office for Immigration Review’s (EOIR) updated hiring plan for Immigration Judges and Appellate Immigration Judges. The plan, approved by Attorney General William Barr on March 8, 2019, permits the EOIR Director to circumvent normal hiring procedures and guts safeguards previously put in place to protect against politicized hiring.

According to the CQ Roll Call story published today on this plan, “The hiring plan documents show shortened hiring timelines and suggest preference given to judges with records of rulings against immigrants. The documents also demonstrate the influence held over the board by the political leadership of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the Justice Department agency that oversees the nation’s immigration court system, particularly its director, James McHenry.”

AILA’s Executive Director Ben Johnson said, “AILA is deeply troubled by the politicized hiring of Immigration Judges for the furtherance of a partisan agenda. Fairness requires and the American public expects courts to be neutral, yet the Department of Justice continues to improperly influence our nation’s immigration courts, all but ensuring that the political whims of the Trump administration control immigration courts throughout the country. The Board’s primary function is to ensure the rule of law is honored and impartiality guaranteed, yet this plan allows for the EOIR Director to cherry-pick judges with the lowest asylum grant rates in the nation. Oversight agencies must immediately investigate EOIR’s problematic hiring practices and Congress should enact legislation creating an independent Article I immigration court.”

Beth Werlin, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council, added, “This updated hiring plan reflects the lack of transparency in the hiring process of appellate immigration judges and a strategy that only serves to erode public confidence in the immigration court system. Politicized hiring undermines the fairness of our immigration courts which depends on the expertise and impartiality of judges. This hiring plan is designed to stack the courts, and in so doing, stacks the odds against individuals in need of protection and a fair day in court.”

More information:

  • Using this plan, in August 2019, EOIR promoted to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) six Immigration Judges known for their high rates of asylum denials despite numerous complaints filed against them.
  • In early April, DOJ and EOIR issued an interim rule during a global public health crisis, immediately expanding the BIA from 21 to 23 judges.
  • On Friday, May 1, EOIR hired three new AIJs – (1) Philip J. Montante Jr., (2) Kevin W. Riley, and (3) Aaron R. Petty. According to TRAC, from FY 2014- 2019, former IJ Montante denied 96.3 percent asylum cases and former IJ Riley denied 88.1 percent asylum cases.

The American Immigration Council works to strengthen America by shaping how America thinks about and acts towards immigrants and immigration and by working toward a more fair and just immigration system that opens its doors to those in need of protection and unleashes the energy and skills that immigrants bring. The Council brings together problem solvers and employs four coordinated approaches to advance change—litigation, research, legislative and administrative advocacy, and communications. Follow the latest Council news and information on and Twitter @immcouncil.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.