Systemic problems with our immigration courts are dire
Nolan Rappaport, opinion contributor

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If you are a person seeking asylum in the United States, the fact is whether or not you get to remain here depends on which im­mi­gration judge is assigned to hear your case, according to TRAC’s October 2020 report.

One judge is not like another. For instance, the denial rates of the judges in the New York immigration court ranged from 95 percent down to 3 per­cent.

There’s a history behind that alarming disparity.

Busy judges

Despite a partial court shutdown on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration’s immigration court in fiscal 2020 issued the second highest number of asylum decisions in the last two de­cades: 59,291 decisions. The highest was 67,625 — the year before.

With one exception, the number of asylum decisions the immigration court issued during the Obama-Biden administration ranged from 18,593 in fiscal 2015 to a high of 22,319 in fiscal 2016. The exception was fiscal 2017, when it issued 30,254.

The bad news is that no administration has been able to keep up with the overall demand for hearings before an immigration judge.

This has resulted in a crippling backlog crisis, and no progress has been made on reducing it since fiscal 2006, when the Bush administration reduced the backlog from 184,211 to 168,827 cases.

Despite the fact that as of the end of fiscal 2020, the Trump administration’s immigration court had completed 1,075,578deportation cases, the backlog still rose to 1,262,765 cases.

The average wait for a hearing is 811 days, which makes removal proceedings ineffective as a deterrent to illegal immigration.

In fiscal 2019, Trump’s immigration court completed 275,552 cases, which was the second-highest completion total in immigration court history — but at that rate, even if the court stopped accepting new cases, it would take more than four years to clear a 1,262,765 case backlog.

Hiring more judges may have hurt more than it has helped


Published originally on The Hill.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an Executive Branch Immigration Law Expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years. Follow him at