Last fall, Donald Trump’s White House insisted that when it comes to immigration, the nation needed hundreds of additional immigration judges in order to expedite the legal process at the U.S./Mexico border. Indeed, the president’s position was that this was absolutely necessary – and if Democrats wanted to extend DACA protections to Dreamers, they’d agree to pay for these judges, among other things.
Recently, however, Trump decided he’s opposed to his idea. Just last week, the president spoke to the National Federation of Independent Businesses and expressed bewilderment that “they” – he didn’t say who – want more immigration judges, which Trump said would invite “graft” and corruption.
Current federal immigration judges were reportedly “shocked” and “dismayed” by the president’s criticisms.
Trump, however, is pressing forward, questioning why we even have immigration judges and wondering about the need for due process. The president addressed the subject last night at a rally in South Carolina.
“They came to me three days ago. ‘Sir, we’d like you to sign this order.’ What is the order? ‘We need five thousand judges on the border.’ I said, ‘Judges?’ What other country has judges? I said, ‘How many do we have now?’ They didn’t even know. So we have thousands of judges and now we’re going to have five thousand. Now, I’ve done a good job with judges, Judge Gorsuch, Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch. [Trump at this point went on a tangent about his greatness on picking judges, before returning to the subject at hand.]
“But they come up, and this was an order, this was – ‘Sir, we need five thousand judges.’ I said, ‘Five thousand?’ So, we put a judge on like on the bench, federal, it takes us weeks to vet, it takes us a long time to get the judges, one – we’re talking about one person. And they want five thousand, I said, ‘Where are you going to find five thousand people to be judges? How many do we have now?’ ‘I don’t know the number.’ They don’t even know the number, even though they’re in charge, OK? Nobody knows the number. We have thousands of judges already.”
It’s important to understand the unavoidable fact that Trump has no idea what he’s talking about.
First, literally no one involved in this process has recommended an additional 5,000 immigration judges. The president keeps repeating the number, but it’s entirely made up.
Second, the actual proposal was for a few hundred additional immigration judges, and that idea was endorsed by his own White House.
Third, there are 334 immigration judges currently serving, so when Trump said, “Nobody knows the number,” it’s because he’s too lazy to check.
And finally, Trump makes no distinction between immigration judges and judges who currently sit on the federal bench as part of the Article III courts.
As the Washington Post explained, “[T]he U.S. judicial branch has nearly 1,300 sitting federal judges. This includes all Article III judges who sit in the district courts, the courts of appeal, the Court of International Trade and the Supreme Court. Immigration judges are not counted toward this total, since they work in the executive branch, inside the Justice Department.”
Either no one at the White House has explained this to the president, or aides have explained it to him and Trump simply didn’t understand the lesson.
Either way, the president’s rhetoric on the subject is increasingly incoherent.