In 2017, at the beginning of Trump’s presidency, approximately 540,000 individuals had pending deportation cases. According to TRAC Immigration, as Trump exited office last month the number of cases before the immigration courts had exploded to 1,290,766. In addition to those nearly 1.3 million pending cases, more than 300,000 have not been placed back on the active docket. A policy change under Trump led to reclassification of those cases as unresolved.
Every president has dealt with a swamped immigration court, but Biden is inheriting an astronomical backlog. Between 2017 and 2021, the Trump administration’s policies did nothing but drastically increase the total number of backlogged removal cases.
Longer Wait Times for Hearings
Individuals who were already in the immigration court system have felt the full effect of this severe increase. Based on the average number of days between the date their Notice to Appear (NTA) was issued and their next currently scheduled hearing date, the wait time for individuals to appear in court now stands at an astounding 1,642 days, or 52 months.
On average, persons waiting for an individual Merits Hearing have been waiting even longer, with the time between their NTA and their Merits Hearing averaging 1,963 days, or 65 months. The Atlanta immigration court has over 43,000 cases in its backlog. The average wait time here is 1,798 days, with a maximum wait of 5,173 days.
The Source of New Cases
The significant number of new cases in the backlog proves that the immigration court system is completely broken and underwater. This is due to a lack of immigration judges and to Trump administration policies that were meant to decrease the backlog but instead actually increased it. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has placed a tsunami of new cases in removal proceedings for minor immigration violations. The Trump administration said that everyone in the States without authorization is a criminal and therefore must be placed in removal proceedings, but this is untrue. The DHS’s increased enforcement wasn’t some targeted crackdown on dangerous criminals. Rather, more than 98% of cases in removal proceedings involve individuals charged with simple immigration violations such as overstay or entry without inspection.
As it stands today, the backlog is so extensive that even if the Biden administration halted new immigration enforcement, working through existing cases would still take longer than his first term. The President, DHS and the Department of Justice, under which the immigration courts function, must consider how to resolve this immigration court crisis.
The TRAC immigration report also highlighted the fact that representation before an immigration judge drastically increases the chances of success. Our attorneys have combined experience of almost 100 years in representing clients in deportation proceedings. If you or a loved one have been placed in removal proceedings, call us so we can help you. Contact us by calling 404-850-9394 or visiting https://antoniniandcohen.com/.
Marshall Cohen is one of the founding principals of Antonini & Cohen. Admitted to the Georgia Bar in 1989, he has practiced immigration law exclusively for over 30 years. Mr. Cohen practices all areas of immigration law including family and employment cases, temporary and permanent visas, naturalization, deportation defense, and federal litigation.