Over the last 10 years, the workload of the federal immigration court system has increased by 146 percent to an astounding 453,948 active cases at the end of July. The average amount of time each of those cases has been pending: 627 days. Some have been lingering for years.
The reason for the enormous backlog is clear. While the government has poured money into enhancing border security – the number of border agents has nearly doubled to 21,000 in the last decade – it has failed to similarly increase the capacity of the immigration court system that hears deportation cases. According to a recent report, immigration enforcement budgets increased 300 percent from 2002 through 2013, but immigration court budgets rose only 70 percent.
The ramifications of such an overwhelmed system are wide-ranging. People who have no legal right to be in the country get lengthy reprieves simply because the judges can’t get to their cases. Those with legitimate claims to asylum are left twisting in the wind. And the judges face significant stress and burnout. They handle an average of 1,400 cases each per year, more than twice the caseload for Social Security and Veterans Affairs administrative law judges.
Immigration judges are part of the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, whose current budget includes 319 judicial positions, only 247 of which are filled. . The bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill (which the House failed to pass two years ago) would have added 225 positions over three years.
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Congress’ failure to overhaul the nation’s immigration system has been a long-running embarrassment. Politicians, particularly Republicans, love to rail about the need to better enforce immigration law. But it takes courts and judges to do that, and without proper staffing, Congress has set up the system to fail.
This excerpt is taken from the Los Angeles Times.