U.S. immigration courts are struggling to function at the most basic level, with judges who are already woefully understaffed and often undertrained now overwhelmed by a growing backlog of more than 1.6 million cases. The system is so damaged that judges, scholars and attorneys all share concerns about whether immigrants due in court will receive notice before their hearings so they know to show up and aren’t ordered deported in absentia, an urgent concern made worse by volatile immigration policies at the U.S.-Mexico border, The Guardian reports. “It’s very worrisome. The fundamental requirement for a full and fair hearing is notice of your hearing and the ability to attend your hearing,” said Mimi Tsankov of the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ).
The immigration court system has been imperiled by dysfunction for decades. Now it’s in crisis after serious setbacks under President Trump. On the line are millions of futures. Undocumented immigrants who fear being split from their children and spouses, people facing persecution and death in their countries of origin, or those being sent to countries they haven’t seen in decades are all fighting for fair play and often literally their lives in courts ill-equipped to do them justice. “Let’s make it absolutely clear: due process is suffering,” said Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute. “There’s just no way around that.” As officials such as then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions made sweeping proclamations that “the vast majority of asylum claims are not valid”, judges confronted performance metrics demanding they each race through at least 700 cases a year.