Immigration Court Backlog Reached Nearly 1.5M in October

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Eddie Landry

Immigration Art via Flickr

The backlog of cases in the nation’s immigration courts has risen to nearly 1.5 million in the last nine months, continuing a growth spiral that has been largely unchecked through two presidential administrations, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University.

The figures culled from court records show that although some 21,000 immigration cases were resolved by October of this year nearly 50,000 new cases were added to court dockets over the same period.

That means, in effect, that for every resolved case so far this year, two new ones have appeared in court dockets.

The total backlog, currently 1,486,495 cases, “continues to grow each month,” TRAC reported.

The backlog of cases reported so far this year was only slightly higher than for the same period last year, TRAC figures showed.

The backlog has swollen from a little over 600,00 in 2017 to over one million in 2019, and has been on a sharp upswing since.

Meanwhile, crossings of undocumented immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border have declined for the third straight  month, but officials believe this represents a “temporary pause,” The New York Times reports.

Last month, the U.S. Border Patrol intercepted 164,303 people along the border with Mexico, a 14 percent decrease from September. The drop is largely due to a sharp decline in the number of Haitians trying to cross, but analysts note that “tens of thousands” of Haitians were still hoping to reach the U.S. from Mexico and points south.

TRAC, which reported the backlog figures in its updated “Quick Facts Tools,” did not explain the increase. But previous analyses have pointed out that staff shortages and resignations in immigration courts have combined with increasing flows of undocumented migrants at the southern border to deepen a crisis that has defied government attempts at controlling it.

Last year, TRAC reported that a “record” 35 immigration judges quit in 2019, swelling an exodus that that began in 2016, when President Donald Trump took office. There were 27 immigration judge departures in 2018; and 20 in 2017.

While the resignation numbers appear comparatively small, and hiring has increased, nearly one-third of the nation’s immigration courts are currently administered by judges appointed since FY 2019.

Just 0.68 percent of the cases before immigration judges over the past nine months involved requests for deportations based on criminal activity other than illegal entry.

Of the completed cases so far this year, nearly 25 percent resulted in deportation orders.

But as an indication of the system’s chronic understaffing, only a little over 20 percent of the immigrants ordered removed (including unaccompanied minors) had attorneys to assist them in immigration court.

The largest number of pending cases was in Texas (237,599), followed by California (204,518), New York (162,636), and Florida (159,608).

The average length of wait for pending cases among those states for which data was available, was 933 days, according to TRAC figures. The longest waits were recorded in Virginia (1,185 days) and Colorado (1,125 days).

The full statistics and tables can be downloaded here.

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