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Immigration judges decide who gets into the U.S. They say they’re overworked and under political pressure.

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With a historic increase in the number of migrants trying to cross the U.S. border, immigration judges on the front lines told NBC News the system is reaching a breaking point.

“In essence, we are holding death penalty cases in a traffic court setting,” Judge Dana Leigh Marks said, adding that many judges battle burnout daily.

Nationwide, there are about 500 immigration judges. They preside over asylum cases, meaning they decide who gets to stay in the U.S. and who must be deported. When President Joe Biden took office, there was already a backlog of 1.3 million cases, and the monthly crossing totals keep rising.

Among the judges’ concerns, as described to NBC News: There aren’t enough of them; they need more support staff; and they say they’ve felt political pressure from their bosses at the Justice Department. During the Trump administration, that meant pressure to enter orders of removal, even as many asylum seekers assert they risk death if they return to their home countries.

Judges in federal trial courts are effectively appointed for life, which can insulate them from pressure. Immigration judges, however, are Justice Department employees who are appointed by and answer to the Attorney General, a political appointee.

The immigration judges are represented by a union, but now that union is in danger of ceasing to exist because of an action initiated under Trump.

Migrants who are applying for asylum in the U.S. go through a processing area at a new tent courtroom at the Migration Protection Protocols Immigration Hearing Facility on Sept. 17, 2019, in Laredo, Texas.Eric Gay / AP file

“We are in the legal fight for our life to ensure that our decisional independence is valued and maintained,” said Judge Amiena Khan, “[and] that we as judges are able to do our jobs.”

Khan is the president of the judges’ union, the National Association of Immigration Judges. The NAIJ has been the judges’ collective bargaining representative since 1979, but Trump’s second attorney general, William Barr, petitioned to decertify the union. Eventually, the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) overturned decades of prior precedent by ruling that immigration judges are management officials who may not be part of any collective bargaining unit.

The union is contesting the ruling. The next step is for the FLRA to rule on the union’s motion for reconsideration.

This month, dozens of Democrats in Congress signed a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco urging them to rescind Barr’s petition.

In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies last week, Garland was asked about the creation of an independent immigration court — separate from the Justice Department. While he said that “immigration judges should be left alone to do their work,” he said he hadn’t thought much about the issue of whether to structure the system differently — and that it should be a question for Congress.

A DOJ spokesperson told NBC News that the attorney general has not taken a position on whether immigration judges should be allowed to unionize.

The Biden administration has called for hiring 100 new immigration judges as part of its budget.

But with their union in jeopardy, four judges — Marks, Khan, and two retired judges — told NBC News they’re fighting for their judicial independence.

“We should not be used as a tool of law enforcement,” said Marks, who works in San Francisco. “That is not how Congress envisioned the immigration courts should play a role in the immigration system.”

She said quotas were imposed to quickly clear cases, which threatens due process.

“If I have to move a case quickly through the docket, then that person doesn’t have time to find an attorney to represent them,” she said, because migrants are not given a court-appointed lawyer.

And not having a lawyer, experts say, often means a migrant loses their asylum case.

Judge Charles Honeyman worked in immigration courts in New York and Philadelphia until he retired last year during the Trump administration.

“I probably retired a few years earlier than I would have,” he said. “Inefficiencies driven by political optics cause unnecessarily bloated dockets.”

Retired Judge Lisa Dornell worked in Baltimore but also left the bench during the Trump administration, much earlier than she had expected.

“It was really heartbreaking to see the impediments that didn’t allow us to help all of the children the way we wanted to,” Dornell said.

Meanwhile, the workload is only rising. In May alone, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, agents encountered more than 180,000 migrants at the southern U.S. border. It was the largest monthly total in two decades.

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Politics of guilt: Why does the Left oppose ‘occupation’ – opinion

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Why do leftists oppose “the occupation,” extending Israeli sovereignty to areas of Judea and Samaria under Israeli control, and support a Palestinian state, the “two-state-solution?” They argue that the presence of Jews in what they mistakenly call the “Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT)” – all areas conquered by the IDF in 1967 Six Day War – is “illegal according to international law” and a “violation of Palestinian humanitarian rights.”

Presenting ethical and moral concerns – that Israel should not control “another people,” Arab Palestinians – they argue that “the occupation” prevents Palestinians from “controlling their own fate” in their own state. The occupation, they argue, also contradicts Israel’s definition as a “Jewish and democratic state.” As long as Israel restricts their movements (in order to prevent terrorism), determines their ability to export and import (weapons), and prevents them from exercising sovereignty, the occupation is immoral and should end. They argue that preventing or restricting Jews from building in settlements will “keep options open” to the possibility of making peace – however unrealistic – and will encourage Palestinian moderates.

It seems to make sense.

There is no indication, however, that this has worked, or is realistic. It ignores the fact that the PLO (Palestinian Authority) and Hamas already control the areas under their brutal, authoritarian rule, and actively promote incitement and terrorism. It ignores the fact that Palestinians do not want to be Israeli citizens; they identify as Palestinians. Most Israeli Arabs (including those who are citizens) reject Israel and support Palestinianism. These suggestions, therefore, have no practical, or reasonable application. They endanger Israel and support efforts to demonize and vilify Israel and promote antisemitism.

Despite ongoing terrorism by the PLO/PA, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS-backed groups and Jihadist militants throughout the region that are direct threats to Israel, restricting settlements, advocating further withdrawals from Israeli-controlled Area C, and offering the PLO/PA a sovereign state, including the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, are even more absurd considering that the PLO/PA/Hamas reject Israel’s legitimacy and continue to support incitement and terrorism.

Although many in the international community – including some Jewish and “pro-Israel” organizations – promote a two-state-solution and ending the occupation, they are oblivious to the danger this poses to Israel. Israeli leftists who support Palestinianism are aware of the risks, but few, if any, would be willing to sacrifice Israel’s security to accommodate the international community and allow Israel’s enemies to commit genocide. No Israeli government, therefore, would consider removing Jews and Jewish communities from areas claimed by Israel’s enemies.

The legally fraudulent concept of OPT was introduced by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the official interpreter of the Fourth Geneva Convention, in the early 1970s when it arbitrarily assigned the disputed areas to “Palestinians.” It was adopted by the international community as a way of denying Israeli claims to “the territories,” denouncing “Israeli occupation,” and supporting Palestinian demands to return to the 1949 Armistice lines. It ignores the PLO Covenant and Hamas Charter which call for Israel’s destruction.

RATHER THAN describe what now exists as “occupation,” however, a different terminology would be more accurate and realistic. One could refer to what Torah calls “possession,” reshut – the exercise of Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael. Another possibility would be to refer to Israeli presence, instead of “occupation.” This would describe what exists, without referring to a political term which has legal and moral implications. And, it would emphasize that Israeli Jews also have legitimate “humanitarian” and legal rights to build and protect their homeland.

Moreover, the US State Department erased the word “occupation” from its description of the Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem; instead, it refers to these areas as being “under Israel control.” Additionally, the State Department removed the Palestinian Authority from its list of countries, and designated the PLO and Hamas as terrorist and terrorist-supporting entities.

The truth is that evacuating Jews and destroying Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria would accomplish nothing. It would not satisfy the PLO/PA/Hamas goal of destroying Israel. It would not change their basic narrative, the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of Israel’s establishment in 1948; nor would it satisfy their demand for “the Palestinian right of return” for Arabs who left “Palestine” and live in UNRWA-sponsored towns in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan Gaza and “the West Bank” and around the world. It would not “Liberate Palestine, from the river to the sea!”

Creating another Palestinian state – in addition to Jordan – would not eliminate terrorism; it would encourage and enhance it. Another Palestinian state would not promote peace; it provides the incentive and catalyst for conflict and it would destabilize the entire region. Ironically, it would prevent the emergence of any moderate, democratic Palestinian group that seeks accommodation with and acceptance of Israel. The claim by leftists that Israel’s “Jewish future demands Palestinian freedom” expresses the perverse idea that our existence depends on fulfilling their demands, whereas they seek to end our existence.

Is there a reasonable, comprehensive solution? The best option is to recognize Jordan as the one and only Palestinian state, and encourage Arabs who want to live there to do so. Arabs who wish to remain in Israeli-controlled areas as residents, and those who are under the PA and Hamas should be allowed to do so as long as they accept Israeli rule and renounce terrorism and violence. 

Israel is under no legal, or moral obligation to extend citizenship based on location. Citizenship requires a commitment to live in peace and support the rule of law. It’s their choice.

The writer is a PhD historian and journalist in Israel.

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A Look At Far-Right Politics In Europe – NPR

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