The immigration court backlog is ridiculous and we need comprehensive immigration reform now

“The current backlog of 360,000 + cases means an average wait of 573 days before a case is resolved. ”

“The current backlog of 360,000 + cases means an average wait of 573 days before a case is resolved. ”

Who is affected and irritated by a backlogged immigration court system? The answer is, everyone involved with the process. From judges and clerks to lawyers and their immigrant clients, the people who work in immigration and the public they serve, the demand for comprehensive immigration reform is strong. The number of immigrants and cases in the system continues increasing. In a recent article on backlogged courts, an immigration judge commented, “In my thirty-one years as a United States immigration judge, I have never had as many people come through my courtroom as I have over the last six years. During this time, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of non-citizens that the United States detains and deports, and the detained number of individuals appearing in immigration courts today is unprecedented.[i]

“The current backlog of 360,000 + cases means an average wait of 573 days before a case is resolved.[ii]

Meanwhile, the comprehensive immigration reform bill, S.744, which is held up in the House by GOP leaders who fail to take action, would significantly improve the situation if it becomes law. In a recent article focused on fixing the immigration court backlog, CIR would, “Increase the number of immigration judges and court personnel, as well s the number of staff attorneys at the Board of Immigration Appeals.[iii]” It is important to note that despite the average number of days it currently takes to process an immigration case is just under 600 days, in large cities like Chicago, with large immigrant populations, the process can take up to three years!

In 2011, when the immigration backlog was critical then, the Department of Homeland Security announced the Prosecutorial Discretion Policy (read more here) to focus on the detention and removal of serious criminals and threats to national security. Despite the Prosecutorial Discretion policy, immigrants are being arrested and are now in the lumbering immigration system.

The people coming into the immigration system, in many cases, are individuals who have lived in the U.S. for many years and are able members of our communities. One individual who became part of the system one day is Lundy Khoy, who when she was one year old, came to the U.S. with her family as refugees from genocide in Cambodia. At 19, in college, Lundy was arrested, charged and convicted for possessing the drug, Ecstasy. She served three months and was released for good behavior and put on probation. Towards the end of her probation, at a regularly scheduled meeting with her probation officer, Lundy was arrested and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) officers who detained her in prison for almost 9 months.

Many would agree that Lundy Khoy is not a threat to public safety, but now she is part of the system.

People like Lundy Khoy are being arrested in detained by ICE in increased number, in part to policies arranged in the past few years allowing information sharing among law enforcement and ICE who learn of undocumented immigrants and arrest and detain them. As a result, people otherwise “off the radar” are now among those who recently entered the U.S. and were likely stopped at borders. The administration simply cannot keep up with the number of cases and people in the immigration court system.

The problem judges face is simply not being able to spend enough time with any individual person before them in court to make a proper determination whether they should be allowed to remain in the U.S. or be deported. Additionally, many of the immigrants appearing in court cannot afford and do not have lawyers, and there is no right to an appointed lawyer in immigration courts. The large surge in unaccompanied children coming into the U.S. from Central and Latin America do not have attorneys and are functionally clueless about our immigration system and laws.

If you want to learn more about immigration options and how to proceed through the complex and backlogged immigration system, please contact our law firm to request more information.

Attorney KiKi M. Mosley is licensed to practice law by the State of Illinois and Louisiana. She is skilled and experienced in complex immigration law issues including DACA and related options for children arriving in the U.S. For more information about the law firm, please visit, and do not forget to “Like” the firm on Facebook and “Follow” on Twitter. You can also review Attorney Mosley’s endorsements on her Avvo profile.

[i] The Hill: Time to fix our immigration courts, by John Gossart Jr., Feb. 26, 2014

[ii] See Gossart article above at para. 7.

[iii] National Immigrant Justice Center: Rethink Immigration: It’s time to fix the immigration court backlog, by Ashley Huebner, Apr. 26, 2013.