American Oversight received documents from the Department of Justice containing information about the Executive Office of Immigration Review’s (EOIR) hiring practices during the Trump administration. The documents show that roughly 40 percent of the judges hired by the Trump administration in 2017 and 2018 had previously worked for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and that many more came from other immigration enforcement and law enforcement backgrounds. Roughly 70 percent of the new hires listed no foreign language skills on their resumes.
This pattern of hiring judges with enforcement backgrounds coincided with an uptick in deportation rulings by immigration courts. As described by Reuters: “Judges hired under Trump ordered immigrants deported in 69% of cases, compared to 58% for judges hired as far back as the administration of President Ronald Reagan. Because hundreds of thousands of immigrants have cases before the court each year, that 11 percentage-point difference translates to tens of thousands more people ordered deported each year.”
In May 2021, the Biden administration was criticized by immigration reform advocates for announcing the hiring of 17 new immigration judges who nearly all had previously served as prosecutors, immigration officials, or military personnel — much like the hires shown in the documents we obtained from the Trump administration.
Following this announcement, immigration advocacy groups urged the Department of Justice to make broad changes to EOIR, including reviewing personnel decisions made by the previous administration, replacing political appointees in leadership positions, and diversifying the pool of judges. Though the Biden administration recently signaled its willingness to make changes by hiring as the new EOIR director David Neal, a former lead immigration judge who resigned during the Trump administration, the similarity in hiring patterns between EOIR judges hired by the Trump administration and those hired by the Biden administration demonstrate how little has changed for asylum-seekers and migrants navigating the immigration court system.
*The numbers above come from analysis of 171 résumés of successful candidates from 2017 and 2018, received from the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review.
Shortly after American Oversight published this report, the Department of Justice announced a new round of EOIR hires, including a higher percentage of judges from more diverse backgrounds. More details on that announcement are available here.
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