The Immigration Court Backlog

By Center for Immigration Studies, Special for  USDR

With 600,000 pending cases, the backlog in the immigration court system has become a matter of some urgency. A new report by the Center for Immigration Studies examines the reasons for its rapid growth and possible  solutions.

Contrary to the claims of advocates, the backlog is not caused by an increase in cases. Andrew Arthur, the Center’s resident fellow in law and policy and author of the report, pointed to data from a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report showing that the “total case receipts” in 2015 was about the same as in 2006. But the number of cases actually completed declined 31 percent even as the number of immigration judges grew 17  percent.

View the full report at:

Arthur identified a number of reasons that cases are taking so much longer to resolve,  including:

  • Resources. There are too few judges and support staff to do the job  adequately.
  • The “Surge”. The growing number of Central American families and unaccompanied alien children (UACs) both swelled dockets and led to IJs being reassigned from already scheduled hearings to handing these expedited cases. Those surge cases were also more complicated than cases involving single adult males, requiring more courtroom time (and continuances) per case.
  • Case Law. Recent federal court decisions have complicated IJs removal decisions, slowing proceedings and requiring additional continuances.
  • Obama Administration Policies. Policies instituted in the last administration led to numerous continuances, as aliens sought counsel and applied for relief or discretionary closures, release, or termination based on those policies.

Trump administration policies will, if properly implemented and supported by congressional appropriations, ease and begin to reduce the  backlogs:

  • The attorney general has stated that he will hire significantly more IJs in the next two years, and streamline the hiring of IJs.
  • Changes in border enforcement policies will limit the number of new cases that are added to the immigration courts’ dockets.
  • Changes to interior enforcement policies will reduce the incentives for aliens to remain in the United States and fight meritless cases.
  • Rescission of Obama-era policies will also reduce the incentives for aliens to remain in removal proceedings.

There is more that the administration can do,  however:

  • The attorney general must use his certification authority to set stricter standards for IJs to follow in granting continuances.
  • The Department of Justice must vigorously litigate cases in the federal circuit courts to provide the IJs with more “bright-line” rules to follow in deciding cases, and to limit variations in the law among circuits.

SOURCE Center for Immigration  Studies

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