Immigration Court Impossibly Jammed: Half a Million Pending Cases

Published on July 25th, 2016

By Joe Guzzardi
July 25, 2016
A report released last week revealed the troubling news that the federal immigration court system’s pending case load has passed the half a million mark, and is expect to grow larger. Last week, the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review confirmed that the backlog has reached an unmanageable 500,051 cases. The huge logjam means that many aliens will not have their cases adjudicated for years, if ever, a frustration for the judges and the petitioners.
Since the start of the federal budget year that began last October, more than 51,000 people traveling as families with small children and more than 43,000 unaccompanied minors, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have been caught crossing the border illegally, but were then set free because of President Obama’s catch and release mandate.
Some unaccompanied minors have family ties in the United States, or claim to have U.S. relatives, but the certainty that they will not be deported lures most. In Central America, lax U.S. immigration enforcement has been widely publicized, and was highlighted in El Salvador’s Diario el Mundo story that quoted Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s promise that children would be “treated differently,” meaning not removed despite their illegal presence. Guatemalan and Honduran dailies published similar stories that also mentioned that free food, lodging, and English classes awaited the aliens once they reached the U.S. More than 97 percent of unaccompanied minors are never returned home.
Catch and release has also been a major thorn in border patrol agents’ sides who have been ordered not to fulfill their sworn duty to protect the American homeland. Instead, agents release the illegal immigrants, and often give them a bus ticket to the destination of their choice. Agents candidly admit that the children and possibly the adults among them will never be removed, and that drug cartels are doubtlessly taking advantage of America’s open borders. As one border patrol union official told the Washington Times, agents feel “powerless to enforce the law.”
For the purpose of analyzing overall enforcement, “release” in catch and release refers to the interior as well as the border.  Immigration Customs and Enforcement 2013 data shows that ICE had 722,000 encounters with deportable aliens but filed immigration charges against only about one-fourth. ICE personnel stated that the releases occurred because of the Obama administration’s policy to shield illegal immigrants from deportation.
DHS representatives confirm that leadership is, rather than strengthening interior enforcement, pursuing ways to further relax the already loose standards. Specifically, the Obama administration is considering policies to forbid ICE officers from removing illegal aliens from the interior who have been previously deported (a felony), criminal aliens who are fugitives, and illegal immigrants who have skipped their mandatory court dates to establish their status.
Presidential, congressional and state candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties have made immigration a core issue in their campaigns. But honest immigration reform must include enforcement which would promote respect for the law, and create a more homogeneous America that would benefit all Americans, native-born and immigrants alike.

Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19

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