(CNSNews.com) - Attorney General Jeff Sessions welcomed 44 new immigration judges on Monday, telling them they are joining the "most active" immigration judicial system in history.
By the end of 2018, Sessions said, he expects to add even more judges -- "with a goal of seeing a 50 percent increase in the number of judges since the beginning of the Trump administration."
"You have an obligation to decide cases efficiently and to keep our federal laws functioning effectively, fairly, and consistently," Sessions said in his prepared remarks:
The position you hold is not a 9-to-5 one -- it is a professional position.
As you take on this critically important role, I hope that you will be imaginative and inventive in order to manage a high-volume caseload. I do not apologize for expecting you to perform, at a high level, efficiently and effectively.
Your role requires great legal skill. Many of the cases present complex legal issues, but like anyone acting as a judge, you must manage your docket and support staff well. Cases must be moved to conclusion.
Claimants must meet necessary legal standards before relief is given. These principles and the large numbers of cases present a great challenge. That’s why we need more judges.
Sessions said no great nation can have both a generous welfare system and open borders.
He noted that open borders run contrary to the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), which "lays out a rational scheme for immigration that tells our officers and judges who is to be admitted, how many and under what circumstances."
Sessions said he is trying to make the system work as intended, and he pointed to the "zero tolerance" policy the Trump administration announced in April, where 100 percent of illegal border crossers would be referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.
"Our U.S. Attorneys are prosecuting over 90 percent of those cases referred to us," the attorney general said on Monday. "It’s a two- to three-fold increase – and it has some deterrent effect. This is the 'zero tolerance' policy you have heard about. You don’t get to enter the border unlawfully, between ports of entry, and place our CBP officers at risk without consequences.
"Of course, our goal is not to just prosecute more but to deter and end illegality. To that end we are resolutely committed. If someone is smuggling illegal aliens across our Southwest border, then we will prosecute them. Period."
(The policy, later rescinded by President Trump, created an uproar because children were separated from their parents when their parents awaited prosecution in DOJ custody.)
Sessions on Monday also noted that the asylum system is being abused, "to the detriment of the rule of law, sound public policy, and public safety." The abuses also hurt people with legitimate claims, he said.
"Saying a few simple words -- claiming a fear of return-- has transformed a straightforward arrest for illegal entry and immediate return...into a prolonged legal process, where an alien may be released from custody into the United States and possibly never show up for an immigration hearing.
"This is a large part of what has been accurately called 'catch and release.' Our system was not designed to handle thousands of new asylum claims every month from individuals who illegally flood across the border. But that is what has been happening, and it has overwhelmed the system."
Sessions said the vast majority of current asylum claims "are not valid under the law."
"Now we all know that many of those crossing our border illegally want a better life and many are leaving difficult situations. And we understand all are due proper respect and the proper legal process. But we cannot abandon legal discipline and sound legal concepts."
Sessions noted that under the INA, asylum is for people who flee because of past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. "Asylum was never meant to provide escape from all the problems—even serious problems—that people face every day all over the world," he said. "Indeed, Americans face serious problems every day also."
Sessions said it's no surprise that people want to come to the U.S., the greatest nation in the history of the world: "But they must do so according to law, because it is the supremacy of that law that made this country so great in the first place."
He told the new immigration judges, "Your job is to apply the law, even in tough cases."