TRAC Immigration Stats Show Increasing Court Backlogs, Wait Times

The backlog of cases currently pending in U.S. Immigration Courts has been growing steadily in recent years, according to statistics from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a government watchdog organization based at Syracuse University. Eleven months into fiscal year (FY) 2013 that ended September 30, some 345,756 immigration cases were awaiting resolution in U.S. Immigration Courts across the country, more than double the number of cases pending (167,598) in FY03. [See Backlog of Pending Cases in Immigration Courts as of August 2013, TRAC Immigration, Aug.2013.]

California topped the list of states with the largest number of deportation (removal) cases pending in FY13: 77,860, followed by New York, with 50,529 cases, and Texas, with 49,420 cases. Massachusetts ranked tenth on the list, with 8,837 deportation cases pending.

Wait times – the average number of days a case has been waiting in Immigration Court – also have been on the rise in recent years, to 556 days in FY13, up from FY05’s ten-year low of 381 days, and more than a hundred days longer than the 447 days it took in FY10.  Nebraska posted the longest wait times in the country – 745 days – followed by California, at 686 days. Even ninth-ranked New York (588 days) and tenth-ranked Utah (583 days) were above the national average. [See Average Time Pending Cases Have Been Waiting in Immigration Courts as of August 2013, TRAC Immigration, Aug.2013.]

It’s also revealing to look at substantive outcomes – even in the aggregate – and TRAC Immigration has crunched the numbers on two key barometers of Immigration Court activity: removal orders and relief granted by Immigration Judges as of August 2013. First removal orders, where the trend continues downward from the high water mark of 198,949, set in FY06, and the most recent peak of 157,433 in FY09. TRAC Immigration projects that the total number of removal orders granted in FY13 will tip the scales at 81,947, a significant decline. [See Removal Orders Granted by Immigration Judges as of August 2013, TRAC Immigration, Aug.2013.] In its notes to the chart, TRAC Immigration advises that it’s using the term “removal” in a generic sense that “includes orders of deportation, exclusion, etc.”

The state-by-state numbers show Texas leading the pack, with the largest number of removal orders in FY 2013: 16,832, followed by California (11,306), Georgia (5,863), Florida (5,252), and New York (4,717). Taken together, the states rounding out the top ten – Illinois, Arizona, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Massachusetts – had 14,339 removal orders among them, far fewer than the total for Texas.

The fact that removal orders are trending downward does not necessarily mean that Immigration Courts are granting relief from removal more often: in fact, they aren’t. TRAC Immigration projected that by the end of FY13, Immigration Judges will have granted relief from removal in 27,969 cases, substantially fewer times than in the previous year (30,201), and down from a peak of 34,397 in fiscal 2006. [See Relief Granted by Immigration Judges as of August 2013, TRAC Immigration, Aug.2013.]

All in all, TRAC Immigration presents a fascinating statistical portrait of the immigration system in action, and their database provides valuable tools for those seeking a better understanding of the trends in our Immigration Courts. Best of all, their database is searchable and user-friendly, allowing readers to isolate the particular variables that interest them most – well worth checking out!

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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.