Judicial Burnout Backlogs Immigration Courts

Immigration ReformAs one of the most under-resourced sectors of the judicial system, immigration courts around the country are dealing with a massive backlog of cases that has judges facing overwhelming caseloads and extreme burnout rates. As a result, tens of thousands of immigrants face years-long waits for their day in court.

Jumping by close to 160 percent since 2007, the massive increase in caseload means some low-priority hearings are scheduled out all the way to 2019. Among the most significant contributing factors in the situation are the deluges of unaccompanied minors who crossed the southern border in record-breaking numbers last year and that only 250 immigration judges are currently sitting on the bench of these federal immigration courts.

The backlog means judges are taking on thousands of cases—more than 1,400 each year, and some judges taking on more than 3,000 cases each year. The typical annual caseload for judges in other sectors of the judicial system is around 500. All this amounts to an increased wait time of close to 40 percent over the last five years before immigrants get their day in court.

Compounding the situation is that 100 judges are up for retirement this year. San Francisco immigration judge and National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) president Dana Leigh Marks says it’s more common than not for the professionals to retire as soon as possible.

“If working conditions were what they should be, these individuals would work longer and that would be a benefit to everyone,” Marks says in an article on the matter.

In an abstract on a NAIJ-member survey report, authors describe judges’ massive caseload as consisting of “one horrific story of human suffering after another, face significant risks of stress and burnout – conditions that make adjudicating cases more challenging.”

Insufficient support staffing, office space and outdated technology are other complaints that drive judges off the bench. A blunt characterization of working conditions from one respondent to the NAIJ survey says, “I have been in government service for decades, including combat duty, and I have never detested a working environment more than I do in this capacity.”

Read the May report Immigration Courts Reach New Levels of Overwhelm.