Thursday, June 18, 2009

Immigration Courts Severely Backlogged

A new study by the Transactional Records Access Center (TRAC) finds that the nation's Immigration Courts are becoming increasingly backlogged.

Our country's 234 immigration judges received over 350,000 new cases last year, almost 1,500 cases per judge. Coupled with the government's onerous "case complete goals", this brings incredible pressure on overworked immigration judges to issue decisions.

As a result of the increasing backlog of cases, persons in detention may have to wait many months to challenge the legality of the charges against them or to have their asylum and other claims heard before a judge.

The Bush Administration had promised in 2006 to add 40 new judges to the system, a fairly minimal amount. However, only four additional judges have been added during the past two and one-half years.

As a direct result of the "judge shortage", the backlog has increased approximately 20 percent during the past three years.

We link to the new report from our "Immigration Courts" page at

"How can a system function properly when it is starved for the critical basic resources it needs", states Immigration Judge Dana Marks of San Francisco, President of the National Association of Immigration Judges.

According to the TRAC report, a typical immigration judge must conduct 69 hearings each week.

Judges are forced to hear testimony with little time to consider exhibits and legal briefs, and then to immediately issue oral decisions.

Legal research is increasingly delegated to law clerks who are themselves in short supply. As opposed the Federal District Court judges who each have their own law clerk, four immigration judges must share a single law clerk.

If the government insists on continuing its misguided "enforcement-only" approach to immigration, it is time to put its money where its mouth is.

Or maybe it's time to consider other approaches to our broken immigration system.

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