Extra judges may be headed for Bloomington immigration court

Officials with the U.S. Justice Department are considering reassigning judges from around the country to the immigration court in Bloomington.

The Twin Cities immigration court is experiencing an extreme backlog of cases — about 5,300, which is an all-time high. About 150 of those cases involve people who are currently being held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. One of the court's three judges retired last year, and three of its five courtrooms are sitting empty.

A recent Reuters report said the possible reassignments would be temporary, and are intended to speed up deportations of immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally and who have been charged with crimes.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review confirmed with MPR News that the agency might dispatch judges to Bloomington and 11 other cities. But she said the plans are still preliminary.

Law professor Linus Chan, director of the Detainee Rights Clinic at the University of Minnesota, said he's not sure the extra judges will help accelerate the cases. That's because a lack of legal representation among the immigrants may be causing delays.

"For some, the length of time is caused by people desperately trying to find lawyers to help and represent them, and then go forward on their case," Chan said. "So in some respects, having more judges may not really fix the issue."

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The Twin Cities court serves Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Immigrants on average were in the queue for more than 600 days, according to the most recent figures compiled by Syracuse University.

Beginning on Monday, immigration judges were redeployed to 10 locations, including Chicago and several cities near the U.S.-Mexico border. The transfers come after President Trump signed an executive order Jan. 25 calling for beefed-up immigration enforcement and deportations.

Trump has long promised to prioritize deporting criminals, and his order broadens who would be eligible for removal. For example, someone who has been charged with a crime, but not convicted, could be considered a criminal.

In addition to Bloomington, other cities that could receive the extra judges include New York; Los Angeles; Miami; New Orleans; San Francisco; Baltimore; Phoenix; El Paso and Harlingen, Texas; Imperial, California; Omaha, Nebraska.