Clogged US Immigration Courts Aggravating the Southern Border Crisis: Report

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An overwhelmed court system is exacerbating the immigration crisis as millions of people caught up in the system wait years to find out if they can remain in the U.S., according to a new report.

The immigration courts are intended to resolve who can stay in the U.S. and who cannot, but the system created in 1983 has become gridlocked for migrants arrested for being in the country illegally or who violate federal immigration laws because of competing priorities, the Wall Street Journal reported.

There were roughly 300,000 open immigration cases in 2012 — now there are 2.5 million, the report said, citing government data published by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

The backlog can’t be blamed on immigration judges, but a federal immigration budget that focuses on policing and apprehensions, Donald Kerwin of the non-profit Center for Migration Studies, told the Wall Street Journal.

Immigrants line up to be processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border in May near El Paso, Texas.
Immigrants line up to be processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border in May near El Paso, Texas.John Moore/Getty Images

U.S. Border Patrol agents made a record high 2.2 million arrests along the southern border in the federal fiscal year ending last September.

They made another 1.6 million arrests from last October to June this year.

While Congress has debated how to stem the tide of migrants illegally crossing the border, lawmakers have spent little time addressing the legal logjam, allowing the problems to intensify.

Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the immigration court system, told the Wall Street Journal that the office “has repeatedly asked Congress to appropriate the funds necessary to increase the number of immigration judges.”

The agency has expanded its roster of judges to 649, the report said, and the Justice Department is seeking $1.4 billion for fiscal year 2024 to hire 200 new judges and hundreds of support staff. 

Many immigrants are allowed to live and work in the U.S. as their cases make their way through the legal process.

By the time the cases are resolved, many of them have children born in the U.S. who may be forced to move back to their original homeland, the report said.

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