- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 21, 2022

The nation’s chief immigration judge is calling it quits after sources said he faced an increasingly strident Biden administration that cut him out of decisions as it pursued a more relaxed policy toward illegal immigrants.

Tracy Short, who has served as the chief judge since 2020, told colleagues in a note Thursday that he will be leaving at the end of the month. He praised them for their “resilience” over years of challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic and new demands placed on immigration judges, according to the note, which The Washington Times obtained.

Sources familiar with Mr. Short’s decision said he was fed up with a political agenda that the Biden administration has imposed on the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the Justice Department agency that runs the immigration courts.

Mr. Short is the latest departure at EOIR. The agency is supposed to operate as an independent judicial decision-maker, but insiders say it has been captured by the Biden administration. The Times reported last month that at least a half-dozen judges hired in the Trump era have been ousted.

On Wednesday, the day before Mr. Short’s announcement, two top Republicans demanded answers from Attorney General Merrick Garland. They said the firings could violate federal civil service laws if they were based on political ideology.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republicans on each chamber’s judiciary committee, pointed to the ouster last month of Matthew O’Brien, an immigration judge who said he had received only positive feedback from his supervisors but was let go because of what EOIR labeled “performance and/or conduct.”

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Mr. O’Brien, now director of investigations at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, said pushing out Mr. Short was part of the pattern.

In the 18 months that the Biden administration has been in office, it has reassigned two of EOIR’s top leaders and pressured two others into resigning, The Times reported earlier this year. That’s in addition to the half-dozen judges ousted.

One Justice Department employee said the purge lands at the feet of Mr. Garland.

“Although the attorney general claimed he would not politicize DOJ, it has become a politicized, toxic and hostile environment due to these actions. Without congressional or [inspector general] oversight, employees are scared, especially at EOIR,” the official said.

EOIR did not address questions from The Times about the ousters, but in a statement acknowledged Mr. Short’s resignation.

“EOIR senior leadership will continue to work with the principal deputy and regional chief immigration judges to fairly and uniformly administer the nation’s immigration laws,” the agency said.

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Mr. Short was appointed chief immigration judge in 2020. He oversees the country’s 600 immigration judges and sets courtroom procedure and policy.

The immigration courts are less prominent than the Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but the judges serve critical roles in immigration enforcement. They rule on cases of immigrants who fight their deportations, deciding whether they get to stay in the U.S. or should be removed.

Judges are supposed to operate independently based on the law, but the Biden team has weaponized the courts to try to achieve its policy goals, said Andrew “Art” Arthur, a former immigration judge who is now a resident law fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

“The immigration court is supposed to be a neutral arbiter, and yet regrettably under Biden administration policies they’re being asked to play a central role in carrying out the president’s agenda,” Mr. Arthur said.

Immigrant rights advocates had been trying to get Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Short fired.

In a letter to Mr. Garland last year, a lengthy list of groups questioned why Mr. Short was hired as chief immigration judge in the first place and complained that in his previous job as principal legal adviser at ICE he had pushed back against attempts to dismiss or terminate deportation cases.

The groups demanded that Mr. Garland “install new leadership” in EOIR’s key posts.

Mr. O’Brien said the purge should worry those beyond the scope of EOIR.

“If this is going on in the immigration court, what is to stop this going on anywhere?” he said. “A lot of this may seem like a discrete thing that only has an impact on immigration. But if you look at this, this is the same problem that led to the FBI drumming up these ridiculous accusations and becoming involved in politically motivated investigations.”

EOIR faces a backlog of 1.6 million cases, fueled by pandemic shutdowns and a decade’s worth of border surges.

The Biden administration is fighting to clear the backlog by terminating or dismissing cases at a record rate, shifting the cases out of active status and effectively granting the illegal immigrants de facto permission to remain in the country.

Several sources wondered why the Justice Department’s inspector general hasn’t announced an investigation into the situation.

The inspector general did start a review when top Democrats complained in 2018 of political hiring decisions by the Trump administration.

In an advisory memo this year, the inspector general cleared the Trump team, saying that while investigators found some bureaucratic snafus there wasn’t enough evidence to open a full investigation.

The Washington Times reached out to several of the Democrats who demanded the previous investigation for comment on the accusations against the Biden administration but did not hear back.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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