So many immigrants appeared at the southern border seeking asylum in the first half of 2019 that the Federal immigration court’s backlog is now over a million cases — and that’s without more than a quarter million cases still being assessed.
CNN reports that court watchdogs tracking asylum cases at the border now report more than 1 million asylum cases awaiting adjudication. Syracuse University, which released a study on the matter last week, claims that there are an additional 300,000 cases that have yet to make it into the system, leaving those asylum seekers “pending” without a court date or legal status.
The courts, it seems, are simply overwhelmed. Each individual or family who presents themselves to border patrol or other border law enforcement and requests asylum must be assessed and most are given a court date for an asylum hearing. There are now so many asylum-seekers, though, the standard timeline for adjudication — at one time as little as three months — is now around 700 days, or just a little under two years.
“If nothing else, the continuing rise of the backlog shows that the immigration court is broken,” Judge Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told CNN. “Until we fix the design defect of having a court in a law enforcement agency, we will not be able to address the backlog in a fair and effective manner.”
It’s not clear that anyone is interested in making inroads into the defect, and immigration has long since fallen by the wayside in Congress, which is now focused on an impeachment inquiry, even though border conditions haven’t necessarily improved. The case backlog is the result of months where more than 100,000 migrants requested asylum at the southern border.
“The latest case-by-case court records through the end of August 2019 show the court’s active case backlog was 1,007,155,” the Syracuse report notes. “If the additional 322,535 cases which the court says are pending but have not been placed on the active caseload rolls are added, then the backlog now tops 1.3 million.”
The Justice Department says it doesn’t officially acknowledge reports done by independent agencies since they may not have all the information necessary to give a true count, but they did admit there’s problems.
“This report and DOJ’s own data further confirms there is a crisis at the border,” a spokesperson told CNN. “This Administration is taking aggressive steps to increase productivity, close loopholes, and hire a record number of judges to address the backlog with our existing authorities.”
The Trump Administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which recently survived a legal challenge, has been helping to alleviate the problem somewhat. Now, instead of crossing the border to official Customs and Border Patrol facilities, being given a court date, and set free into the United States with a demand to return, migrants who want to declare asylum are staying at camps south of the border and having their claims adjudicated by teleconference judges.
The number of migrants appearing at the border has abated somewhat as well. The numbers are no longer in the six figures, likely because the Trump Administration has put a halt to temporary “catch-and-release” policies and empowering law enforcement to make educated decisions about which migrants are in immediate danger.