I am very pleased that all of you could join us in witnessing and celebrating 18 outstanding individuals taking their place as distinguished members of the corps of immigration judges. Your presence today — their family, friends and colleagues — is testimony to the quality of their character and the wisdom of selecting each of them for the immigration bench.
In a few moments, each of these outstanding professionals will take the oath of office as the nation’s newest immigration judges. This oath will formally commence their commitment to serving our great country in this new capacity. With this oath, they not only take on the mantle of immigration judge, but they also assume the burden of serving justice — both the department of that name and the lofty principle for which this department is named.
A couple of days ago, Loretta Lynch was formally installed as our Attorney General, the 83rd in our history. Attorney General Lynch is fond of saying something that is very fitting for our event here today, and for the work that our immigration courts do and that our newest judges will be engaged in.
“The Department of Justice,” Attorney General Lynch says, “is the only cabinet department named for an ideal. And this is actually appropriate,” she adds, “because our work is both aspirational and grounded in gritty reality. It’s both ennobling and profoundly challenging.”
I think that captures perfectly the job of an immigration judge. It is challenging, and yet ennobling. It is gritty and humbling, yet deeply meaningful and important.
It is not everyone who is entrusted with the responsibility that you now have as immigration judges. As all of you very well know, the process for selecting and appointing immigration judges is long and arduous because the department really wants the best and the brightest to serve on the immigration bench. The fact that you made it through this process, and that you are here today, is testament to your accomplishments, excellence and great trust that we are putting on you as you start your new duties.
You come from varied backgrounds. Some of you have been in government service for a long time, in other Department of Justice components or other federal agencies. Some of you have had distinguished careers in the private sector, public interest organizations and other tribunals. Some come to EOIR (Executive Office for Immigration Review) from state agencies and courts, or have served in the military justice system. But as the selection process made clear, all of you share a passion for the law, for justice and for serving our country.
In some ways, it has never been more important to have in place a good number of quality judges. After several years of hiring freezes and budget cuts that hurt our immigration court system tremendously, adequately staffing our immigration courts with outstanding judges is one of the highest priorities for our agency and for the Department of Justice at this time.
There are some things you can count on in your new role as immigration judges.
You will be busy. Your days will be full and often long.
The stakes in the cases that come before you will be high. The immigration courts are charged with both safeguarding our nation through the proper interpretation and application of the immigration law, and with providing newcomers to our country with a fair opportunity to be heard, and even safe haven or lawful status for those who qualify.
You will have to make very difficult decisions. You will not have the luxury of advocating for a particular position or a particular result. Instead, you will have to weigh two, often equally compelling, arguments, and make a decision. And, if the law requires it, your decision could be ordering someone removed from the United States, sometimes separating them from their families.
You will be working with a set of laws, regulations and legal precedents that are complicated, convoluted and that do not always make a lot of sense.
You will have to deal with a hectic, emotional climate in your courtrooms, with anxious families, overworked staff and attorneys who are often as overwhelmed with caseloads as you are.
And, based on what I have heard from many sitting immigration judges, you are now entering into what may be the best job you will ever have.
Your decisions will be life-changing for many people.
You will have the opportunity to delve into fascinating legal issues, and you will see countless interesting factual scenarios come before you.
You will have the opportunity to work with some of the most dedicated and hardworking professionals in public service, the immigration judges and staff now working in our various immigration courts around the country. Learn from them; they will be a great source of support and collegiality for you.
Perhaps most important, you will be a face of justice — of the Department of Justice, and of the ideal of justice. To paraphrase our Attorney General, in the gritty reality of immigration court, your work will be ennobling, and in the highest spirit of public service.
An ancient philosopher once said that justice lies at the intersection of order and compassion. Without order, society has no rules, the laws have no meaning and chaos ensues. Without compassion, those same laws become draconian, harsh, inflexible, inhuman. Without a proper balancing between order and compassion, law simply cannot work, and serves no one.
All of you were selected for this position because you have not just the intellect, but also the wisdom that it takes to balance order and compassion. You possess the very qualities that you would want to see in a judge.
Congratulations on becoming our newest immigration judges. I am incredibly proud to share this day with you, and I cannot wait to see the outstanding work that you will carry out on behalf of our agency as you start your new duties. I know you will do us, and the Department of Justice, proud.