President Trump has been complaining over the last week about immigration judges — and on Wednesday his complaints were bolstered by a federal watchdog who accused one judge of actively promoting Hillary Clinton during a 2016 deportation trial.
Carmene “Zsa Zsa” DePaolo said Mrs. Clinton would save the immigration system, while she said Republicans wanted to “try to deport everybody,” according to a complaint lodged by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which polices politicking among federal employees.
Judge DePaolo, who is assigned to an immigration court in Southern California, is one of about 330 immigration judges in the system. They handle deportation and asylum cases, and have become a major focus of the new immigration debate, since the massive backlog of more than 600,000 cases is part of the reason for the de facto catch-and-release policy that’s bedeviled the Trump administration.
Federal officials are restricted from politicking on the job under a law known as the Hatch Act. The OSC has asked the Merit Systems Protection Board to discipline the judge.
“When a federal immigration judge in a public setting uses her position to advocate for partisan campaign outcomes, that’s a real problem,” said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “Judge DePaolo appears to be in clear violation of the Hatch Act and we believe she should face significant disciplinary action.”
Mr. Trump this week said his advisers had asked for thousands of new immigration judges to be hired to reduce the backlog in cases. They say the backlog is so big that it can take years to go through the proceedings. They usually have to release illegal immigrants during that time, and the people often end up disappearing into the shadows.
The president said he doesn’t see a need for judges.
“They want us to choose 5,000 judges. How do you choose 5,000 judges?” he said Tuesday. “Can you imagine the corruption just from a normal standpoint? Just common sense. Can you imagine the corruption?”
Mr. Trump said the country needs a system where more people are turned away at the border, rather than allowed to demand lengthy immigration trials.
“It’s so simple. It’s called, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t come in. You have to go in through a legal process,’” the president said.
In Judge DePaolo’s case, she has served on the immigration courts since 1995. Her asylum denial rate — one measure for immigration judges — is actually slightly higher than immigration judges as a whole, though slightly lower than fellow judges in San Diego, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which tracks judges’ performance.
Earlier this year Judge De Paolo was in the news after she released a high-profile illegal immigrant from detention. The government had accused the illegal immigrant woman of being involved in human smuggling, and arrested her on a street corner in front of her children.
The arrest sparked protests and a national backlash from immigrant-rights groups who said it was harsh.
Judge DePaolo released the woman without requiring bond.