Immigration Court Backlog Prevents Mass Deportations

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Alex Pfeiffer White House Correspondent
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President Donald Trump can’t deport illegal immigrants at a pace higher than President Obama due to a massive immigration court backlog.

The president has signed executive orders to increase deportations and monthly immigration arrests have increased by an average of 28 percent compared to the final three months of the Obama administration.

However, deportations are occurring at a slower pace under Trump largely due to an immigration court system with a backlog of over 600,000 cases.

Acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Homan told The Daily Caller in July that “absolutely” there could be a record amount of deportations if there were more immigration judges. The most removals in a year for ICE was 400,000 in fiscal year 2012. ICE is currently on pace to remove 202,800 illegal immigrants in a year.

“Everybody wants their day in court,” Homan told TheDC. “When they’re nationals of Mexico they are easy removals, they’re quick removals. Non-criminals are quick removals. Nowadays we got a lot more Central Americans, a lot of them are claiming fear. So their immigration proceedings are a lot longer. They’re playing the system and criminals take a little longer to remove because of certain proceedings they have to have.”

He added once illegal immigrants “figure out” that they can “really take advantage of the system and ask for hearings and so forth… It’s harder for them to get removed.”

A report released in May by Syracuse’s Transactional Records Clearinghouse showed that an immigrant in California has a hiring scheduled for July 2022. This is despite 79 new immigration judges being sworn in since November 2015.

The report stated, “there is little evidence that this increase in hiring is sufficient to handle the incoming caseload, let alone make a dent in the court’s mountainous backlog.”

Hiring immigration judges has been a focus of the Trump administration. The DOJ’s fiscal year 2018 budget blueprint called for funds to hire 79 new immigration judges. Another factor that might bode well for the immigration backlog is the drop in illegal immigration.

The most recent southwest border apprehension statistics from Customs and Border Protection show a 22 percent decrease over the same period in 2016.

A Justice Department official told TheDC: “As a result of the President’s Executive Order over one hundred immigration judges have been mobilized to DHS detention facilities across the country, including along the southern border. This mobilization includes both in-person assignments and dockets heard via video teleconferencing (VTC). In addition to working to carry out the executive order, [The Executive Office for Immigration Review] is actively engaged in a multi-front effort to reverse the growth in the backlog of non-detained cases that occurred over the past several years.”

The official said the EOIR is “seeking to reduce unused courtroom time” and “reviewing internal practices, procedures, and technology in order to identify ways in which it can further enhance immigration judge productivity without compromising due process.”

One way the federal government could speed up deportations is through the use of expedited removal. The Department of Homeland Security is allowed to deport any illegal immigrants who have been in America for less than two years without the use of a court hearing.

Currently, expedited removal is only used for illegal immigrants who are detained within 100 miles of the border and 14 days of entry. A February memo signed by then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly allowed for DHS to expand the use of this policy to the full extent allowed by law.

This has yet to be implemented, and David Lapan, a DHS spokesman, told TheDC that DHS is reviewing how much to increase the usage of expedited removal. “That process is continuing but we expect to conclude it soon,” Lapan said.