The U.S. immigration court system has a backlog of several years, leaving immigrants in limbo on their legal status, according to a report.
According to lawyers, researchers, and lawmakers, the system is overwhelmed and understaffed, particularly as the numbers continue to grow with people entering the U.S. illegally.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the bottleneck is growing with the Biden administration’s decision to prioritize cases that can be quickly adjudicated, starting with new arrivals and immigrants who have criminal histories, leaving millions of people with lower priority cases to be left fighting for permanent residency for years.
The U.S. had just over 300,000 open immigration cases in 2012, but there are now 2.5 million, according to government data obtained and published by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
Prioritizing newer cases has caused the average wait times to drop, as cases are pending for an average of two years, compared with 2.5 years in 2021, the TRAC data shows. Further, the average wait time for asylum hearings is four years, compared with 4.7 years in 2021.
In Omaha, Nebraska, where the immigration court has fallen behind more than nearly anywhere else, three judges oversee 32,000 cases, which have gone undecided for an average of nearly three years.
Further, migrants seeking asylum are waiting for an average of 5.8 years. Rachel Yamamoto, an immigration attorney in Omaha, said she has cases that reach back as far as 2008.
“No progress is being made,” Yamamoto said. “I’ve been doing this a long time and my tolerance for bureaucratic shenanigans is pretty high. This is just next level.”
Donald Kerwin of the Center for Migration Studies said blame for the delays doesn’t lie with the judges, but with shortfalls in the federal immigration budget.
U.S. Border Patrol agents made a record high 2.2 million arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border in the fiscal year ending last September, and made 1.6 million arrests from October to June of this year.
The pace is slowing after the Biden administration’s move to limit asylum eligibility at the border, while swiftly removing people deemed ineligible to remain in the U.S. While some are returned to Mexico or their home countries, others remain in the U.S. while awaiting immigration court rulings.
People seeing asylum account for 38% of the pending immigration court cases, up from 32.5% in 2012, according to TRAC data.
Still, critics say not much is being done on the legislative level to address the bottlenecks, causing them to worsen.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review “has repeatedly asked Congress to appropriate the funds necessary to increase the number of immigration judges,” according to spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly. The agency has expanded the number of judges to 649, and the Department of Justice is seeking $1.4 billion for its fiscal 2024 budget, which will include hiring 200 new immigration court judges and support staff.
This year, immigration court judges are expected to wrap up an estimated 500,000 cases, but as many as 1 million new cases are expected to be added.
Sandy Fitzgerald ✉
Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics.
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