A clogged immigration judiciary, which includes a backlog of more than 540,000 cases, prompted Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ $80 million plan to add more system judges. The proposed addition of 75 more teams of judges to the immigration courts, which Sessions called for during an early April visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, accompanies his proposal for increased border and immigration enforcement funding.
The addition of system resources in the immigration courts “would boost the speed of case processing and subsequent deportations,” according to The Christian Science Monitor. “Today, the average detainee might wait 677 days for a hearing.” The result, according to the publication means expedited deportations of immigrants without a court hearing becomes ever-more appealing to officials.
Expedition of immigrant proceedings addresses is a long-standing problem decried by immigration advocates. A particularly brutal effect of the languishing cases leaves “hundreds of thousands of nonviolent immigrant violators, including asylum seekers, locked in detention centers or floating in uncertain legal status.”
And with President Trump’s hardline position on immigration policy, vulnerable populations face an increased threat level, some observers say.
“I’m not optimistic that it’s going to solve the problems in the system,” says National Immigrant Justice Center Asylum Project Director Lisa Koop.
Part of Koop’s hesitation is that the increase in immigration court capacity corresponds with an ever-increasing rise in immigration enforcement officers. The growth in immigration officers necessitates a corresponding growth in detainees. Up until now, the court system hasn’t kept pace with other enforcement arms of the immigration system.
“We want more qualified judges who are able to hear our clients’ cases and provide them with their fair day in court,” Koop says. With the caveat that the new judges possess expert knowledge of immigration law, “we’d be very happy to see the backlogs reduced because that does do real harm to individuals and families who are needing protections.”
Additional funding under Sessions’ proposal allocates $1.5 billion to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operations as well as $300 million to pay the salaries of 500 new Border Patrol agents and 1,000 new ICE agents.
“This is a new era. This is the Trump era,” Sessions commented. “The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws, and the catch and release practices of old are over.”
Observers say improving immigration court efficiencies could benefit asylum-seekers. With faster due process, the opportunity to air claims for refuge before a judge could expedite extending protections.
University of Dayton Professor of Sociology Miranda Hallett says the effort to improve immigration courts falls short, in her view. The effects of the Trump administration’s actions around immigration, the Ohio-based scholar says, is mixed.
“At the same time he is calling for increased funding, Sessions is also calling for criminal prosecution of increasing numbers of immigrants and using inaccurate language that paints border-crossers as a national security threat– when all evidence suggests they are not.”