On Thursday, Zoe Lofgren unveiled sweeping legislation to overhaul the immigration court system by moving the courts outside the executive branch and making them an independent entity. Currently, the courts are housed within the Department of Justice. Under Lofgren’s bill, immigration courts would be restructured under Article I of the Constitution, turning them into an independent system.
The proposal is intended to insulate immigration courts from politics, preventing presidents and attorneys general from using the courts to shape their immigration policies.
The plan by Lofgren also aims to alleviate a crushing case backlog — approaching 1.6 million cases — that hampers the entire immigration system. The bill would allow the immigration court system to establish its own budget and empower its judges to control their own dockets and compel agency action that is withheld or delayed.
The issue of independent immigration courts has attracted lawmaker attention for years. In the last half decade, both Democrat and Republican-led committees have hosted congressional hearings on the challenges facing U.S. immigration courts.
However, as immigration has grown increasingly partisan in recent years, many Republican lawmakers have lost interest in forging compromises on the issue. The bill’s introduction follows the busiest year at the southwest border in recorded history, with border agents logging more than 1.7 million encounters with migrants in fiscal 2021.
Lofgren’s proposal is backed by the American Bar Association, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Federal Bar Association and the National Association of Immigration Judges.