You Won’t Believe How Backlogged The Immigration Courts Are

REUTERS/ Rick Loomis

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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U.S. immigration courts are languishing under the pressure of an unprecedented backlog.

Federal immigration courts have seen a 192 percent increase in the number of cases since 2006, but little logistical support has been been provided to the courts. Detention periods for illegal immigrants have increased significantly, while the case backlog continues to grow.

There are currently 492,978 immigration issues pending before U.S. immigrations courts — and only 250 judges in 57 jurisdictions. The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that judges are confined to specific jurisdictions, and there are considerable disparities between districts.

The challenge is especially dramatic in Texas, where five immigration judges in the Houston area are adjudicating 39,628 cases. If these judges were given one year to clear their dockets, they would have to decide 22 cases per day, assuming they worked 365 days and saw no additions. There are over 86,000 illegal immigrants awaiting a hearing in Texas, the second highest in the nation. In contrast, there are six judges in Boston, Mass., though the Boston court’s backlog, 14,531, is roughly one-third of Houston’s.

The average detention period during an immigration inquiry is 404 days, up from 47 days in 2001. The ACLU estimates the daily cost of housing detained aliens is $164, or nearly $3 billion over the course of one year. Long waiting periods disproportionately affect individuals who have been residing in the United States for some time, as individuals caught crossing the border tend to be processed quickly by immigration authorities.

The courts may soon have a new tool at their disposal to reduce the backlog. The Supreme Court announced Monday it will decide whether an illegal immigrant in U.S. custody is eligible for a bail hearing. Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a bail hearing must be held for immigrants held in federal detention longer than six months. (RELATED: SCOTUS Takes On Case With HUGE Implications For Illegal Immigration)

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