Posted on September 19, 2019

U.S. Immigration Courts’ Backlog Exceeds One Million Cases

Michelle Hackman, Wall Street Journal, September 18, 2109

The backlogged deportation docket pending in U.S. immigration courts surpassed one million cases in August, despite the Trump administration’s varied attempts to cut back on asylum claims.

{snip} The figure has nearly doubled since President Trump took office in January 2017, when about 542,000 cases were pending.

The growing backlog is due in part to the surge of Central American families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border this year, with more people crossing illegally in May than during any other month in a decade. The Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration has also contributed, experts say.


The administration has pushed recent border-crossers to the front of the queue in an effort to deport them faster and send a message that unauthorized immigrants seeking asylum can no longer stay in the country for years, as their cases wend their way through the courts. That has had the effect of delaying court dates for asylum seekers who arrived in the country earlier.

Immigration officials have also eliminated an Obama-era policy prioritizing for deportation immigrants with criminal records. That policy sped up adjudication by allowing immigration judges to close cases administratively, meaning many dismissed charges against other people without deporting them. The Trump administration has said that most illegal immigrants should be deported.

The administration’s actions have had the effect of allowing most people who already have asylum cases pending to stay longer — though TRAC data suggest most of these immigrants will ultimately not qualify for asylum. {snip}

The Trump administration has argued that the extensions and work permits provide a back door for immigrants to stay in the country and that the wait times have made crossing the border only more attractive for prospective migrants.


The administration has also begun shifting cases to judges known to work quickly, sometimes handing cases to courts located far from where an immigrant is living. The Justice Department has also hired more judges to speed up processing. About 400 judges are working today, according to the union, compared with about 280 at the end of the Obama administration.

Last week the government also set up temporary tent courts that are closed to the public, making them unlike other courts in the country, to hear the cases of asylum seekers the Trump administration has required to remain in Mexico while awaiting court dates. {snip}


Meantime, the Trump administration has taken steps to limit applications for asylum, which it argues will allow courts to concentrate on existing cases. {snip}

Administration officials are also weighing a new rule to attach a nearly $1,000 fee to appeals in the immigration court system, according to a person familiar with the matter. Such a policy would deter most immigrants from being able to afford appeals, advocates say. In a statement, a Justice Department spokesman said the fee for appeals — currently at $110 — hasn’t been adjusted since 1986, unlike most other immigration-related fees.