Immigration Court Backlog Grows by 26 Percent

According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, the administration’s plan to shrink the ballooning backlog of immigration cases by mandating that immigration judges hear more cases has failed, according to the latest data, with the average wait for an immigration hearing now more than two years. Since October 2017, the pending caseload has grown by more than 26 percent — from 656,000 cases to about 830,000.

When the Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), which administers the immigration courts, released its plan, officials described it as a comprehensive strategy for significantly reducing the caseload by 2020. And, while the EOIR did not expect its pending caseload to reverse itself overnight, significant reductions were expected. Instead, the average wait has grown by about 30 days – and is now 746 days – extending the stay of thousands of foreign nationals whom the administration might want to deport from the United States.

The current administration has blamed the ballooning backlog on President Obama’s immigration policies, and took several controversial steps to reverse the backlog, which turns out not to be effective. For example, one move restricted the ability of immigration judges to schedule and set priorities for their cases, under a process known as “administrative closure.” That change compelled judges to reopen thousands of cases that had been deemed low priority and had been closed. The administration also tied immigration judges’ individual performance reviews to the number of cases they complete, calling for them to finish 700 removal cases in the next year. Any speed-up that may have resulted from the imposition of quotas on the judges has been overtaken by the administration’s stepped-up enforcement efforts, which have pushed thousands of new cases into the system. Indeed, stepped-up enforcement without a corresponding increase in judicial resources provides the main reason the backlog has gone up so dramatically.