James McHenry, Director of the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), who took office during the Trump administration, has stepped down from his role effective January 31, 2021. This move comes as the Biden administration replaces top government officials. The EOIR, a sub-agency of the United States Department of Justice, primarily conducts removal proceedings of noncitizens and adjudicates appeals arising from such removal proceedings.
James McHenry’s Background
Appointed as the acting director of the EOIR in May 2017, McHenry was appointed as director of the agency on a permanent basis in January 2018. Under McHenry’s leadership, the immigration courts restricted the grant of asylum. McHenry and the Department of Homeland Security issued multiple rules that had an impact on the noncitizen’s asylum eligibility.
McHenry faced much criticism, as immigration advocates, lawyers, and even some immigration judges blamed him for the disruption of meaningful independence in the immigration courts. This is possible, as the immigration courts are a part of the executive branch. Its policies are often shadowed by political appointees, who include the attorney general. The attorney general can issue precedential decisions that become governing case law for critical immigration cases such as asylum and deportations. They also possess the discretion to administratively close cases or suspend deportation proceedings for certain immigrants.
Jean King Appointed as EOIR Acting Director
Jean King, who served as the chief administrative law judge, was appointed as the acting director of the EOIR at the end of January. She also served as the general counsel of EOIR beginning in September 2015. All throughout her career, she has held many pivotal positions in the EOIR, serving as the attorney advisor of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) – the Appellate Board of the Immigration Courts; director of operations of the BIA; and senior legal advisor at the BIA.
Backlog in the U.S. Immigration Courts
The U.S. immigration courts are inundated with some 1.3 million pending cases, according to data released by Syracuse University. The backlog of these cases has only multiplied. In an attempt to better the issue, President Biden has pledged to double the number of immigration judges, staff, and interpreters to curtail the massive backlog.
In the United States as a whole, there is a sum of 1,290,766 immigration cases pending. Texas stands first among other states in the number of cases pending.