Houston currently has only 6 federal judges on the bench for the entire city, a shortage that has contributed to a burgeoning immigration case backlog that has since quintupled from 2010, swelling by more than 460 percent in just 6 years, or about 6400 to more than 36000 pending cases this year.
According to a study by Human Rights First, if no more immigration judges are added, Houston could see its case backlog double once more in less than 3 years. The study also notes that in 6 years time, the number of pending immigration cases across the United States could exceed 1 million, over 200% than the current number.
What Does the Backlog Mean?
A severe backlog in immigration cases means that immigrants with a legitimate claim to stay in the country, as well as those who are eligible for immediate removal will have to wait for years before their cases reach a resolution. In Houston, the current situation is so bad that a typical immigration case normally takes more than 2 years to pass through the process, but many immigrants and asylum seekers have waited for 5 years before a decision.
Immigration Court Rankings
Immigration courts in the United States currently face a combined total of 474,000 pending immigration cases, with only 262 immigration judges on the bench—8 were just sworn in last week.
After California—another border state with a staggering backlog of 82,000 pending cases—Texas immigration courts have the next highest backlog in the country, this according to a court records analysis by Syracuse University.
The report comes as a timely reminder as congressional budget writers are currently weighing additional funding for the country’s immigration court system for 2017. Human Rights First, along with several other immigration advocates, are calling for legislators to support the addition of 75 immigration judges and their support for next year.
Eleanor Acer, director of Human Rights First’s refugee protection program, says the backlog in immigration courts across the country continues to grow annually, forcing thousands of individuals seeking immigration relief to wait for years and weakening the nation’s immigration system. He adds that Congress needs to take action now or the problem will only become worse.
Budget for Courts Diverted to Immigrant Detention
At the heart of the problem is a lack of funding for the immigration courts system, which has languished for years while revenue for agencies tasked to detain immigrants, such as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection, has increased rapidly. For example, while immigration courts received $304 million in 2013, arresting agencies received $18 billion.
As a solution to the problem, the Obama administration instructed courts to expedite cases, part of which was to send a message from South American countries that immigrants who had just crossed the border would not be allowed to stay so easily.
If you have been in legal limbo for years, learn about your legal options by talking to Lyttle Law Firm today. Schedule a consult by calling our offices at 512-215-5225 or by visiting our website.