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Immigration Court Case Backlog Surpasses 3 Million

The nation's immigration-court backlog swelled by more than a million cases in 2023, according to new data, as the number of migrants seeking asylum at the U.S. border surged. The backlog surpassed 3 million cases in November, rising from 1.9 million cases in September 2022, according to Syracuse University's Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, which compiles and analyzes federal immigration data. There are now more immigrants in the U.S. with a pending immigration case than people living in Chicago, the nation's third-largest city, TRAC concluded. Some are not due to appear in court for years, while judges grapple with caseloads of more than 4,000 each, USA Today reports. The quickly growing backlog is becoming a political liability for President Joe Biden heading into an election year in which immigration is shaping up to be a defining issue for voters. "The courts can only do so much when the Biden administration has opened the spigot at the border," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in October. "Our immigration judges can't do their job, just being flooded with these huge numbers."


The Biden administration has tried to address the backlog by hiring 302 immigration judges to the nation's immigration courts. The White House is asking in its 2024 budget request for funding to hire 150 more. The judgeships are administrative posts, not lifetime federal appointments, in a court system run by the Executive Office of Immigration Review. Kathryn Mattingly, press secretary for the office, said reducing the immigration court backlog “is one of the highest priorities” for the agency. In addition to expanding the number of judges on the bench, the agency is developing new initiatives to reduce the backlog, she said. "These efforts include encouraging the use of pre-hearing conferences to resolve matters that do not require valuable court docket time and the creation of specialized dockets to optimally schedule hearings and handle more straightforward matters more quickly," Mattingly said. Individual judges are facing caseloads of more than 4,500 cases apiece. CBP recorded nearly 2.5 million migrant encounters at the Southwest border in fiscal 2023, breaking annual records going back to 1960.


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