For years, under presidents of both parties, the immigration court system has been something of a mess, struggling with a huge backlog of cases that has seemed to snowball and snowball, sometimes keeping individuals in legal limbo for years. The backlog of cases in immigration courts has reached the highest level ever—almost 1.6 million, according to a recent report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, Mother Jones reports. It's not just that more cases are being added because more people are trying to either request asylum or enter the U.S. illegally. Changing politics have a lot to do with it, and it’s been a constant challenge for immigration judges, lawyers, and immigrants themselves to survive the whiplash. An immigration attorney tweeted this week that his client had waited four years for his first hearing, which was set for last week but has now been moved to April 2025.
To put the 1.6 million cases in perspective, the backlog is split between approximately 560 judges hearing cases at 70 immigration courts. Each judge would have to hear more than 2,800 cases to get the pipeline to zero, and that’s if no new cases were added. Immigration judges are employees of the Department of Justice and the courts are overseen by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, under the attorney general. Immigration judges can’t control what cases they see or in what order. They have no say in who their clerks are and what their staff should be working on. Since the courts fall under the executive branch, cases get shifted before they're completed because each new administration that comes its their own priorities. That president decides what the laws and the priorities are going to be.