A surge in judges has led to a noticeable increase in the number of successfully handled immigration court cases, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) released statistics showing that approximately 2,700 more immigration cases were addressed thanks to the mobilization of more than a hundred immigration judges, a move prompted by executive order.
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In January, just days after being sworn into office, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13767, "Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements." Noting that "border security is critically important to the national security of the United States," the order instructed federal agencies to immediately implement a number of strategies to secure the United States' southern border.
Among these was a call for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to immediately assign additional immigration judges to immigration detention facilities. In response, judges were "mobilized to Department of Homeland Security detention facilities across the country, including along the southern border."
Judges were mobilized to hear immigration cases both in-person and using teleconferencing technology.
It is the mobilization of these judges that resulted in the precipitous increase in the number of resolved cases. EOIR found that the judges completed "approximately 21 percent more cases on detail than the historical, expected performance of nondetailed immigration judges at the same base locations."
"EOIR is pleased with the results of the surge of immigration judges to detention facilities and the potential impact it has on the pending caseload nationwide," said EOIR Acting Director James McHenry. "The Justice Department will continue to identify ways in which it can further improve immigration judge productivity without compromising due process."
The immigration court backlog remains a substantial burden on the justice system and on the process of deporting illegal immigrants. The most recent data, provided by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, found some 632,261 pending cases (these data are current through August 2017). That represents a 22.5 percent increase from 2016, when there were 516,031 cases.
The backlog in immigration courts is highest in border states California—18.8 percent of cases—and Texas—15.9 percent of cases. There is also a substantial backlog in New York state—13.5 percent.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), an independent think tank focused on immigration issues, attributes the surging backlog to a number of issues. Those include an absence of resources, a substantial increase in the number of illegal immigrants into the United States, and complications in immigration court procedure caused by recent decisions in federal court. The CIS also finds Obama administration policy to blame.
"Policies instituted in the last administration led to numerous continuances, as aliens sought counsel and applied for relief or discretionary closures, release, or termination based on those policies," the CIS noted.