Independent Immigration Courts Envisioned in New Legislation

  • Proposal would separate system from Justice Department
  • Approach would deter political influence, congresswoman says

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U.S. immigration courts would spin off from the Justice Department into an independent system under a new proposal in Congress.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) announced legislation Thursday to reorganize the overburdened court network that often leaves immigrants waiting years for decisions on asylum claims and deportation.

The setup would ensure immigration judges are insulated from political influence and able to manage their own dockets and budget, said Lofgren, chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship.

Immigrants, judges, advocates, and lawmakers have pushed for years to address problems in the immigration court system, citing worsening backlogs and inefficiencies created by Justice Department policies that change by administration. The department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review oversees the dozens of immigration courts and hundreds of judges across the country.

Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) sits on the House Judiciary Committee during action on legislation Sept. 13, 2021.

Many immigration lawyers and judges, including witnesses who appeared before the subcommittee last month, have called for restructuring the courts under Article I of the Constitution, similar to existing systems that specialize in taxes, bankruptcy, and other discrete areas of law. The American Bar Association and other legal groups have lobbied on the issue.

U.S. Immigration Courts Urged to Separate From Partisan DOJ

“After decades of political whiplash, resulting from the ever-changing policies and priorities of the governing Administrations, it is clear that the system is ineffective, inflexible, and far too often, unfair,” Lofgren said in a statement Thursday.

Lofgren’s measure would create an independent immigration system made up of trial, appellate, and administrative divisions, plus a main office. Judges would serve 15-year terms and could be reappointed.

Republicans on the Judiciary subcommittee offered a preview at the recent hearing of likely debate on Lofgren’s bill, complaining that Congress should instead focus on the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, where the Biden administration has struggled with record migrant encounters.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at; Sarah Babbage at

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