Weighed down by a backlog of more than 520,000 cases, federal immigration courts are foundering, the New York Times reports. They increasingly fail to deliver timely, fair decisions to people fighting deportation or asking for refuge, say lawyers, judges, and government officials. With too few judges, overworked clerks and an antiquated docket based on stacks of paper files, many of the 56 courts nationwide are crippled by delays and bureaucratic breakdowns. The courts will be a major obstacle for President-elect Donald Trump and his plan to deport as many as three million immigrants he says have criminal records. At least hundreds of thousands of those deportations would have to be approved by immigration judges.
Trump has said he intends to freeze federal hiring, which would prevent the courts from bringing on new judges and clerks. Without significant new resources, the courts would probably slow Trump’s deportations to a stall. In Denver, the court with the nation’s longest wait times, most cases drag on more than five years, says the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. “The system has been failing, but now it is reaching a tipping point,” said Benjamin Johnson of the National Immigration Lawyers Association. Immigration courts are run by the Justice Department, making them subject to shifting political priorities in Washington.