FLRA hears testimony in bid to decertify immigration judge union

The Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) held a hearing on January 7 to consider testimony on a petition filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in August that seeks to decertify the union representing the agency’s immigration judges (IJs), the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ).

Decertification of the NAIJ could give DOJ officials more control over the work schedules and caseloads of immigration judges. The DOJ last attempted to decertify the NAIJ in 2000 under the Clinton administration, claiming at the time that IJs function in management roles and cannot legally participate in collective bargaining activities. FLRA rejected the DOJ’s petition in 2000, but the DOJ has since contended, in part, that changes to the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA) review process in 2002 relaxed oversight of IJ decisions and strengthened IJs’ policymaking authority.

In the hearing, DOJ attorneys argued that IJs are management officials who cannot participate in union activities. Federal law defines management officials as “any individual employed by an agency in a position the duties and responsibilities of which require or authorize the individual to formulate, determine, or influence the policies of the agency.” IJs qualify as management officials, according to the DOJ, because they can issue final orders that set binding precedent for agency policy.

NAIJ attorneys disagreed with the DOJ’s assessment, arguing that IJs do not serve in management roles because management responsibilities would prevent them from focusing on immigration hearings. Moreover, the attorneys contended that orders issued by IJs can be appealed and reviewed, which limits their ability to set agency policy.

The FLRA is expected to issue a decision later this year.

IJs are a type of federal administrative adjudicator employed by the DOJ to preside over special classes of administrative adjudication proceedings pertaining to immigration, including removal proceedings. The department employed 424 immigration judges as of May 2019.

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Additional reading:
U.S. Department of Justice
Federal administrative adjudicators