The American Bar Association is sounding the alarm that US immigration courts are 'on the brink of collapse'

  • America’s immigration courts are facing an “existential crisis” and are “irredeemably dysfunctional,” the American Bar Association warned in a report on Wednesday.
  • A massive and rapidly growing backlog of more than 855,000 deportation cases is currently swamping just 400 immigration judges employed across the country.
  • Beyond that, judicial hiring has grown so politicized and presidential policies have become so onerous that the judiciary’s independence is threatened, the ABA warned.
  • Among some 100 other recommendations, the ABA said a crucial fix to the system would be to establish an “Article I court” that would be independent from the Justice Department.

America’s immigration court system is breaking under a crushing load of cases, with too few resources to sustain itself and a climate too politicized for judges to remain independent, the American Bar Association warned in a chilling report on Wednesday.

“The immigration courts are facing an existential crisis,” the report said. “The current system is irredeemably dysfunctional and on the brink of collapse.”

A massive and rapidly growing backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases is just one of many systemic issues bearing down on the immigration system, the report said. Equally as pressing are the “under-resourced, over-worked” judges and court staff expected to handle the cases, a politicized judicial hiring process, and presidential policies that “threaten due process.”

Just over 400 immigration judges across the country are facing more than 855,000 open deportation cases, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse that Syracuse University maintains.

That number has skyrocketed in the last 10 years. In 2009, there were just 220,000 open cases.

Read more: 4 reasons the number of families crossing the US-Mexico border illegally is soaring, and how Trump may have made the problem worse

The number of migrant families crossing the US-Mexico border continues to soar, flooding the immigration courts each month with tens of thousands of new and complex cases involving children. The US government’s meager arsenal of judges are saddled with “impossible caseloads” and hampered by strict deadlines and quota-based performance metrics, the report said.

Adding to the chaos are a number of actions the Trump administration has taken in recent years that limit judges’ options and infringe on their independence, the report said. In particular, the ABA blasted former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for issuing a number of decisions through the Board of Immigration Appeals that never went through Congress, despite “substantially rewriting immigration law.”

Some of those decisions included barring immigration judges from closing “low-priority” cases, and reversing a previous ruling that ensured judges gave all asylum-seekers full court hearings.

Read more:

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE BORDER CRISIS: Experts say there is no security crisis, but there is a simple way to fix immigration – and it’s not a wall

“These decisions, made unilaterally and with an undeniably ideological bent, threaten not only the viability of certain substantive claims and defences from noncitizens, but also directly impact immigration court proceedings and due process protections,” the report said.

The ABA report made more than 100 recommendations, including removing political interference from the court system, and rescinding the deadlines and quotas imposed on judges.

Most dramatically, it recommended repairing the system by transferring immigration-court functions to an “Article 1 court,” meaning a federal court system that Congress establishes so it’s independent from the Justice Department.

“The public’s faith will be restored only when the immigration courts are assured independence and the fundamental elements of due process are met,” the report said.

Read the full report here ยป

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