Immigration backlog tops 500,000 cases

The recent surge in illegal immigration, including large numbers of families and unaccompanied children, has pushed the number of pending cases past 500,000. The AP reports:


The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review said Wednesday there are now 500,051 pending immigration cases in the agency’s 59 courts.

The backlog has been steadily rising in recent years as the number of unaccompanied children and people traveling as families have been caught crossing the Mexican border illegally. Since 2011 more than 200,000 cases have been added to the court’s docket and backlog is likely to continue growing.

The AP reports that only 18 immigration judges have been added to help clear the cases since last October (the start of the fiscal year). The site TRAC immigration created this chart which shows the number of pending cases has doubled since President Obama took office in 2009:

immigration graph

A surge of immigrants from Central America two years ago led to efforts to curb illegal immigration. These government efforts included a $1 million ad campaign run in Central America and sending Vice President Biden to Guatemala where he clarified that new immigrants would not be allowed to stay in the country under DACA:

These minors that have recently come are not eligible — they are not eligible to what’s referred to as deferred action.  A deferred action process.  Not if they arrived in the past seven years.  Let’s get this straight. Any minor who arrived in the past seven years is not eligible for deferred action.

There was a temporary reprieve last year but the numbers of illegal immigrants have been climbing sharply again this year. Fox News reported in May:


Two years ago, the Obama administration referred to the surge of Central American children and families coming into the U.S. as a “humanitarian crisis.”

This year, it’s worse – as Border Patrol agents apprehend even more Honduran, Guatemalan and Salvadoran immigrants claiming asylum. But due to a backlog in the courts, there is even less of a chance they’ll be deported…

Taken together, the exodus from Central America represents the largest mass immigration to the U.S. since the Mariel boatlift out of Cuba in 1980.

“These people are allowed to remain here. They are given employment authorization — therefore, they are sending a message back home ‘come on over’,” [former Deputy Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection David] Aguilar said.

The Obama administration argues that the migration is being driven by high crime rates and social breakdown in Central America. That’s certainly part of it as Honduras and El Salvador have some of the highest murder rates per capita in the world. But there is little doubt that confusion about the president’s executive actions combined with the inability to deport immigrants in a timely manner (most wind up be released in the U.S. while awaiting a court date) is a factor pulling people to the border.

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John Sexton 7:20 PM on November 30, 2023
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