Immigration-related felony cases are swamping federal courts on the Southwest border, forcing judges to handle hundreds more cases than their peers elsewhere, the Associated Press reports. Judges in the five, mostly rural judicial districts on the border carry the heaviest felony caseloads in the nation. Each judge in New Mexico, which ranks first, handled an average of 397 felony cases last year, compared with the national average of 84. Federal judges in the districts of Southern and Western Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California handled one-third of all the felonies prosecuted in the 94 federal judicial districts in 2005.
While Congress has enlarged border patrol, the pace of the law enforcement has eclipsed the resources for the court system. Judges say they need help. “The need is really dire. You cannot keep increasing the number of Border Patrol agents but not increasing the number of judges,” said Chief Judge John Roll of the District of Arizona. A bill pending in Congress would add 10 permanent and temporary judges in Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern and Western Texas. This proposal has gone nowhere in the past two years. The entire federal court system is affected, from U.S. marshals to magistrate judges. The bottleneck has even derailed enforcement efforts.