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Backlogs Will Worsen And Encourage Illegal Immigration During Migrant Surge, Experts Say

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  • Asylum case backlogs have increased since the Obama-era, and will continue to rise during the current migration surge at the U.S. southern border, experts told the DCNF.
  • The number of backlog cases reached 1.3 million, two-and-a-half times higher than when he entered office in 2017, TRAC reported. 
  • “Backlogs themselves become an incentive to come here illegally,” Ira Mehlman, media director of the Federation For American Immigration Reform, told the DCNF. “The backlogs give people who are here illegally the ability to create new reasons to be allowed to stay here.”

Backlogs in asylum cases will continue to increase under the currently overwhelmed immigration court system, experts told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Backlogs have increased since the Obama-era, and will continue to rise during the current migration surge at the U.S. southern border, experts told the DCNF. At the end of former President Donald Trump’s presidency, the number of backlog cases reached 1.3 million, two-and-a-half times higher than when he entered office in 2017, TRAC reported.

“The backlogs are a result of a number of factors: Increased numbers of cases in the system, insufficient numbers of judges, appeals that can stretch out over years, and the ability to abuse our asylum system,” Ira Mehlman, media director of the Federation For American Immigration Reform, told the DCNF. “When you have people entering in unprecedented numbers, it will only exacerbate the existing backlogs.”

The migrant surge has drastically increased during the Biden administration, increasing from 12,000 migrants in January to 170,000 in March, according to Customs and Border Protection. At least 18,000 unaccompanied minors have been encountered at the southern border in March, up 100% from February.

A backlog in asylum cases only spurs further immigration as it gives asylees additional time to find reasons to stay in the U.S., according to experts. (Related: Backlog Of Immigration Court Cases Surpasses 1 Million)

“Backlogs themselves become an incentive to come here illegally,” Mehlman said. “The backlogs give people who are here illegally the ability to create new reasons to be allowed to stay here, like having U.S.-born kids, even if their original claim was completely invalid.”

In 2019, Trump appointed at least 190 immigration judges, which expanded the bench by more than 100 seats, the Associated Press reported. There are approximately 530 immigration judges in the courts, according to the Executive Office For Immigration Review Adjudication Statistics.

Mehlman said Trump tried to lift pressure off the courts by implementing restrictions on entry while surges increased due to several policy decisions during the Biden-era.

“Trump effectively alleviated some of the pressure on the courts with the MPP (Migrant Protection Protocols) agreement and agreements with the Northern Triangle governments, both of which have been scrapped by Biden,” he said. “But even with those agreements in place, there were still huge backlogs because the system has been so overwhelmed for so long.”

The New York Times reported that Trump’s immigration policies, including arresting any immigrant crossing the border illegally, led to an increase in arrests and court cases. The increase in cases is a major cause of the backlog numbers.

Ahilan Arulanantham, a professor at the UCLA School of Law, told the DCNF that Biden could decrease the number of backlogs by closing low priority cases in immigration courts, but the administration has not taken any drastic measures.

“Given that the backlog is well over one million cases, the current increase is just a drop in the bucket. If the Biden administration’s enforcement priorities memos are actually implemented to close low priority cases in the immigration courts, it could substantially decrease the backlog,” he said.

Arulanantham said that immigrants with a lack of legal representation contribute to the rise of backlogs.

“The system is far more inefficient because so many people do not have lawyers, which forces judges to slow down to explain things, reset hearings, and take other steps to try to provide due process to people who don’t understand basic things about how to proceed in court,” he said.

The Biden administration said it plans to decrease backlogs by moving asylum cases from the Department of Justice to the purview of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) since there are more case officers to handle asylum seeker applications, NPR reported. Trump barred migrants from applying for asylum after being detained in 2018, but this policy is under review after President Joe Biden issued three executive orders in February, the Wall Street Journal reported.

There is currently a backlog of about one million asylum cases in the U.S., according to NPR.

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