According to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, there was a backlog of 323,725 cases as of January 2013 — a number that has continued to creep up. While the average time is 550 days, or about 1.5 years, in certain states, the wait can be much longer. In California, for instance, the average wait in 2011 for an immigration case was 660 days.
What’s more, the quality of judges and fairness of the courts’ decisions have also been called into question: In a 2010 report (pdf), an American Bar Association commission found that deportation cases in immigration courts were “highly dependent upon the judges before whom they appear rather than on the merits of their cases,” saying that the lack of judges and resources have resulted in hastily decided, poorly researched and biased decisions.
Some of these immigrants will spend at least part of that time in detention, at a cost that Homeland Security estimated in 2011 to be $122 a day. The government has made detention mandatory for a wide swath of immigrants to ensure that they show up to their immigration hearings: those convicted of certain crimes; those who pose a national security risk; undocumented asylum-seekers who are unable to demonstrate a “credible fear of persecution”; and unlawful border-crossers, among others.
In 2011, the government put a record 429,000 foreign nationals in immigration-related detention — a number that includes those with cases in immigration court and those who don’t receive a hearing. On average, they’re detained for 30 days, according to a 2009 Immigration and Customs Enforcement report, though a handful are detained far longer — to the objection of civil liberties advocates. (A 2001 Supreme Court decision ruled that the government can’t detain immigrants for longer than six months unless deportation was likely in the “reasonably foreseeable future,” with no exceptions for immigrants from countries who won’t accept them back.)
In its leaked draft memo, the White House has proposed various reforms to tackle both the court backlog and the expansive detention system: an increase in the number of immigration court judges; greater access to government-funded legal counsel for immigrants in deportation proceedings, who are not automatically granted representation; and creating a new program to create alternatives to detention for certain qualified individuals.
Source: Washington Post