It is the immigration enforcement program’s policy to deport undocumented im- migrants to their country of origin, unless they express a “credible fear” of returning. An asylum officer assigned to the claim determines whether “credible fear” is present in individual cases, said Nolan Rappaport, the article’s author. If the officer denies the claim, applicants can request an administrative review of the decision, which will be performed by an immigration judge. If the judge then rejects the claim, the immigrant is deported.
According to the article, an ongoing shortage of immigration judges has contributed to the backlog.
As of July, 330 immigration judges presided over 58 immigration courts with a combined backlog of 733,365 cases, the article said, amounting to approximately 2,200 cases per judge.
Claimants wait on average 717 days, nearly two years, for a hearing. If the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) abruptly stopped arresting undocumented immigrants, it still take four years to eliminate the backlog, according to Rappaport.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions clarified the asylum eligibility requirements to make it easier to screen out immigrants who do not have a legitimate persecution claim. Though this might stop the backlog from growing larger, it can’t reduce it, Rappaport said.
In January, Trump instructed the DHS to expand the use of expedited removal proceedings as a way to reduce the backlog. Expedited proceedings affect undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for less than two years and were not formally admitted into the country.
Rappaport argued that Trump will need a legalization program to eliminate the backlog entirely, as many of the immigrants in removal proceedings have been physically present for at least two years.