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March 15, 2016

The U.S. Immigration Court: A Ballooning Backlog that Requires Action

THE BACKLOG in the U.S. immigration court system continues to grow, requiring immediate action. The number of cases pending before the court will soon exceed 500,000, far too many for a court staffed with only 254 immigration judges—a fraction of the number needed to timely address removal cases.

Year after year, as the courts have lacked sufficient numbers of immigration judges, the backlog has grown. In the last seven years, the number of cases pending before the courts has more than doubled—with the greatest spikes in FY 2014 and 2015. 

As a result of the ballooning backlogs at the immigration courts, hundreds of thousands of immigrants will be left in a state of legal limbo for over three years on average—some much longer. The most delayed courts experience wait times of five to six years. Most immigrants in removal proceedings in Texas, Georgia, Alabama, and Arizona will wait longer than three years for their cases to be resolved. These wait times leave families of asylum seekers stranded for years in dangerous or difficult situations, and undermine the recruitment of pro bono counsel. 

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