Immigration Judges Sue Justice Department Over Broad Speech Ban

A union representing U.S. immigration judges sued the Justice Department for allegedly violating their free-speech rights by barring them from speaking or writing publicly in their personal capacity “no matter the topic, audience, or venue.”

Before the new rule was put in place in January, judges could speak publicly as long as they made it clear they weren’t representing the agency, according to the suit filed Wednesday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, by the union, the National Association of Immigration Judges.

The policy changed “at a time of intense scrutiny of the nation’s immigration system” driven by President Donald Trump’s sweeping changes to U.S. immigration policy and the upcoming presidential election in November, the union said. The complaint names James McHenry, director of the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts.

The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

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The union has been sharply critical of the Trump administration’s 2018 imposition of a quota requiring each of the nation’s roughly 460 immigration judges to process at least 700 deportations per year. The judges have also blasted the government for keeping immigration courts open throughout the pandemic, putting the health of judges, lawyers, and others at risk. Most other courts in the nation closed in response to the crisis.

“Part of the job of an immigration judge is to educate the public about the immigration courts and the role they play in society,” Judge A. Ashley Tabaddor, the union’s president, said in a statement. “This policy prevents us from doing this critical work, undermining public understanding of and trust in the immigration courts in the process.”

The judges are represented in the case by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

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