While Americans voted, the Trump administration quietly revoked the union rights of immigration judges, which could jeopardize their independence
Ashley Tabaddor, a Los Angeles federal immigration judge who serves as president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, listens as she is introduced to speak at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
The Federal Labor Relations Authority ruled this week that immigration judges are "managers", not workers, and denied them the right to collective bargaining.
The verdict comes after the Trump administration tried to silence the judges, some of whom spoke out against its immigration policies and COVID-19.
"FLRA's decision betrays the pre-eminence of the entire case," Judge Ashley Tabaddor told Business Insider. "It mocks the rule of law."
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With all eyes on the election, a federal agency dominated by appointed President Donald Trump revoked the collective bargaining rights of immigration judges in the country.
In a ruling released Tuesday, the Federal Labor Relations Authority said the judges, some of whom had conflicted with the Trump administration over their immigration policies and response to COVID-19, had no right to union representation.
The two Republican members of the FLRA argued that judges were not workers but "managers" as court judgments influence the implementation of policy. The lone Democratic Commissioner called the majority argument "sophistry" and said his decision to overturn his own regional director's appointment - to maintain a union recognized since 1979 - was "the opposite of reasoned decision-making".
Judge Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, the union that represents more than 400 judges, blown the ruling and told Business Insider that her release was now "no coincidence."
"The FLRA's decision betrays the pre-eminence of the entire case," said Tabaddor. "It mocks the rule of law."
The decision could allow the federal government to fire judges who fail to abide by asylum seekers and deportations, treating them as arbitrary employees, thereby undermining their ability to exercise independence. According to CNN, more than 40 judges resigned in 2019, almost twice as many as resigned in 2017 and 2018.
In a letter to members of her union on November 3, Tabaddor said NAIJ would pursue all legal options. "We lost this fight," she said, "but we will win the war."
Immigration judges have repeatedly clashed with the Trump administration, which previously refused to close courtrooms despite local lockdown orders in the COVID-19 pandemic. "In this unique public health crisis situation, we believe this is wrong," Judge Dana Leigh Marks told Business Insider in March.
In July, the judges' union sued the Trump administration over a January rule it issued that forbade them to speak up. The only exception to this rule: union representatives.
The Ministry of Justice has been trying to decertify the judges' union since 2019. Former President Bill Clinton's administration previously tried to do the same thing the FRLA refused to do in 2000.
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