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Trump Administration Cuts Immigration Court Budget Despite Backlog

The Trump Administration announced that it will no longer be hiring additional immigration judges and will implement a number of cost-saving measures to the U.S. immigration system, despite the tremendous backlog the court system is currently struggling to resolve.

According to a Justice Department email obtained by BuzzFeed News, the federal government is pausing all hires of immigration judges, slowing down hiring of support staff, and canceling a training conference. These moves are supposedly designed to cut costs until there is enough funding to resume hiring of judges to handle the backlog of immigration cases.

Steven Stafford, an official with the Justice Department, says the decision is not a full hiring freeze but is instead a slowdown in the pace of hiring judges.

BuzzFeed reports that James McHenry, Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, broke the news to immigration court staff, informing them that the department is “considerably short of being able to fulfill all of our current operational needs.” McHenry also attributed the financial cuts to the increase in costs for interpreters, transcriptions, and other operational needs.

This, he claims, is partially due to the timing of 2019’s budget, which was delayed after the Trump administration shut down the government from December 22, 2018 until January 25, 2019—at 35 days, the longest in history.

“This challenging budget situation has led us to a position where difficult financial decisions need to be made,” McHenry wrote.

He added that the cuts would affect part of the 250 attorneys that were supposed to be hired to support April’s class of immigration judges.

The decision to slow down the hiring of immigration judges is expected to worsen the backlogged immigration system. The shutdown had forced the temporary closure of several immigration courts across the country, causing already-unmanageable number of cases awaiting hearing and resolution bloated to its current state.

Since October 2017, when the DOJ approved a plan to reduce the backlog, the pending caseload has ballooned to more than 26 percent, growing from 655,932 cases to roughly 830,000, according to figures from Syracuse University’s Transactional Access Records Clearinghouse (TRAC). The research organization adds that at the current rate of completion, the immigration system would need 3.6 years to clear its backlog, provided it did nothing but resolve pending cases. This assumes that all new cases are placed on hold until the backlog is finished.

Further exacerbating the situation is the news that a number of immigration judges are resigning from their posts, citing the overhaul and interference of the court brought by the Trump administration’s policies.

“The job has become exceedingly more difficult as the court has veered even farther away from being administered as a court rather than a law enforcement bureaucracy,” explained an immigration judge union leader.

If you currently have an immigration case ongoing or awaiting hearing and need legal assistance, the Lyttle Law Firm is here to help. Call our offices today at (512) 215-5225 to schedule a consultation with immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle for a full review of your credentials.

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