Restructuring Immigration Adjudication

88 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2010

See all articles by Stephen H. Legomsky

Stephen H. Legomsky

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: April 7, 2010


For decades, the immigration adjudication system has been under relentless attack from both the left and the right. The left has been concerned with the fairness of the proceedings, the accuracy and consistency of the outcomes, and the acceptability of both the procedures and the outcomes to the parties and to the public. The right has focused on the fiscal costs and elapsed times of these proceedings. This Article demonstrates that all of these criticisms have been well founded and that the roots of the problems are severe underfunding, reckless procedural shortcuts, the politicization of the process, and a handful of adjudicators personally ill suited to the task.

Over the years, commentators and commissions have offered thoughtful solutions, but consensus has proven elusive. This Article calls for redesigning the entire system. For the trial phase, this Article endorses previous proposals for converting the current immigration judges into administrative law judges, who enjoy greater job security, and moving them from the Department of Justice into a new, independent executive branch tribunal. For the appellate phase, this Article proposes radical surgery, replacing both administrative appeals and regional court of appeals review with a single round of appellate review by a new, Article III immigration court. The new court would be staffed by experienced Article III district and circuit judges serving two-year assignments. This new system would significantly depoliticize the hiring, judging, supervision, and control of immigration adjudicators. It would consolidate the two current, largely duplicative rounds of appellate review into one, in the process restoring the Article III jurisdiction that Congress stripped away in 1996. It would save tax dollars and speed the removal process, thus reducing not only prolonged detention, but also what some believe is a meaningful incentive to file frivolous appeals to delay removal. It would preserve both specialized expertise and a generalist perspective. And it is politically realistic, permitting all sides to meet the specific objectives they hold most dear while requiring each side to make only modest concessions.

Keywords: Immigration, Aliens, Noncitizens, Deportation, Removal, Adjudication, EOIR, BIA, Immigration Judges

Suggested Citation

Legomsky, Stephen H., Restructuring Immigration Adjudication (April 7, 2010). Duke Law Journal, Vol. 59, pp. 1635-1721, 2010, Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 10-04-02, Available at SSRN:

Stephen H. Legomsky (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States
(314) 935-6469 (Phone)
(314) 935-5356 (Fax)


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