The lawsuit alleges that the Trump administration is trying to give the impression that immigration judges fully support the government's immigration policy.
A coalition of immigration judges has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, alleging that the Justice Department is restricting its first adjustment right to freedom of expression.
The Texas Tribune reports that the lawsuit targets a recently implemented rule.
The rule, which was passed by the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review in early 2020, prohibits judges from speaking personally about immigration laws or policies. The judges must also obtain the department's approval before they can comment on other government policies.
"It takes multiple levels of approval to publicly talk about pretty much everything," said Chicago-based immigration judge Samuel Cole, a member of the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ).
"So I am allowed to speak to you as a union representative, but not as an immigration judge," Cole told KGUN9 how the Trump administration began restricting the judges' first change shortly after the president's term began. "From 2017, a new procedure was introduced that really restricted the way immigration judges could speak."
The lawsuit, the tribune said, was filed by Columbia University's Knight First Amendment Institute on behalf of the NAIJ. The NAIJ, a professional organization and union, represents approximately 460 judges in the United States.
The Knight First Amendment Institute claims that the Department of Justice's policies are unconstitutional. They also claim that the Supreme Court's precedent definitely shows that "people don't give up their freedom of speech if they take up government employment."
Hammer rests on open book; Image by Verkeorg, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, no changes.
According to the institute, the only time the government can censor the speech of its own employees is when this censorship outweighs both individual and public interest.
"The government cannot pass this test here," the lawsuit said.
Judge A. Ashley Tabbador, president of the NAIJ, said judges are required by profession to explain their decisions in a manner that, of course, conflicts with the Department of Justice's ban directive.
"Part of the job of an immigration judge is to educate the public about immigration courts and their role in society," said Tabbador in a statement. "This policy prevents us from doing this critical work, which undermines public understanding and trust in immigration courts."
The lawsuit points out that the Justice Department implemented the policy at a time when immigration remains a controversial political issue. Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration has taken numerous steps to curb both legal and illegal immigration, including the immediate removal of undocumented immigrants without the ability to apply for asylum and the restriction of the H-1B -Specialist program.
Judge Cole said it was evident that the Trump administration did not want immigration courts to comment on its more controversial reforms.
"Only one regulation has been published in the past few weeks, a proposed regulation that really sets some very strict limits on asylum," Cole told KGUN9 that neither he nor his colleagues should express their own views.
"These are all attempts to keep us calm," he said. "To keep our perspective out of the public dialogue – and it is really important right now that people hear what we have to say, considering what is going on in immigration."
The Trump administration has also drastically restructured immigration courts by giving case rates to judges and making it much more difficult for them to close cases.
"There is considerable public interest in these changes and their impact on the independence of immigration judges and the process that enables migrants to appear before them," the lawsuit said. "Immigration judges are uniquely positioned to inform the public about these issues."
The complaint also alleged that the Trump administration's policies were designed with at least one purpose: to give the impression that immigration judges unilaterally support their policies.
"The effect is to deny the public access to insights into how the recent changes to immigration law and policies work in practice," the lawsuit said, "and to create the perception that EOIR employees adhere to the guidelines support the administration uniformly. "
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