The Unfortunate Realities of the U.S. Immigration Courts
Most of the general public is not aware of the way in which immigration courts function in the United States. With all the discussion in the media concerning undocumented child migrants and increased deportations, the realities of the current immigration court system should be more publicized. According to the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) there are presently 227 field judges across the nation taking on a docket of more than 375 thousand cases! Even for those that do not know much about the immigration court system, these figures are striking and suggest an unmanageable reality.
The immigration court system is underfunded and under-staffed creating severe backlog and ultimately calling the entire process into question. There is pressure on local judges to move through cases quickly, at times hearing more than 50 cases a day. If appropriate and adequate attention is not being given to the respondents, how can we have faith in our decision-makers? Unfortunately, only more problems are emerging as decisions are appealed. The lack of due process at the lower immigration courts produces the crisis at the federal level.
Substantial changes must be implemented in order to remedy the current crisis facing the nation’s immigration court system. Immigration Judge Marks remarked, “We deal with cases that are, in effect, death penalty cases. Some of the defendants may be killed if they’re returned to their home countries.” This realization is striking and if more people were made aware, perhaps more attention would be given in support of meaningful immigration reform and concerted action.
The United States immigration courts have placed the burden of proof on the accused. This means that these immigrants are guilty of illegally entering the country until proven innocent. Their lack of financial access to an attorney, lack of understanding of the English language and the young ages of these juveniles do not matter; they are still subject to this system.
More funding must be directed to immigration courts in order to ensure a more reasonable system. Unfortunately, recent news reports cite Congress as ignoring the Obama administration’s request to accelerate spending on immigration courts. His request was made with particular attention given to the high rates of unaccompanied minors at the border. These cases have been put on a fast track for adjudication since they are children. This does not take into account all the pending cases that have been placed on the back burner due to understaffing and the ill-equipped court system. Congress has increased spending for Border Patrol agents and detention centers, disregarding the need of immigration judges and the back log of cases climbing to 400,000.