The Bush administration’s immigration crackdown funded thousands more agents to arrest immigrants and hundreds more lawyers to prosecute them, says National Public Radio. The judges who adjudicate deportation and asylum hearings have been left out of this expansion, and they say they’re struggling under a staggering caseload. In fiscal 2007, the 214 immigration judges oversaw nearly 350,000 cases. Dana Leigh Marks, who heads the National Association of Immigration Judges, spends 36 hours a week on the bench trying to keep up. “For some people, these are the equivalent of death penalty cases, and we are conducting these cases in a traffic court setting.”
Brittney Nystrom of the National Immigration Forum says the system can’t handle the number of cases pouring into it. She notes that immigration law is complex and can demand knowledge of conditions in countries spanning the globe. Yet as the recent immigration crackdown has led to ballooning backlogs, judges have come under pressure to speed up decision-making. One result has been a surge in appeals and scathing attacks by federal appeals judges, who’ve criticized immigration courts for inconsistent, sometimes illogical decision-making. Marks says a recent University of California study found overwhelmed immigration judges face stress levels equal to those faced by emergency room doctors and prison wardens.