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U.S. Immigration Courts Face a Staggering Backlog as 3M Cases Pile Up

The latest data shows 3 million pending cases in immigration courts around the country

Jan 16, 2024

A gavel.

According to recent government data, there are now 3 million pending cases in immigration courts around the United States. The backlog has tripled since 2019, growing by more than one million cases in the last year alone.

So how did the U.S. immigration court system become so backlogged and what can be done to fix it?

The uptick in cases is largely driven by unprecedented surges in the number of migrants seeking asylum after being apprehended for crossing the border illegally. Immigration attorneys and advocates say the case backlog and subsequent long wait times for court dates are damaging to an already strained asylum system.

When border officials apprehend migrants attempting to cross the border, they typically release them with documentation of their detention and instructions to attend court proceedings in their destination city. “They’re just being released without any idea of what comes next,” said Randy McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Legal Services for the Archdiocese of Miami, a city which has seen a large influx of asylum seekers in recent years.

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A shortage of immigration judges is another one of the key reasons for the increasing backlog and unprecedented processing times for court hearings. Under the current immigration court system, the average caseload is 5,000 cases per judge. The National Association of Immigration Judges estimates that doubling the current number of judges from 700 to 1,400 could help solve the current backlog by 2032.

In addition to increased funds from Congress to hire more judges and support staff, many immigration experts say the immigration court system would benefit greatly from major policy changes and streamlined processes. Some say asylum cases should be handled administratively, rather than through time-consuming litigation in courts.

You can learn more about the U.S. immigration court system in Boundless’ guide.

Boundless helps you build a tailored visa plan for every step of the process, from forms to your immigration interview.