The immigration-court system is weighed down by a backlog of more than 520,000 cases and is failing "to deliver timely, fair decisions to people fighting deportation or asking for refuge, according to interviews with lawyers, judges and government officials," Preston reports. "With too few judges, overworked clerks and an antiquated docket based on stacks of paper files, many of the 56 courts nationwide have become crippled by delays and bureaucratic breakdowns." The backlog leads to cases sometimes taking years to be heard.
Trump's plan to freeze federal hiring would only make matters worse, preventing courts from bringing in new judges and clerks, who are federal employees, Preston writes. "Without significant new resources, the courts would probably slow Trump’s deportations to a stall. Unlike other federal courts, which are part of the judiciary, immigration courts are run by the Justice Department, making them subject to shifting political priorities in Washington."
The backlog was created by a combination of President Obama increasing immigration enforcement and Congress clamping down on spending, Preston writes. "In the past two years, the administration won increases for the courts from Congress, and the number of immigration judges rose by 65 to about 300 today. But the hiring of judges is glacially slow. With each judge completing an average of 750 cases a year, the courts would need at least 520 judges to eliminate the backlog within one year, according to an analysis by Human Rights First, a watchdog group in New York." (Ohio State University map: U.S. immigration courts)