Immigration judges in lawsuit say US government muzzles them

Immigration judges said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday against the U.S. Department of Justice that they are being muzzled by the Trump administration, marking the latest confrontation between the judges and the federal government.

The judges under previous administrations were allowed to speak in their personal capacities on issues relating to immigration if they they made it clear that they were not speaking on behalf of the Justice Department or the court system, said Judge A. Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.

But under the Trump administration, they have been prohibited from speaking publicly and fear they will lose their jobs if they do so, she said, adding that this prevents the judges from educating the public about the country’s immigration courts.

“To muzzle judge and prevent them being part of this huge national discourse on immigration is frankly un-American and it’s unconstitutional,” Tabaddor told The Associated Press in an interview shortly before the lawsuit was filed.

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The Justice Department, which oversees U.S. immigration courts, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on the lawsuit, which seeks to block the policy preventing judges from speaking out publicly on immigration issues or the court system.

The judges’ union has called for the courts to be made independent and free of government influence. In turn, the Department has asked federal labor authorities to put an end to the union.

The lawsuit was filed in Alexandria, Virginia by Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University on behalf of the union.

In 2017, the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review started requiring judges to get prior approval before allowing them to speak publicly, according to the lawsuit.

The agency went a step farther in January when it prohibited immigration judges from speaking in their personal capacities about immigration law or policy or about the agency’s programs or policies, according to the lawsuit.

On other topics, judges must get prior approval from the agency. Judges who violate the policy can face reprimands or be suspended or removed, according to the lawsuit.

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