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Oct. 25, 2019 – The current policies of the Trump Administration have been unsuccessful in stemming the rise in the Immigration Court’s backlog. Overcrowded dockets create lengthening wait times for hearings. At some locations, immigrants with pending cases now wait on average 1,450 days or more – over four years! – before their hearing is scheduled.

Despite promises to reduce the backlog, the latest case-by-case records show that the growth in the backlog has actually accelerated each year since President Trump assumed office. At the start of this administration, 542,411 cases were pending before immigration judges. By September 30, 2019, the backlog had grown to 1,023,767 “active” cases. This rises to 1,346,302 when cases that have not yet been calendared are added. Year-by-year the pace of increase has quickened. The active backlog grew 16.0 percent from January 2017 to the end of that fiscal year, climbed an additional 22.1 percent during FY 2018, and this past year jumped by a further 33.3 percent.

While many sources for this rise are outside the court’s control, policy decisions and practices by the Department of Justice which oversees the Immigration Court have significantly contributed to growing caseloads. For example, the decision to reopen previously closed cases has caused a much greater increase in the court’s backlog than have all currently pending cases from families and individuals arrested along the southwest border seeking asylum.

Despite accelerated hiring of new judges and the imposed production quotas implemented last year, the average caseload Immigration Court judges face has continued to grow. On average each judge currently has an active pending caseload of over two thousand cases (2,316) and over three thousand cases when the additional un-calendared cases are added (3,046). Even if the Immigration Court stopped accepting any new cases, it would still take an estimated 4.4 years to work through this accumulated backlog.

In the New York City Immigration Court which has the largest backlog in the country, hearings are currently being scheduled five years out – all the way into December of 2024. Four other courts are scheduling hearings as far out as December 2023. These include courts in Chicago, Illinois; Houston, Texas; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Arlington, Virginia.

For full details, including the average wait times and pending cases at each hearing location, go to:

https://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/579/

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The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse is a nonpartisan joint research center of the Whitman School of Management (http://whitman.syr.edu) and the Newhouse School of Public Communications (http://newhouse.syr.edu) at Syracuse University.