Posted on December 27, 2023

As Migration Surges, Immigration Court Case Backlog Swells to Over 3 Million

Lauren Villagran, USA Today, December 27, 2023

The nation’s immigration-court backlog swelled by more than a million cases in 2023, according to new data, as the number of migrants seeking asylum at the U.S. border surged.

The backlog surpassed 3 million cases in November, rising from 1.9 million cases in September 2022, according to Syracuse University’s Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, which compiles and analyzes federal immigration data.

There are now more immigrants in the U.S. with a pending immigration case than people living in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, TRAC concluded. Some are not due to appear in court for years, while judges grapple with caseloads of more than 4,000 each.

The quickly growing backlog is becoming a political liability for President Joe Biden heading into an election year in which immigration is shaping up to be a defining issue for voters.

“The courts can only do so much when the Biden administration has opened the spigot at the border,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in October. “Our immigration judges can’t do their job, just being flooded with these huge numbers.”

The Biden administration has tried to address the backlog by hiring 302 immigration judges to the nation’s immigration courts. The White House is asking in its 2024 budget request for funding to hire 150 more.


When migrants arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum or refuge, they often leave U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody with documents that include “a notice to appear” in one of the country’s more than 600 immigration courtrooms, typically in their destination city. Immigration judges adjudicate migrants’ asylum claims and have significant discretion to approve or deny them.


{snip} Individual judges are facing caseloads of more than 4,500 cases apiece.


Many Republicans and some conservative Democrats argue that many migrants may be making false claims about being persecuted in their homeland on the pretense that they’ll get an opportunity to stay in the U.S. for years awaiting court dates that could be years away.

“There are people who literally come to the United States and turn themselves in and claim asylum knowing that they can beat the system, and that, if they are given a notice to appear at all, that it may be for years in the future,” Cornyn said in the Senate hearing.

In a review of 25 years of data, TRAC found that immigration judges granted asylum or other immigration relief in 13% of cases.