The incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden faces the largest backlog of unresolved immigration cases on record.
More than 1.2 million cases were pending in immigration courts in October, the last month for which figures are available, reports the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
About four out of every ten cases involved nationals from the Central American nations of Guatemala and Honduras. In a reversal of earlier trends, individuals from Mexico comprised the third largest group, and migrants from El Salvador were fourth.
Court closures and delays due to the pandemic accounted for a substantial part of the backlog. The number of resolved asylum cases, for example, plummeted from over 7,000 in March to just 1,380 in April.
The number has been rising steadily since then as some courts have reopened. Some 2,200 cases were completed in October, of which 1,532 were denied.
The nation’s immigration machinery has also strained under the crackdown by President Donald Trump’s administration on undocumented immigrants, and a shortage of immigration judges.
In an earlier report this year, TRAC noted that immigration judges were leaving in “record numbers.”
Biden has pledged a sharp reversal of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policies.
In an interview Tuesday with NBC, he said an immigration bill would be high on the agenda of his first 100 days.
“I will send an immigration bill to the United States Senate with a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people in America,” he said, adding that he would overturn the previous administration’s “damaging” executive orders, which include those dealing with border security.
In another indication of what is likely to be a 180-degree turn on immigration policy, Biden has nominated Alejandro Mayorkas, to head the Department of Homeland Security (DHSS).
Mayorkas, who served as Deputy Secretary of the DHSS in the administration of former President Barack Obama, promised to return the U.S. image to a “country of welcome.”
“It is no small task to lead the Department of Homeland Security, but I will work to restore faith in our institutions, and protect our security here at home,” he said in remarks following his introduction by the President-elect Tuesday.
Mayorkas, the child of Cuban refugees, was one of the architects of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed children of undocumented parents who entered the country as minors the right to remain and work in the U.S. and apply for citizenship .
“It is no small task to lead the Department of Homeland Security, but I will work to restore faith in our institutions, and protect our security here at home,” said Mayorkas, whose nomination is believed to have bipartisan support in the Senate.
The DACA program was long on the target list of the White House—although Trump at times appeared willing to use it as a bargaining chip to extract support for his tougher immigration measures from Democrats.
According to Biden chief of staff Ron Klain, the program will be reinstated on “Day One” of the new administration.
Data on immigration cases compiled by TRAC can be downloaded here.