Government Executive reports on a recent event at the National Press Club featuring Judge Randall Frye from the Social Security Administration and president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, and Judge Dana Leigh Marks, an immigration judge in San Francisco and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. The pair described threats to judges involving guns, baseball bats, cut brake lines, and broken legs.
“Between March 2009 and February 2010, SSA offices that handle disability claims received 49 threats; individual Social Security judges received 20 threats,” reported Government Executive. “At a Las Vegas federal courthouse in January, a man believed to have been irate over a reduction in his Social Security benefits gunned down a courthouse official and injured a U.S. deputy marshal.” There are no statistics available from the Department of Justice concerning threats to immigration judges or court personnel, but given the high-stakes nature of proceedings, it would not be surprising if threats have been made.
The main concern is lack of security at certain immigration and SSA courts. Many such courts are not housed in government buildings and do not have rigorous screening procedures. Immigration courts also often lack secure parking lots, elevators, and entryways. At the Press Club event, Immigration Judge Marks pointed out that “she could ride the elevator with someone whom she decided to deport.” That is certainly the case in the courts where I litigate.
Suggestions for improvements included increasing the number of security guards in the reception area, stationing a bailiff in every active courtroom, higher railings in front of judges’ benches, and creating secure entrances, exits, and parking lots for judges. At the minimum, the Justice Department should make available data on threats to immigration courts. Then, at least, we could have a sense of the problem.
Of course, improvements to security cost money, which seems to be in short supply. As the number of cases (and level of frustration) in immigration courts increase, we should not forget to ensure the safety of those who enforce and adjudicate our immigration law. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait for a tragedy to realize the importance of protecting our public servants.