Friday, May 24, 2024

Top immigration judge retires amidst backlog of cases and a migrant crisis

The nation’s immigration judges lost a key leader this week, the latest in a string of departures at the top of the system amid a backlog of cases and a migrant crisis at the southwestern border.

The official, David Neal, said that he would retire from his position as head of the judges’ appeals board effective Saturday. “With a heavy heart, I have decided to retire from government service,” Mr. Neal wrote in a letter sent to the board Thursday and obtained by The New York Times.

He gave no reason for his abrupt departure and asked his colleagues to “keep true to your commitment to fairness and justice.” Mr. Neal’s decision follows a shake-up at the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the court system that adjudicates the country’s immigration cases, including asylum cases.

Three of its senior career officials — MaryBeth T. Keller, the chief immigration judge; Jean King, the general counsel; and Katherine H. Reilly, the deputy director — all left their roles this summer. Mr. Neal’s departure also comes amid the backdrop of the Trump administration’s efforts to curb both illegal and legal immigration, which have taxed the immigration courts, the criminal courts and border patrols along the nation’s southwestern border and prompted long-running discontent among immigration judges that they are being used to expedite deportations.

Amid these hard-line policies, a vocal group of immigration judges — part of the larger total of about 400 judges and appeals judges — have been at loggerheads with the Trump administration for more than a year. Leaders of the judges’ union have pushed back against the imposition of quotas that they have said would expedite deportations at the expense of due process.