Increase in Immigration Cases at Federal District Courts in 2009

On New Year’s Eve, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John G. Roberts, Jr., issued his 2009 Year-End Report (PDF 98.7KB) on the Federal Judiciary, in keeping with a tradition begun by then-Chief Justice Warren Burger, in 1970. Justice Roberts pronounced his judgment that, despite the hardships of the past year, U.S. courts are “operating soundly,” and briefly reviewed the changes in the caseload that has occupied the nation’s federal judges over the past year.

As one might expect, bankruptcy proceedings rose dramatically in 2009, up 35 percent over 2008. For immigration, however, the picture was decidedly mixed. Although filings in the federal appeals courts dropped in 2009 – due to a decline in administrative agency appeals involving the Board of Immigration Appeals, the report said – the immigration caseload soared at the district court level, reaching record levels. Immigration filings sharply increased in 2009, to 25,804 cases, an increase of 21 percent, and the number of defendants shot up to 26,961, a 19 percent rise over the previous year. According to the report, the increase was driven mainly by “filings addressing either improper reentry by aliens or fraud or misuse of a visa or entry permit.” Fully 80 percent of all immigration cases, and 77 percent of all immigration defendants, were related to charges of improper reentry by an alien.

Most striking of all, though, is the geographic distribution of these cases: all but 12 percent of the immigration cases were filed in five court districts along the southwestern border of the United States. It would be interesting to know how this 12 percent is split among the remaining districts of the United States, and the type of cases this figure represents, but the report does not provide any further statistical details. One might surmise that the statistics reflect an immigration enforcement strategy that tilts heavily toward arrest and removal of illegal aliens along the border. It will be interesting to see whether next year’s report will show an increase in immigration cases outside the border areas, as the administration ratchets up its nationwide enforcement and compliance efforts among businesses that hire foreign workers.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.