US immigration courts face huge backlog


According to recent government data, there are now 3 million cases pending in U.S. immigration courts. The backlog has tripled since 2019, growing by more than a million cases in the last year alone.

So how did the U.S. immigration court system become so clogged and what can be done about it?

The rise in cases is largely due to an unprecedented increase in the number of migrants seeking asylum after being apprehended for crossing the border illegally. Immigration lawyers and advocates say the backlog of cases and resulting long wait times for court dates are harming an already strained asylum system.

When border agents apprehend migrants attempting to cross the border, they typically release them with documentation of their detention and instructions to appear in court in their destination city. “They’re just being released with no idea what’s next,” said Randy McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Legal Services for the Archdiocese of Miami, a city that has seen a large influx of asylum seekers in recent years.

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The shortage of immigration judges is another major reason for the growing backlog and unprecedented processing times for court hearings. In the current immigration court system, the average caseload is 5,000 cases per judge. The National Association of Immigration Judges estimates that doubling the current number of judges from 700 to 1,400 could help resolve the current backlog by 2032.

In addition to Congress increasing funding to hire more judges and support staff, many immigration experts say the immigration court system would benefit greatly from major policy changes and streamlined processes. Some believe that asylum cases should be handled administratively rather than through lengthy legal procedures.

You can learn more about the U.S. immigration court system in The limitless guide.

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