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A Top Immigration Judge Who Stepped Down Under Trump Has Now Been Chosen To Lead The Court System

David Neal left in 2019, when many immigration judges were concerned about how Trump had reshaped the work the court was doing.

Posted on September 24, 2021, at 1:01 p.m. ET

Julio Cortez / AP

Immigrants, many from Haiti, wait in lines to board buses under the Del Rio International Bridge in Texas, Sept. 24, 2021.

The Biden administration has appointed a former lead immigration judge to head the nation’s immigration courts after years of significant changes under former president Donald Trump that curtailed judicial flexibility.

David Neal, who retired from his position as a chief immigration judge of the Executive Office of Immigration Review in 2019, has now been appointed to lead the agency. His resignation in 2019 came during a time when many immigration judges left EOIR due to concerns about how the Trump administration had reshaped the work the court was doing.

Under Trump, officials executed a monumental overhaul of the way immigration judges worked by placing quotas on the number of cases they should complete every year, ending their ability to indefinitely suspend others, restricting when asylum can be granted, and pouring thousands of previously closed cases back onto court dockets. As a result, the case backlog increased and wait times continued to skyrocket.

Neal takes over as President Joe Biden is dealing with increasing numbers of immigrants arriving at the southern border and a persisting court backlog.

“The Justice Department’s commitment to a fair and efficient immigration court system, governed by due process and the rule of law, is exemplified by recent policy changes and our pursuit of significant additional resources,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said. “David Neal brings invaluable experience that will help further EOIR’s mission.”

During the Trump administration, many judges, who oversee asylum claims and deportation cases, retired or resigned, citing interference in how they were doing their jobs. Some were bold in their timing. John Richardson, a former immigration judge in Phoenix, stepped down on Sep. 30, 2018 — the day before the administration instituted a quota for the number of cases to be completed by judges.

"The timing of my retirement was a direct result of the draconian policies of the Administration, the relegation of [judges] to the status of 'action officers' who deport as many people as possible as soon as possible with only token due process, and blaming [judges] for the immigration crisis caused by decades of neglect and under funding of the Immigration Courts,” he said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.

The New York Times reported in 2019 that Neal told colleagues in his resignation email to “keep true to your commitment to fairness and justice.”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.