The Biden administration’s controversial open border policies are slamming the overwhelmed U.S. Immigration Court system, creating the largest backlog of cases in history. A new report issued by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) reveals that the backlog is “growing faster than ever, burying judges in an avalanche of cases.” At the end of December pending cases reached a shocking 1,596,193, according to government figures obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). To put things in perspective, researchers point out that if every person with a pending immigration case gathered, it would surpass the population of Philadelphia, the nation’s sixth-largest city. Migrants with open cases will wait nearly five years for a court decision determining their status in the U.S.
While the system has seen backlogs under past administrations of both political parties, it has never experienced anything this dire. In fact, the TRAC report states that “a disturbing new trend has emerged during the Biden administration that demands attention: since the start of the Biden administration, the growth of the backlog has been accelerating at a breakneck pace.” For instance, at the start of the George W. Bush administration, the backlog stood at 149,338 and it grew “substantially” under Barack Obama. The problem “only accelerated” under Donald Trump but nothing compares to Biden. In recent months the rate of backlogs in the nation’s Immigration Court system has “exploded,” the TRAC report states, supporting the assessment with government data. Between October and December 2021, the quarterly growth in the number of pending Immigration Court cases shattered records.
In that short period, the backlog increased by nearly 140,000 cases, the government records obtained by TRAC show. “Even during the most dramatic growth in pending cases during the Trump administration, the largest 3-month increase in the backlog only once approached 100,000 in the June-August 2019 period,” the report says. The backlog fluctuated up and down in the following year until it skyrocketed in the last few months of 2021 under Biden. Researchers call it a “dramatic acceleration in the growth of the backlog.” The alarming government figures suggest that Immigration Courts “are entering a worrying new era of even more crushing caseloads— all the more concerning since no attempt at a solution has yet been able to reverse the avalanche of cases that Immigration Judges now face,” the TRAC report states.
The COVID-19 pandemic has played a role in the crisis because it caused a partial court shutdown, but researchers found that the key problem is the “recent deluge of new cases filed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).” Immigration enforcement has been limited dramatically under the Biden administration, which has also issued a policy to allow more new immigrants into the U.S., thus the unprecedented and expanding backlog. The dramatic increase in court cases began around June and will inevitably get worse if the administration does not make changes. “If the current pace during the first quarter of FY 2022 of newly arriving Notices to Appear (NTAs) continues, the Court will receive 800,000 new cases – at least 300,000 more than the annual total the Court has ever received during its existence,” TRAC estimates.
The U.S. Immigration Court system operates under the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which functions under the attorney general. There are 60 immigration courts throughout the nation and around 580 judges that conduct removal hearings or determine if a migrant can remain in the U.S. In its 2022 budget submission to Congress, the DOJ requests $891,190,000 for the EOIR. In the document, the agency lists “increased immigration flows,” particularly family units, unaccompanied alien children and putative asylum seekers from Central America, among the EOIR’s biggest external challenges.