Immigration courts are overloaded, and President Trump’s policies aren’t helping


While the Trump administration continues creating immigration policy that fails to distinguish between serious criminals and those working and contributing to society, immigration cases keep piling up on a system that is already heavily burdened. In fact, rather than making the system more efficient, there has actually been a 25% increase in cases waiting to be heard in immigration courts since the president took office.

One of the major reasons for this is President Trump’s negligence towards rectifying the shortage of judges to address the backlog. Currently there are only 338 immigrant judges managing the nation’s entire immigration case load, each laden with 2000 cases. Applicants are waiting years for their cases to be heard, with frequent postponements and rescheduling. While those with legitimate petitions are forced to wait, those with dubious cases continue living in the U.S. year after year. It’s a system that satisfies nobody. And instead of hiring more judges to hear and decide these cases, the president seeks to hire 10,000 more ICE agents, tripling the agency’s size. In other words, the goal seems to be generating a show of force rather than true reform.

Under President Obama, there was more prosecutorial discretion, and while the system was broken and inhumane in many regards, it at least allowed for more concentration on violent offenders. Under President Trump there is almost no discretion. As such, an undocumented person who is hard-working and raising a family is lumped in the same category as a drug dealer or murderer. In addition, ICE lawyers are reopening once-closed cases; Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it more difficult for asylum-seekers to claim that right; Obama-era rules prioritizing families and children have been scrapped; and the president has moved immigration judges from around the country to be near the border with Mexico. All of this has exacerbated an already unwieldy problem.

The Trump administration is merciless in its effort to deport the undocumented without regard for upending lives or breaking up families. He is playing a numbers game, with ICE and CBP agents making more and more arrests.  It is not a game, though. It affects the lives of U.S. citizens and the undocumented alike, with no concern for whether the results damage our immigration courts or do a disservice to our communities.

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