Border Crossings May Be Down, But the Backlog In Our Courts Sure Isn't

Brittany M. Hughes | July 24, 2017
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Even as illegal border crossings drop at the Southwest U.S. border, America’s immigration courts are still struggling under a backlog of more than half a million cases, according to a new report out from the Center for Immigration Studies.

Base on a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, CIS estimates there are about 600,000 open cases sitting on the books across dozens of U.S. immigration courts. And while there’s no single reason behind the massive clog in our immigration drain, there are a few pretty pertinent factors driving the increase. CIS explained:

The major driver in the backlog appears to be a significant increase in the amount of time that it is taking IJs to complete cases. In particular, GAO found that "[i]nitial case completion time", that is, "the time period between the date EOIR receives the [removal case charging document, the Notice to Appear [(NTA)] from the Department of Homeland Security] and the date an [IJ] issued an initial ruling on the case" grew "more than fivefold" between FY 2006 and FY 2015, with the "median initial completion time for cases" increasing "from 43 days in FY 2006 to 286 days in FY 2015."

The backlog crisis has been building over the last decade with few immediate solutions in sight, CIS noted, explaining that "[t]he courts' backlog increased from approximately 212,000 cases pending at the start of FY 2006, when the median pending time for those cases was 198 days, to 437,000 pending cases at the start of FY 2015, when the median pending time was 404 days."

CIS noted the most pressing factors contributing to the increasing wait time is Obama-era policies that tie the hands of border agents and immigration officials, along with federal court decisions that have gunked up the works and made it much more difficult to adjudicate immigration cases. Thanks to administrative policies and efforts from pro-amnesty organizations and law firms, once-simple asylum hearings have become a twisted labyrinth of appeals, continuances and legal loopholes, and many illegal aliens are left alone to live in the United States for months or even years before their cases are ever heard by an immigration judge (and that's assuming they show up to court).

In fact, it can easily take upwards of three years for a single case to be completed, thanks to the backlog and growing number of continuances immigration courts are issuing. CIS explains that “cases with four or more continuances took an average of 929 days to complete" in FY2015.

One of the main reasons why IJs are taking more time to complete cases today than they did 10 years ago is an increase in the number of continuances that IJs have granted over that period. As the GAO noted (logically):      "[C]ases that experience more continuances take longer to complete.”

Coupled with the massive surge in illegal aliens back in 2014, particularly unaccompanied children and families seeking asylum, the already-overwhelmed immigration courts were hit with an avalanche of new cases that have simply gotten shoved to the judicial backburner.

It also doesn’t help that we don’t have enough immigration judges. There are currently a paltry 326 immigration judges to handle this ever-increasing, 600,000-case backlog, CIS added, meaning that there are about 1,837 open cases for every judge.

But seeing as every IJ only completes about 807 cases every year, it doesn’t look like the backlog’s going to be whittled down anytime soon.