On January 23, President Donald Trump froze hiring for all federal government positions, except for military personnel and in some other limited circumstances. Trump’s federal hiring freeze will not apply to immigration court judges under an exception for positions that are needed for national security and public safety. In a Feb. 20 enforcement memorandum, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said that long delays in immigration court hearings were “unacceptable” and allow “removable aliens with no plausible claim for relief to remain unlawfully in the United States for many years.”
The Department of Justice is deploying 50 judges to immigration detention facilities across the United States, according to two sources and a letter seen by Reuters and sent to judges on Thursday. The order called for the end of a policy known as “catch and release,” by which immigrants were released from detention and given a date to appear in court. Immigration courts have a backlog of over 550,000 cases, according to the Justice Department’s data, so many court dates are set years into the future.