A bill backed by Rep. Greg Stanton to transition the nation’s immigration court system into an independent judiciary, consistent with Article I of the U.S. Constitution, cleared the House Committee on the Judiciary yesterday.

The Real Courts, Rule of Law Act of 2022 will ensure that immigration courts are administered by qualified, impartial judges, have adequate court resources and support services, are defined by transparency and integrity, and are financially independent.

“Our immigration system doesn’t work when we have a backlog of millions of cases that take years to reach a conclusion,” Stanton said. “Creating an independent immigration court is a commonsense step to ensure that judges can efficiently and effectively prioritize due process.”

“Our current system is failing. An independent immigration court, that separates the judiciary from enforcement, would greatly improve access to justice for the people we represent," said Laura St. John, Legal Director at the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project.

The immigration court backlog now tops 1.6 million cases, up from 1.1 million before the pandemic and more than double the caseload that existed in fiscal year 2018. The average immigration case completed in January 2022 had been pending for about two-and-a-half years, with some courts averaging waits of more than three years.

Today’s immigration judges are not judicial officers; they are lawyers, appointed by the Attorney General. As employees of the Department of Justice, they are responsible for adjudicating cases in accordance with the policies and priorities of the current governing administration. Each Administration, Democratic and Republican, has used the immigration courts as a mechanism to shape immigration policy. But immigration judges have little say over the management of their individual courtrooms and the administration of their dockets, which undermines the fairness and efficiency of the courts as well as well as public perception of their neutrality and independence.

To solve these problems, the immigration courts require a structural overhaul. An Article I Immigration Court system, like the U.S. Tax Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, or the U.S. Bankruptcy Court would ensure that immigration judges are free from political pressure and deliver decisions in accordance with the law.

The bill is supported by the American Bar Association, American Immigration Lawyers Association, Federal Bar Association, National Association of Immigration Judges, American Immigration Council, Bipartisan Policy Center Action, Human Rights First, Kids in Need of Defense, National Immigrant Justice Center, National Immigration Law Center, Niskanen Center, and Women’s Refugee Commission.

A one-pager on immigration court reform and The Real Courts, Rule of Law Act is available HERE.

A section-by-section summary of The Real Courts, Rule of Law Act is available HERE.

Full text of The Real Courts, Rule of Law Act is available HERE.