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High-ranking officials' anger over performance at border fuels Trump's disappointment in Sessions

High-ranking officials' anger over performance at border fuels Trump's disappointment in Sessions
Posted at 7:39 AM, Sep 20, 2018

President Donald Trump's anger over Attorney General Jeff Sessions' job performance at the border is tied to complaints made by several senior administration officials, according to a White House official close to discussions on immigration policy.

The official tells CNN Trump has heard directly from high-ranking figures who are upset over the pace at which the Department of Justice has moved to adjudicate asylum claims, resulting in a backlog of cases.

The official says while this is likely "palace intrigue" because the Justice Department "is doing their part," the complaints have only compounded Trump's frustration about a stalled immigration agenda and his anger with Sessions that stems from his decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe last year.

In response, a Justice Department official told CNN that the DOJ is only partly responsible for the backlog and the department has announced the steps it is taking to help reduce it.



There is a massive backlog in immigration courts that is up to hundreds of thousands of cases.

Part of the problem is that there are only about 350 immigration judges nationwide, and the President has seemed resistant to hiring more judges, despite Sessions' urging to increase hiring. The Justice Department has also worked to cut the time it takes to hire a new immigration judge in half, according to a news release from the department.

"Hiring manythousands (sic) of judges, and going through a long and complicated legal process, is not the way to go - will always be disfunctional (sic). People must simply be stopped at the Border and told they cannot come into the U.S. illegally," Trump tweeted on June 25.

Four days before that, Trump tweeted, "We shouldn't be hiring judges by the thousands, as our ridiculous immigration laws demand, we should be changing our laws, building the Wall, hire Border Agents and Ice and not let people come into our country based on the legal phrase they are told to say as their password."

Sessions has previously said the Department of Homeland Security, which conducts interviews on individuals seeking asylum in the US, ends up approving too many asylum applications.

"And the adjudication process is broken as well," Sessions said in an October 2017 speech. "DHS found a credible fear in 88% of claims adjudicated. That means an alien entering the United States illegally has an 88% chance to avoid expedited removal simply by claiming a fear of return."

Trump told reporters Wednesday his frustrations with Sessions aren't just limited to his recusal from the Russia investigation.

"I'm disappointed in the attorney general for numerous reasons. But we have an attorney general. I'm disappointed in the attorney general for many reasons," Trump told reporters on the South Lawn. "And you understand that."

When asked about Sessions by HillTV Tuesday, Trump said, "I'm not happy at the border, I'm not happy with numerous things, not just this."

During that same interview, Trump promised to do something within "the next two weeks" on immigration.

The White House confirmed the administration has been working on new regulations for several months, and they are now being vetted by DHS and other administration agencies.

At least one of the new regulations would tweak specific guidelines related to H-1B visas to prioritize merit based immigration, according to the White House official.

Despite Trump boasting that these new steps would be impressive, the official indicated the adjustments would be "minor changes made at the margins. None of it will result in major changes."

Sessions did move Tuesday to take further action at the border, tightening his control on immigration courts.

In one decision, Sessions further constrained the discretion of immigration judges to show leniency to undocumented immigrants. In the other, he signaled he may restrict the ability of immigrants awaiting asylum hearings to be let out of detention.

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