A report sponsored by a refugee rights group shows immigration courts around the United States are facing the problem of a continually growing backlog of immigration cases, causing the delay of hearings by as long as 3 years.
According to Human Rights First, the problem is most severe in California and Texas, which has 81,000 and 89,000 pending immigration cases, respectively.
In a statement summarizing the results of the report, the non-profit said pending immigration cases in Houston’s immigration court grew from 6,423 to a high of more than 36,000 cases within the last 6 years. And because Houston only has 6 immigration judges (IJ) on the bench, this backlog of cases will likely double by 2019 if no judges and staff are added to the roster.
Cause of the Backlog
Human Rights First traced the cause of the backlog to the inability of the courts to keep up with the crushing number of pending cases, which is expected to balloon to more 500,000. With only 254 immigration judges on the bench, —a fraction of the required number of judges needed to expedite cases—, the group said it’s a classic problem of supply not keeping up with demand.
In response to this problem, Congress approved funding for the addition of the 55 new immigration judges, which will be part of a budget bill slated for 2016.
Disparity in Priorities
However, observers say Congress has focused too much on border control aspect of immigration, —in particular, the monitoring of terrorist threats and the U.S-Mexico border—, so much so that between 2001 and 2010, the number of Border Patrol agents guarding the border skyrocketed to 20,000 people.
Meanwhile, funding for the arrest and detention of undocumented migrants and legal immigrants found eligible for increased by 300% between 2002 and 2013. In contrast, the budget for immigration courts in the same period only increased by 70%, this according to a report by Migration Policy Institute.
Refugees from Central America
The case backlog has gotten worse as asylum applications continue to stream in from more than 67,000 people from Central America seeking refuge from police and gang violence. These refugees crossed the border in 2014 and turned themselves in to the authorities, applying for asylum.
President Obama ordered immigration courts to fast track their cases and have them deported to make it clear the U.S. is not offering asylum.
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