Overworked, Understaffed Immigration Courts Face 900,000-Case Backlog

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Immigration protest Chicago. Photo by Time Out Chicago via Flickr

Immigration courts face a backlog of nearly 900,000 cases because there aren’t enough judges to handle a caseload that is growing astronomically.

An analysis of immigration dockets across the nation by the Transactional Records Access clearinghouse (TRAC) found that the logjam means that some hearing dates were being scheduled three years from now.

“The three largest immigration courts were so under-resourced that hearing dates were now being scheduled as far out as August 2023, in New York City, October 2022 in Los Angeles, and April 2022, in San Francisco,” TRAC said.

The study focused on the 25 courts that account for some 92 percent of the nation’s current immigration backlog, noting there is no sign that federal policymakers are making an effort to hire enough judges to cope with the load.

Just 47 new judges were hired during the first six months of fiscal year 2019, and when retirements are factored in, the total number of immigration court judges across the nation at the end of March amounted to only 424.

Noting that caseloads aren’t evenly spread across the country, TRAC pointed out that dockets for high priority cases involving detained immigrants are kept lower to ensure speedier hearings, but that has left judges elsewhere to shoulder the remaining burden.

Some 20 percent of judges have caseloads of 4,000 or more cases. One judge in the Houston Immigration Court is currently assigned 9,048 cases.

The actual backlog amounts to 892,517 cases on the immigration courts’ active dockets as of April 30.

That doesn’t include an estimated “hundreds of thousands of pending cases that have not yet been re-calendared,” TRAC said.

Download the analysis and tables here.

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