Friday, March 12, 2010

Immigration Courts Can't Keep Up With Backlogs

Very interesting article from the ABA Jounal...

U.S. immigration courts nationally have a backlog of 228,400 cases, and an immigrant's average wait to have his or her case heard is 439 days.

According to a study by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a high number of judicial vacancies is to blame. Around 17 percent of its 230-plus judge positions remain vacant.

"The failure to fill positions that Congress has provided money for is baffling," TRAC co-director David Burnham told the Washington Post.

The Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review told the Houston Chronicle said the study doesn't reflect the hiring of more than 60 immigration judges since 2006. It said it is "currently in the midst of a hiring initiative" and is trying to boost the number of judge positions to 280.

A recent ABA Commission on Immigration report thinks that the number of immigration judges should be increased by at least 100, among other recommendations. See an executive summary (PDF) of the report.

Coverage does not directly speculate on why the judge positions are so difficult to feel, but immigration judges cite a high stress level.

Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges told the Harvard Law Record that immigration judges are often trying “the equivalent of death penalty cases … in a traffic court setting.”

The Harvard Law Record says that the Department of Homeland Security has increased funding and by extension enforcement of Immigration and Customs Enforcement programs, resulting in a 36 percent increase in removal proceedings from two years ago.

Brittney Nystrom, director of policy and legal affairs for the National Immigration Forum told the Chronicle that immigration court staffing has not kept pace with this enforcement surge.

“You have this ballooning practice of apprehension, detection and deportation while you have an immigration court system that is not experiencing similar growth,” Nystrom said. “This backlog took a long time to get to where it is now, and it's going to take a long time to get around this.”

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