Senate Appropriators Approve Funds for Immigration Judge Teams
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today praised the Senate Appropriations Committee for joining House appropriators in supporting an increase in immigration judges and support staff for fiscal year 2016 (FY16). This important move, if enacted into law, will help address the growing delays and backlogs in the immigration courts.
“This critical common-sense step could begin to help thousands of cases move through the immigration court removal system without delays,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “The delays and backlogs in the immigration courts leave the families of refugees stranded in dangerous situations abroad, limit recruitment of pro bono counsel, and undermine the integrity of the system. We urge members of Congress from both parties to support this critical funding increase as the bill moves forward.”
The full committee report confirms new funding of $60 million to add 55 immigration court judges and support staff, matching the level requested by President Obama. Human Rights First has estimated that each team will allow the courts to handle an additional 500 cases per year. In May the full House Appropriations Committee also supported the president’s budget request. Human Rights First notes, however, that neither bill increased support for legal orientation presentations or legal counsel, measures that would also improve efficiency and can save the government money.
The number of pending cases in immigration courts, which has been growing for years, recently hit 445,607. Open cases of asylum seekers and other immigrants currently wait for an average of 612 days to be resolved. California, Texas, and New York rank among the worst states, with open cases pending on average about two years; the average wait is 700 days in California, 697 in Arizona, 666 days in New Jersey, and 608 days in New York.
Human Rights First has estimated that, in addition to these 55 immigration judges and staff, the courts will need an additional 225 immigration judge teams in order to handle incoming cases as well as reduce the backlog so that all cases move ahead in a timely manner. The addition of these teams could be staggered over a three-year period.
Human Rights First and a range of other groups and experts from across the political spectrum have called for an increase in immigration judges and staff, including the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, other faith-based and refugee assistance groups, and the Association of Pro Bono Counsel.
“Going forward we urge Congress to back this funding and to further increase the number of immigration judges and support staff,” added Acer. “Congress should also support increased capacity for legal orientation presentations and counsel, measures that will improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and fairness of the immigration court removal system.”