Immigration judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys are straining to decipher how the federal immigration rules released in February by the Trump administration will affect the system amid an expanding backlog of existing cases, USA Today reports. The new guidelines give agents greater rein to deport immigrants without hearings and detain those who entered the U.S. without permission. That ambitious policy shift faces a tough hurdle: an immigration court system juggling more than a half-million cases and ill-equipped to take on thousands more. “We’re at critical mass,” said Linda Brandmiller, a San Antonio immigration attorney who works with juveniles. “There isn’t an empty courtroom. We don’t have enough judges. You can say you’re going to prosecute more people, but from a practical perspective, how do you make that happen?”
Today, 301 judges hear immigration cases in 58 courts. The backlogged cases have soared in recent years, from 236,415 in 2010 to 508,036 this year, or nearly 1,700 outstanding cases per judge, says the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Some judges and attorneys say it’s too early to see any effects from the new guidelines. Others have noticed a difference, and fear that people with legitimate claims for asylum or visas may be deported along with those who are criminals. USA Today sent reporters to several immigration courts to witness how the system is adjusting to the new rules.