US Immigration Courts Clogged, Underfunded, Understaffed

Tuesday, 12 Aug 2014 07:29 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Migrants legally living in the Unite States while awaiting court hearings on permanent residency will now have to wait even longer, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Immigration judges are going to first handle some of the 220,000 illegals apprehended at the Mexico border since October 2013 in the hope of deterring more from coming. The consequence is that everyone else on the docket will have their day in court postponed — perhaps for years, according to the newspaper.

In Houston, all files have been set aside so that hearings can focus on pressing juvenile or detention cases.

While funding for the U.S. Border Patrol increased by 30 percent, the underfunded and understaffed immigration court budget grew by just 8 percent. The system is backlogged by 375,000 cases with an average wait time of 520 days, the Journal said, citing the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a Syracuse University project.

Even if Congress had passed legislation to provide $45 million to hire more immigration judges — which it didn't because of a dispute over immigration policy with the Obama administration — it would still take time to hire and process new judges. In the meantime, 33 percent of existing judges are entitled to retire.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review, the agency overseeing the country's 59 immigration courts, is trying to add 32 judges and to utilize teleconference hearings to expedite deportations, according to the Journal.

William Zimmer, a retired immigration judge who left a docket of 2,400 cases pending, told the Journal, "Due process is never efficient. If you want to do everything efficiently, just get rid of the courts altogether."

Immigration advocates say the goal of hearings should be to guarantee that worthy immigrants are authorized to stay. Emphasis should be placed on "improving our processing of asylum cases in a more efficient and smarter way," Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute told the Journal.

Applicants whose cases have been pushed to the back of the line worry they will lose their witnesses and pro bono lawyers. "Justice delayed is justice denied," said Samantha Del Bosque, an immigration lawyer.

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