AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The Justice Department is challenging the union representing hundreds of U.S. immigration judges. The DOJ petition, which was filed last week, asks the Federal Labor Relations Authority to decertify the National Association of Immigration Judges. This union has been critical of the way the Trump administration's immigration policies have overloaded courts. But the White House says it's moving to decertify this union because it sees immigration judges as, quote, "management officials." For more on this, we're joined now by the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, Ashley Tabaddor.
ASHLEY TABADDOR: Thank you.
CHANG: So first, just tell me - why do you think immigration judges even need a union? Because we don't really see other judges unionizing in the U.S., do we?
TABADDOR: We are a court system that is put in a law enforcement agency, and we are under the authority of the Department of Justice and accountable to the attorney general, who is our chief prosecutor. So he hires us, he reviews our work, and he can fire us.
CHANG: Right. While as other judges are part of the judiciary branch, you, as an immigration judge, are technically under the executive branch.
CHANG: This is a bit of speculation on your part, but why do you think the Justice Department is choosing to decertify your union now?
TABADDOR: Well, I think we've been pretty vocal about the importance of maintaining the mission and the oath of the Office of the Immigration Judge. And what the department has continuously done is make decisions and policies that has interfered with our ability to run our dockets and to be able to exercise our expertise as judges.
CHANG: But we should point out that the Clinton administration also tried to decertify your unions. So this isn't, like, some idea that originated only under the Trump administration.
TABADDOR: About 20 years ago, we were faced with the same challenge. And at the time, that was the first time that we were demanding that the agency take us seriously and engage in the collective bargaining agreement. And they did not want to do that.
CHANG: Now, the primary argument that the Trump administration is raising is that immigration judges are, in essence, managers. Specifically, they say that immigration judges make policy. What do you make of that argument?
TABADDOR: It's, frankly, just absurd. If you were here on a daily basis and the level of micromanagement that we are now subjected to as judges, you would, frankly, laugh at the idea that, somehow, we are in a position to formulate or influence policy. We are, essentially, exclusively focused on adjudicating cases and making decisions just based on the facts of the case and the law of the case.
CHANG: So you take the position that immigration judges don't get to call the shots. It's the Justice Department that calls the shots. And one thing your union has been especially critical of is how the administration is now trying to impose a quota system, which requires immigration judges to get through at least 700 cases a year. Let me ask you. What's wrong with trying to ramp up the efficiency of the immigration courts and reduce the backlog of cases so that people aren't waiting around forever for their cases to be resolved?
TABADDOR: I think it's very important to be mindful of efficiency. And in fact, what a lot of people don't understand is that due process within its consideration is a consideration of efficiency because justice delayed is justice denied.
TABADDOR: And every judge is quite mindful of that. This has everything to do with wanting to have the executive branch impose its current policies on the judges rather than recognizing that the judges are the experts on how to dispense with due process, including bringing efficiency in to the consideration.
CHANG: Judge Ashley Tabaddor is president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.
Thank you very much.
TABADDOR: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.