We Need More Immigration Judges to Eliminate the Backlog

By Emily Balan

Julie Myers Wood, former Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President George W. Bush, wrote an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle last week on a pressing issue: the backlog in our immigration courts.

There are now over 400,000 cases in the backlog, with 75,000 in Texas alone. Many asylum seekers don’t have court hearings scheduled until 2019. The root of the problem: Congress poured funds into immigration enforcement measures, sending more cases into immigration court removal proceedings, without a proportional increase in judges and staff for the immigration courts. So the cases started piling up. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and former chief judge of the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals John Walker, along with the American Bar Association and other authorities, have all called for more judges and support staff for the immigration courts.

Wood points out that the backlog also undermines the integrity of the immigration system. Those with weak claims for legal status end up staying on American soil for years, while those with legitimate need of protection languish in limbo, with their families often stuck in dangerous situations.

Wood urges Congress to increase funding to adequately staff the immigration courts. A recent poll reflected support for this approach, with more than three quarters of voters in the top 25 most competitive congressional districts agreeing that Congress should increase the number of judges to help ensure fair and timely hearings. If more immigration judges were appointed, the system could begin eliminating the backlog.

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Published on May 8, 2015

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