The backlog of pending cases awaiting U.S. immigration courts reached a record of half a million this year. According to the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), there are a total of 502,976 immigration applications as of July 31, 2016. This essentially makes two years the average waiting time for an immigration court petitioner.
Half a Million Immigration Cases Waiting to Be Heard
Violence and gang warfare in Central America drove up border crossings in the recent years. From October 2013 to July 2015 alone, an estimated 100,000 unaccompanied minors arrived in the U.S. from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Strict border enforcement has also produced higher number of arrests, which in turn require adjudication.
Juan P. Osuna, the director of EOIR, stated that this surge of border crossings put “unprecedented pressure” on immigration courts. For years, the courts have been underfunded and understaffed. Presently, all kinds of cases are waiting to be heard. These include petitioners who legally entered the U.S. and seek for asylum.
With the present backlog, an immigrant must wait 676 days on average to appear in court. This two-year period is double what a petitioner would have waited in 1998. The longer waiting period can prove to be difficult for many petitioners, since records can be lost, witnesses may disappear, and funds may run out before the hearing even begins.
Underfunded and Understaffed Immigration Courts
A large reason behind the huge number of pending immigration court cases is the inability of the courts to handle the volume of petitions. The backlog of cases began way back in 2008, when a federal program called Secure Communities was launched. This program ran from 2008 to 2014. This program basically alerted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) every time there was an arrest of a foreign national, subjecting many into immigration courts.
According to the American Immigration Council, the budget for border enforcement agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) rose 105% from 2003 to 2015, while the budget for immigration court spending only increased 74% within the same period.
EOIR representative Kathryn Mattingly says that there are 277 immigration judges currently hearing cases across the nation. According to the advocacy organization Human Rights First, however, it would take 524 judges to clear the massive backlog within a year.
The mounting cases put great pressure on immigration judges. “The consequences when someone is seeking asylum are life and death,” stated Judge Dana Leigh Marks, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. “The judge has a responsibility to apply the law correctly. But we are forced to do this in such a rapid fashion and with so few resources, that it’s more like a traffic court setting.”
If you need to know more about the immigration court process, schedule a consultation with Lyttle Law Firm. We will help you find the best approaches to your case.