President Donald Trump suggested in an interview that sweeping changes to what he described as a "corrupt" immigration legal system were necessary, while also questioning the need for a legal process for people apprehended trying to cross into the US illegally.
"How do you hire thousands of people to be a judge? So it's ridiculous, we're going to change the system. We have no choice for the good of our country," Trump said in an interview that aired Thursday on Fox News.
"Other countries have what's called security people. People who stand there and say you can't come in. We have thousands of judges and they need thousands of more judges. The whole system is corrupt. It's horrible," Trump told "Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade. He didn't explain what he meant by "corrupt" and Kilmeade didn't press him about the comment.
Trump also questioned the process of immigrants going through the court system at all.
"Whoever heard of a system where you put people through trials? Where do these judges come from?" he said.
The suggestion of eliminating the courts and judges, however, is contrary to the policies currently being carried out by his own administration, and would likely violate the Constitution and international law in addition to federal law. The Justice Department declined to comment on the remarks.
Asked by a reporter about Trump's comments, California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a former immigration attorney who is now the top Democrat on the main immigration law subcommittee in the House, said they run counter to US values and law.
"I guess he has no belief in due process and the Constitution," Lofgren said.
Comments run counter to Justice policies
At odds with Trump's comments is his own Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has made overhauling the immigration courts a top priority, including in the support of hiring more immigration judges. The Justice Department has touted Sessions' efforts as essential to combating illegal immigration and making the system stronger.
Immigration courts currently face a major backlog in the number of cases before them. Cases related to immigration status are handled in a court system separate from the typical criminal and civil courts in the US -- a system that is run entirely by the Justice Department and in which the attorney general effectively functions as a one-man Supreme Court.
The courts decide whether an immigrant has a right to stay in the US and hears more than just cases of asylum-seekers at the border -- including cases of people who have lived in the US for years or decades and may have had legal status in that time but lost it for various reasons.
Last month, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit revealed that a Justice Department-commissioned report from last year had found that some of Sessions' moves to overhaul the system ran counter to its recommendations, such as requiring judges to process a target amount of cases.
The report, written by consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton last April and released last month, looked at the chronic inability of the immigration courts to keep up with the number of cases before them.
Because cases can take years to finish, undocumented immigrants can end up living and building lives in the US as they await a final decision on whether they are legally allowed to stay in the US, with many qualifying for a work permit in the interim -- something the Trump administration has cited as a driver of illegal immigration.
Sessions has made overhauling the immigration courts a top priority - beyond hiring more immigration judges. He has also made more controversial moves that affect the process of cases, he says to improve efficiency, which have drawn fire from the immigration judges union, immigration lawyers and immigrant advocates as jeopardizing the fairness of the immigration court system,
The Justice Department has maintained that it would never do anything it thought would jeopardize due process rights and it is about making the system better for what it characterizes as legitimate claims.