The Trump administration’s controversial strategy to reduce the growing back- log of immigration cases has failed, according to a university study. The average wait for an immigration hearing is now more than two years, The San Diego Union Tribune reported.
The plan to reduce the backlog of immigration cases by forcing judges to take more cases was implemented in October 2017. Since then, the number of pending cases has grown from 655,932 to 830,000, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Access Records Clearinghouse, which tracks data from immigration courts.
The backlog is likely worse than figures provided by Syracuse University due makes it difficult for them to work to the 35 day-government shutdown in December and January, the Feb. 21 story said. That resulted in the cancellation of roughly 60,000 hearings because around 400 immigration judges were absent or furloughed. Thousands of cases were rescheduled, thus extending the already long wait times.
The plan was described as a “comprehensive strategy for significantly reducing the caseload by 2020.” It was intended to reverse the growth of the caseload and reduce it, according to the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), which administers immigration courts
The plan “has not only failed to reduce the backlog, but has eroded the court’s ability to ensure due process,” according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association, a group made up of more than 15,000 lawyers and professors.
The group said the administration has failed by pressuring judges to rule “at a breakneck pace” on whether an immigrant should be deported.
In defense, the Trump administration stated, “Policy changes in recent years have slowed down the adjudication of existing cases and incentivized further illegal immigration that led to new cases.”
Trump administration officials said illegal border crossing were encouraged by former President Barack Obama’s attempt to deport immigrants with serious criminal records and defend immigrants known as Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Another argument regarding the aggravated situation was brought up by Stephen Legomsky, Homeland Security’s chief counsel for immigration.
“Immediately upon taking office, President Trump essentially advised Border Patrol agents and ICE officers that they were to begin removal proceedings against anyone they encounter that they suspected of being undocumented, without sufficiently increasing resources for immigration judges,” Legomsky said.
Another aspect of the immigration equation is the need for autonomy of the immigration judges. Immigration judges are not independent, in contrast to the regular court judges. The immigration judges are part of the Justice Department, which means that the attorney general is both the chief prosecutor in immigration cases and the boss of the judges, who are classified as government attorneys, The Union-Tribune reported.
The National Association of Immigration Judges has called for Congress to end the built-in conflict of interest and to create an immigration court apart from the Justice Department.
“As long as we continue to allow the court to be used as a law enforcement tool, you are going to get these kinds of backlogs and inefficiencies,” said Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.
The Trump administration increased the number of immigration judges by 74 percent to 414 by the end of 2018. House Democrats requested an investigation by the Justice Department Inspector General’s office based on the suspicion that hiring was politically motivated.
The Immigration Lawyers Association wrote, “The current administration has taken advantage of the court structural laws by introducing numerous policies… that dramatically reshape federal immigration law and undermine due process in immigration court proceedings.”