AIMEE PICCHI/MONEYWATCH writes:
“President Donald Trump is taking what he portrays as a hard-nosed approach to undocumented immigrants, issuing an order this week to boost the number of U.S. border patrol agents and to build detention centers.
But what happens when a federal push to ramp up arrests and deportations hits a severely backlogged federal court system?
“It’s a recipe for a due process disaster,” said Omar Jadwat, an attorney and director of the Immigrant Rights Project at the ACLU. Already, he pointed out, there are “large, large numbers of caseloads” in immigration court, and Mr. Trump’s directives threaten to greatly increase the number of people caught in the system, he said.
Just how backlogged is the system for adjudicating deportations and related legal matters? America’s immigration courts are now handling a record-breaking level of cases, with more than 533,000 cases currently pending, according to Syracuse University’s TRAC, a data gathering site that tracks the federal government’s enforcement activities. That figure is more than double the number when Mr. Obama took office in 2009.
As a result, immigrants awaiting their day in court face an average wait time of 678 days, or close to two years.
Immigrant rights advocates say the backlog is likely to worsen, citing Mr. Trump’s order on Wednesday to hire 5,000 additional border patrol agents while also enacting a freeze on government hiring. Whether the U.S. Justice Department, which oversees the immigration courts, will be able to add judges given the hiring freeze isn’t clear.
A spokeswoman from the DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review said the agency is awaiting “further guidance” regarding the hiring freeze from the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management. In the meantime, she said, the agency “will continue, without pause, to protect the nation with the available resources it has today.”
There is video to go with the complete story at the link.
The situation is likely to get much worse in the U.S. Immigration Courts. Obviously, due process is not going to be a high priority for this Administration. And, while the Executive Orders can be read to give Attorney General Jeff Sessions authority to continue hiring Immigration Judges, filling the 75 or so currently vacant positions won’t begin to address the Immigration Courts’ workload problems.
Then, there are the questions of space and support staff. One of the reasons more vacancies haven’t been filled to date is that many Immigration Courts (for example, the U.S. Immigration Court in Arlington, VA) have simply run out of space for additional judges and staff.
The parent agency of the Immigration Courts, “EOIR,” is counting on being allowed to continue with expansion plans currently underway. But, even if Attorney General Sessions goes forward with those plans, that space won’t be ready until later in 2017, and that’s highly optimistic.
This does not seem like an Administration that will be willing to wait for the current lengthy highly bureaucratic hiring system to operate or for new Immigration Judges to be trained and “brought up to speed.” So various “gimmicks” to speed hiring, truncate training, and push the Administration’s “priority cases” — likely to be hundreds of thousands of additional cases — through the Immigration Courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals at breakneck speed.
Consequently, the whole “due process mess” eventually is likely to be thrown into the U.S. Courts of Appeals where “final orders of removal” are reviewed by Article III Judges with lifetime tenure, rather than by administrative judges appointed and supervised by the Attorney General.