WASHINGTON -- The Department of Justice is challenging the right of the country's 440 immigration judges to be represented by a labor union in a move the judges said was aimed at silencing their criticism.
A petition filed Friday with the Federal Labor Relations Authority contends the union shouldn't be allowed because the judges are management officials who help decide or shape the agency's policies, a Department of Justice spokesman said.
In recent months, the immigration judges' union has spoken out against new performance quotas and rules for managing court dockets. The National Association of Immigration Judges has also called for the immigration courts to become independent of the Department of Justice, where the judges are currently employees.
"It's absurd that anyone would consider us managers," Immigration Judge Ashley Tabaddor, the association's president, said in a statement. "We don't even have the authority to order pencils."
She called the move an "effort to mute" the country's immigration judges.
Immigration judges are tasked with deciding who can stay in the country legally and who should be deported. The judges decide thousands of cases each year and are currently overseeing courts backlogged with 900,000 cases.
The Authority will likely open an investigation in response to the Department of Justice's request, the agency spokesman said.
The union said the Authority ruled nearly two decades ago that immigration judges don't act as managers.