Immigration Courts Facing Major Backlogs

WASHINGTON – The number of immigration cases pending before federal judges has more than doubled between 2006 and 2015. That information coming from the U.S. Office of Government Accountability.

The GAO audited the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the organization in charge of conducting immigration court proceedings. The feds found immigration cases that would typically be resolved in weeks can now take up to nearly a year to close.

The graph below shows the increase in backlogged cases within the 58 immigration courts across the country.

Year wise immigration backlog cases in court
Number of immigration cases year-by-year in the court. It get increases by every year.

According to the report, the backlog comes at a time when the courts have hired more judges and nearly doubled their budget. Auditors found the EOIR drags its feet when it comes to the hiring process.

“GAO found that it took an average of 742 days to hire new judges from 2011 through August 2016. By assessing its hiring process and developing a hiring strategy that targets staffing needs, EOIR would be better positioned to hire judges more quickly and address its staffing gaps,” the report states.

President Donald Trump has called for the hiring of dozens of immigration judges as part of his immigration enforcement plan. The report states Trump’s plan could see a setback because currently nearly 40 percent of the current immigration judges are eligible for retirement.

Another issue bogging down the system is the amount of continuances, or case delays, that have been allowed by immigration judges. According to the audit the number of delays increased by 23 percent between 2006 and 2015.

“Systematically analyzing the use of continuances could provide EOIR officials with valuable information about challenges the immigration courts may be experiencing, such as with operational issues like courtroom technology malfunctions, or areas that may merit additional guidance for immigration judges,” the report states.

The GAO made 11 different recommendations for the immigration courts in order for them to improve the backlogs. Some recommendations include studying why judges delay cases, and updated plans to improve the hiring process.

It’s now up to the immigration courts to move forward with the recommendations.

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