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US immigration court case backlog reaches 1 million

A migrant family, recently released from custody, wait to board a bus to stay with relatives or friends in the United States at the McAllen Bus Terminal in McAllen, Texas, on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. The migrants will then wait for their case to be called by an immigration judge. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
September 20, 2019

The number of pending immigration cases in United States courts surpassed one million in August, growing at a record pace this year.

Despite the Trump administration’s efforts, the backlog has nearly doubled since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The growing number of cases is largely due to the influx of illegal crossings of Central American families into the United States from the southern border this year, according the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which tracks immigration court data.

A number of other factors have also led to the backlog, including immigration officials eliminating of Obama-era policies which prioritize deporting illegal immigrants with other criminal backgrounds.

The court process saw additional delays recently when the administration pushed recent border-crossers to the front of the queue in an effort to deport them faster as a message that illegal immigrants cannot stay for the typically year-long wait for their case to be heard by a judge.

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On top of the year-long wait, many immigrants simply do not show up to their court cases as they are most often released into the U.S. after initially being caught entering the country.

The Trump administration has raised the number of immigration lawyers to almost 400, as compared to roughly 280 during Barrack Obama’s presidency. Despite those efforts, there still aren’t enough judges to quickly hear the cases.

The Justice Department, which oversees immigration courts, is pressing judges to work faster by enforcing a one-year deadline to decide on each case.

On top of the one-year limit, the Justice Department also set a 700-case annual quota. According to the WSJ, only about one-third of all judges are actually set to meet that quota.

The president has attacked the current immigration system and has consistently called on Congress to pass new laws.

“What we need is new laws…We have a court system with 900,000 cases behind it. They have a court that needs to hear 900,000 cases,” Trump said in an interview with Fox’s Maria Bartiromo on “Sunday Morning Futures” on Aug. 28. “It’s a situation Congress can fix — [if] they don’t get off their ass.”

Immigration was the center of President Trump’s 2016 campaign and he has been vocal in calling for immigration reform.

In the past, Trump has also promoted a merit-based system called the “Build America Visa” program. It would have recognized individuals with “extraordinary talent” and “people with professional and specialized vocations,” including students.

When the program was first introduced, 66 percent of all legal immigrants admitted into the country are permitted due to family ties. The new proposal would lower the amount of family-based immigrants to about 33 percent, while conversely increasing merit immigration from about 12 percent to 57 percent.