A recent analysis of U.S. immigration court data has revealed a dramatic increase in the number of pending cases and average hearing wait times across many states. According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University, the backlog has grown by 38 percent nationwide since President Trump assumed office. As of July 31, 2018, there were 746,049 unadjudicated immigration cases, in comparison to 542,411 of such cases at the end of January 2017.
The report said 10 states accounted for the majority of the burgeoning backlog. According to TRAC, Maryland saw the biggest increase at 96 percent, followed by Massachusetts and Georgia. California had the largest amount of growth in pending cases with 140,676, while Texas experienced the least at 20 percent. The other states were Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Virginia.
The U.S. immigration court system is struggling to handle the influx of cases despite the Trump administration’s hiring of more judges to tackle the backlog. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice have sought to address the problem by introducing several new policies. One of these imposes an annual quota system of cases closed per year on immigration judges, at the expenses, critics says, of justice. In a series of immigration case which the Attorney General certified to himself, the Attorney General limited the powers of immigration judges. As an example, in a recent case, the Attorney General removed judicial discretion from immigration judges to terminate cases in the interest of justice, which could actually worsen the backlog in coming years.
The results are that immigration courts are now taking longer to process cases and schedule hearings than ever before. Various immigration courts in each state have differing wait times for case hearings and decisions. TRAC reported that two Texas immigration courts have the longest projected wait times nationwide with 1,457 days – or ~4 years for Houston and 1,614 days – or ~4.4 years – for San Antonio.