In recent years, the U.S. immigration system has faced an unprecedented collapse.
The number of cases pending in Immigration Court has reached a record high of more than 3 million, according to the Transactional Records Access and Information Center (TRAC) at Syracuse University.
Exponential Growth in Immigration Court Backlogs
TRAC report reveals that the backlog of cases has grown by 1 million in just the past 12 months.
In January 2021, at the start of the Biden Administration, the Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) already had a backlog of about 1.2 million cases. This number has increased alarmingly, placing the immigration system in a critical state.
During the Donald Trump administration, the backlog of cases in Immigration Court was approximately 520,000 files. However, the backlog problem has persisted for years, with no administration managing to effectively address it.
Impact of the Backlog on the Immigration System
The steadily increasing backlog in Immigration Court has generated significant consequences for immigrants and the system as a whole. The TRAC report notes that, during the last quarter of July through September 2023, the backlog of cases increased by nearly 400,000, with an average increase of 130,000 filings per month.
This situation highlights the depletion of the system’s capacity to hear, review and decide cases, especially those related to asylum claims.
Impact of the Immigration Court backlog is not limited to asylum cases alone. Backlogs in case resolution also affect those immigrants who have a good asylum case or a strong defense to avoid deportation.
These individuals must wait months or even years for a hearing, living in constant uncertainty about the outcome of their legal process.
Hiring New Immigration Judges
In an attempt to address the backlog in Immigration Court, the Biden Administration accelerated the hiring of new immigration judges. According to the latest EOIR personnel records, there are currently a total of 682 sitting judges.
Each judge has closed an average of about 975 cases during the last fiscal year. This closure rate is nearly one-third higher than it was seven years ago, during the last year of the Obama administration.
Despite the hiring of new judges, the steady flow of incoming cases to the Immigration Court has led to an increase in each judge’s caseload. On average, each judge is assigned approximately 4,500 dockets. This means that, considering the overall average number of cases heard in a year, each case can take about 4.6 years to be resolved.
This alarming delay is a cause for concern for both immigration attorneys and immigrant rights organizations.
Consequences of Immigration Court Backlogs
The Immigration Court backlog has significant implications for immigrants and their legal rights.
Many cases of immigrants who have been waiting for a legal benefit, such as permanent residency or adjustment of status, have experienced delays in their hearings and resolutions. This creates uncertainty and prolongs the waiting time to obtain a legal decision.
In addition, the backlog in Immigration Court also benefits those immigrants whose cases are weaker or who do not have a strong basis for winning a deportation trial.
These individuals can obtain employment authorization after 180 days of applying for asylum, allowing them to remain in the United States for the duration of the legal process1. However, this benefit does not compensate for the stress and insecurity they face during the long years of waiting.
The historic backlog in the U.S. Immigration Court reflects the collapse of the immigration system and its devastating consequences for immigrants. With more than 3 million cases pending and an average delay of 4.6 years for resolution, it is clear that urgent action is required to address this problem.
It is critical that future administrations implement effective measures to expedite the case resolution process and ensure due process for all immigrants. Adequate resources must also be allocated to hire more immigration judges and improve the responsiveness of the U.S. immigration system.
Ultimately, it is necessary to recognize that the U.S. immigration system requires comprehensive reform to effectively and fairly address current challenges. Only through meaningful and sustained change can we achieve a fairer, more efficient and humane immigration system.