Case Backlog Still Growing, Study Says17 Mar 2010
As if there weren’t already enough reasons to make immigration reform a top legislative priority, a recent study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University found that case backlogs at U.S. immigration courts has reached an all-time high of 228,421 cases currently awaiting a hearing. (See: Backlog in Immigration Cases Continues to Climb, TRAC Immigration.) According to the TRAC study, this marks a 23 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2008 in the number of immigration cases pending, and an 82 percent increase over the past ten years. Wait times for cases in the pipeline have also crept up to a new high of 439 days, the TRAC study found, noting, however, that backlogs and wait times vary considerably from one court to the next.
What is slowing things down? The TRAC study indicates that it’s not simply a matter of too many cases clogging the system; the problem is that there are too few immigration judges to get the work out in a timely manner. The Syracuse researchers found that, since 2006, the number of unfilled immigration judge positions has doubled, from 24 vacancies to the current 48 vacancies. Taken together, these factors have cut the average time an immigration judge can spend adjudicating each case – on average, a mere 70 minutes per case, according to TRAC’s analysis.
The TRAC study not only compiles information about immigration caseloads from across the country, it provides online research tools to allow the public to see meaningful cross-sections of the data, sorting caseload data by states, individual courts, and nationality of the parties. This allows one to discover, for instance, that California has the largest number of cases pending before immigration courts – nearly 60,000 – as well as the longest average wait time for pending cases: an astounding 619 days. TRAC’s nationality statistics indicate that the top ten nationalities for sheer numbers of cases pending are, from most to least (within the top ten), Mexico, China, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, Dominican Republic, India, and Jamaica. Similar statistics on wait times showed that Armenians waited, on average, well over 900 days to have their cases adjudicated, while, at the lower level of the top ten, Guatemalans waited an average of just over 500 days.
The TRAC study makes fascinating reading, and Syracuse University is to be commended for supporting this effort to bring transparency – and thereby, accountability – to our overburdened and underfunded immigration court system, and to our elected representatives who must set this right – another reason we can’t afford to wait any longer for comprehensive immigration reform.