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Concerns raised about the growing backlog at U.S. immigration courts

As we've discussed in previous blog posts, when it comes to immigration enforcement actions, officials at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency move swiftly and decisively. This is especially true when it comes to operations that involve the arrest, detention and deportation of immigrants who are alleged to be in the U.S. illegally. ICE's ability to carry out detainment and deportation operations so quickly is due in large part the agency's sizable budget, which, during fiscal year 2013, the Department of Homeland Security listed as being more than $5.6 billion.

Comparatively, during this same year, the U.S. immigration courts' budget was just $304 million. Consequently, while the federal agencies tasked with enforcing removal actions against immigrants are able to continue operations at a feverish pace, the poorly-funded U.S. immigration court system cannot keep pace.

With just 254 immigration judges employed throughout the U.S., a recent analysis by the nonprofit Human Rights First, indicates that the backlog of immigration cases has ballooned to nearly 500,000. This means that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children; many of whom have valid immigration and asylum claims, are often forced to wait years before their cases are even considered by a judge.

Since 2014, a spike in immigration actions by the U.S. government has significantly contributed to the already over-burdened court system's backlog which experts predict may "peak over 1 million by the year 2022." Currently, in New York, immigrants who have cases pending in the state’s immigration court system must wait an average of two and a half years. In states like Texas and California, wait times may stretch to as long as five years.

Meanwhile, awaiting decisions regarding their immigration status, hundreds of thousands of immigrants are in a virtual state of limbo as they are held in detention centers or confined to their homes. These individuals’ rights to due process are often violated and, for many, living conditions are unsafe and put them at risk of suffering additional physical and emotional harm.

Immigration rights groups are urging the members of congress to increase funding to the beleaguered immigration courts system for the 2017 fiscal year. In the meantime, individuals who are facing possible deportation actions would be wise to seek the advice and assistance of an immigration attorney.

Source: Latin Post, "Immigration Reform News: Backlogs in U.S. Immigration Court Expected to Surpass 500,000 Cases," Selena Hill, March 16, 2016

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