Immigration law is not easy. Rutgers University law professor Elizabeth Hull says that our immigration laws are “second only to the Internal Revenue Code in complexity.” According to the American Bar Association (ABA), “To say that immigration law is vast and complex is an understatement.”

Nevertheless, attorneys do not need immigration law experience to become an immigration judge.
You read that correctly: Aspiring immigration judges need not have actual experience — just strong credentials in skills necessary to be a judge. The government will “train” them in the law. The problem is the training program for new judges does not spend enough time teaching immigration law to give them the knowledge they will need as immigration judges.

Unlike in many courtrooms, these new judges generally will be expected to issue an oral decision at the end of each hearing, which does not give them time to do research or get advice from more experienced judges.

Recent hires in December 2019, included 11 attorneys with no immigration law experience. They began hearing cases in January 2020.

The decisions of immigration judges are subject to appellate review by the Board of Immigration Appeals (the Board) and federal courts, but most decisions are not appealed. Moreover, a judge’s knowledge of immigration law is not likely to be evaluated unless the appellant raises it as an issue in the appeal.


According to the ABA’s 2010 report on “Reforming the Immigration System,” from 1997 until 2006 training for newly-hired immigration judges consisted of a weeklong program at the National Judicial College and then two weeks of in-house training where new judges observed, and were observed by, experienced mentor judges.

In 2006, the observation period was extended to two weeks of observations in the new judge’s home court and two weeks at another immigration court.


Published originally by The Hill.