The U.S. immigration courts, which handle civil cases involving immigration law, are technically a part of the Department of Justice. That gives them quite a bit less independence than traditional courts. The U.S. attorney general has the right to set court policy and even to change precedential rulings. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has just set new quotas for immigration judges in an effort to resolve a massive case backlog and, some say, to speed up deportations.

The new quotas were set out in a memo recently sent to the judges. If they would like a “satisfactory” rating on their performance evaluations, the memo says, the judges must clear at least 700 cases each year and have less than 15 percent of them overturned on appeal.

The courts are currently facing a backlog of some 700,000 cases. This is partially due to the massive influx of humanitarian appeals brought by Central American refugees and asylum seekers — many of them children — who have fled violence in their home countries in recent years. It is likely also due to the chronic understaffing that has plagued all of our nation’s courts.

The National Association of Immigration Judges, the union representing the judges, have criticized the new quotas as unduly high. They argue that the onerous quotas could erode even the limited due process rights immigration courts provide. They could also undermine any semblance of judicial independence.

Many immigration lawyers are also concerned. “Decisions in immigration court have life-or-death consequences and cannot be managed like an assembly line,” said a spokesperson for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The DOJ denies that the caseload is unduly high, pointing out that immigration judges averaged 680 cases per year between 2011 and 2016. Many of those criticizing the new quotas believe that 680 cases per year was already too many to allow for the individualized consideration each case deserves.

According to NPR, these new quotas are part of a wider attempt to speed up the courts so that deportations can go more quickly. Sessions and other immigration hardliners suspect that the 700,000-case backlog allows deportable immigrants to linger in the U.S. for years awaiting court dates. Sessions is also expected to curtail court practices that give immigrants time to regularize their status or seek other relief from deportation.

There are many reasons people may be in the United States without proper authorization. Unfortunately, an expired visa or a change in plans could put you at risk of deportation. Yew Immigration Law Group may be able to help you resolve your situation legally. Contact us today to request a consultation.