WASHINGTON — In a letter sent today to the acting director of the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University demanded that the agency suspend its policy restricting the ability of EOIR employees to speak at public events. That policy, Institute lawyers argued, violates the First Amendment by unduly abridging the right of immigration judges and other EOIR employees to speak in their personal capacities about matters of significant public interest.

The Knight Institute recently obtained a copy of the EOIR’s policy through a Freedom of Information Act request. That FOIA request was submitted as part of a major investigation the Institute’s writer-in-residence Cristian Farias is leading on free speech restrictions at the U.S. border.

The policy categorically prohibits certain senior EOIR employees from speaking at public events in their personal capacities, and it requires all other EOIR employees to obtain supervisory approval before doing so.

“There is immense public interest in recent changes to immigration policy, and the effects those changes are having on migrant communities,” said Ramya Krishnan, a staff attorney at the Knight Institute. “EOIR’s policy deprives the public of a crucial voice in that debate, by silencing those charged with operating the nation’s immigration courts.”

The Knight Institute’s constitutional objections to the EOIR policy come in the midst of an ongoing conflict between U.S. immigration judges—who are EOIR employees—and the U.S. government. Some immigration judges have been critical of Trump administration policies that they say interfere with their independence, such as case-completion quotas, and the administration is now attempting to decertify the union that represents the judges. A hearing in that decertification proceeding is scheduled to begin tomorrow.

“Federal employees don’t relinquish their First Amendment rights when they begin working for the government,” said Stephanie Krent, a legal fellow at the Knight Institute. “Limits on federal-employee speech must be tailored to speech that would be genuinely disruptive, but this policy is anything but. It sweepingly suppresses protected speech without any apparent justification.”

Read the Knight Institute’s letter and the EOIR policy here.

For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, Knight First Amendment Institute, lorraine.kenny@knightcolumbia.org, (646) 745-8510.