House Republicans demand answers on 'gag order' for union of immigration judges

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WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans on Monday demanded answers on what led to a Justice Department order that a union of immigration judges get supervisor approval before speaking publicly about the heavily backlogged courts.

Rep., Jim Jordan, Judiciary Committee chair, and Rep. Tom McClintock, who leads an immigration subcommittee, seek records related to “a reported gag order that forbids immigration judges from speaking with Congress or the news media about the (Biden) Administration's unprecedented immigration crisis.”

The order appears to violate a guarantee that federal employees can speak freely with Congress, the lawmakers wrote David Neal, director of the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review, as the courts are known.

The Associated Press reported this month that the chief immigration judge, Sheila McNulty, told leaders of the National Association of Immigration Judges that they need approval “to participate in writing engagements (e.g., articles; blogs) and speaking engagements (e.g., speeches; panel discussions; interviews).” It refers to a 2020 decision by the Federal Labor Relations Authority to strip the union of collective bargaining power and says its earlier rights were “not valid at present.”

The 53-year-old union has spoken at public forums, in interviews with reporters and with congressional staff, often to criticize how courts are run. It has advocated for more independence and free legal representation as the court backlog has mushroomed to more than 3 million cases.

Matt Biggs, president of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, an umbrella organization that includes the judges’ union, said the House inquiry was "not surprising" and the order “makes one wonder what they are trying to hide.”

“With so much attention now focused on immigration and the border, it's vitally important to have transparency and to hear from the judges who are on the front lines,” Biggs said.

The immigration courts did not immediately respond to a request for comment. When asked earlier this month, Kathryn Mattingly, a spokesperson, said the office does not discuss “personnel matters.”