Immigration Law

Immigration Court Staffing Crisis: Overwhelmed Judges Retire

"Immigration Judge Eliza Klein had more than 20 years' experience hearing cases in Boston, Miami and most recently Chicago when a surge of Central American immigrants arrived last summer.

In addition to the backlog of cases she already faced, Klein started seeing more Central American youths seeking asylum from violence.

“I just really didn’t like telling these young kids they had to go back to this situation. It really was very stressful for me and distressing,” she said. “I started out my career representing people with asylum claims, and a lot of those were Central American. I didn’t want to sign my name on something and send someone back somewhere where they could potentially lose their life.”

Klein, 62, was also a mother with a daughter finishing college.

“I had teenagers from Honduras crying to me, ‘Why am I in jail? I didn’t do anything wrong.’ I had to explain to people why, but I couldn’t justify it. I couldn’t say that to these kids,” Klein said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last week.

So in January, she retired.

There are 247 immigration judges in 58 courts nationwide, and 130 of them -- more than half -- are eligible to retire this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. ... 

Immigration judges suffer traumatic stress and burnout rates higher than prison wardens and doctors, according to a 2007 survey of the National Assn. of Immigration Judges by psychiatrists at UC San Francisco.

Judges said they had little time to think, let alone research complex cases.

One immigration judge said in the survey, “I am OUTRAGED by the fact that Department of Homeland Security asylum officers receive more time to keep current on country conditions and changes in the law than we do.... The law has gotten exponentially more complex while the time pressures and resources (like law clerks) inversely diminished.”

Judges reported that they faced chronic shortages of staff, office space and technology.

“I have been in government service for decades, including combat duty, and I have never detested a working environment more than I do in this capacity,” one judge told the researchers." - Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times, Aug. 18, 2015.

- Retired Immigration Judge Klein