Over the past year, the number of cases waiting a hearing in immigration court has increased to nearly 400,000. Immigrants looking for a resolution of their legal status are left to wait for their day in court, or increasingly, wait detained in one of the many detention centers here in Arizona and across the country.
According to a new report, immigration cases held up in the courts rose 22 percent over the last fiscal year. This allows some unlawful immigrants to remain in the United States for months or years. However, with the recent influx of families and children coming from Central America, these new immigrants are being placed in family detention centers.
The government has faced criticism for fast-tracking a number of these deportations, without an immigration hearing. Advocacy groups have criticized the government's new approach to expedited review, over concerns of lack of due process. A directive from the president's administration was developed to address the number of incoming children, and has been labelled the “rocket docket.” Children receive an initial hearing with 21 days, then given weeks to try and find an attorney.
Spokeswoman for the Department of Justice Lauren Alder Reid counters the allegations that the children are not receiving due process. “We continue to support our mission of adjudicating immigration cases fairly and expeditiously while uniformly interpreting and administering the law.
Because of the expedited proceedings for the newly arrived immigrants, people who have been waiting for months or years may have their waiting time extended even further, as the government tries to deal with the additional children who have been the subject of news over the past few months. Having their court dates regularly delayed is frustrating for many immigrants, and this appears likely to continue.
President Obama has requested emergency funding to increase the number of judges and personnel to handle the number of cases, but it will take time to find and properly train people so they will be able to fairly determine whether immigrants should be allowed to remain in the U.S. or deported to their home countries. Additionally, a large percentage of immigration judges will soon be eligible for retirement.
At the Artesia, New Mexico family detention facility, hearings are being conducted remotely by teleconference in order to speed up deportation hearings. However, even immigration judges have expressed a concern that speeding up juvenile detention hearings could increase the risk of legal errors, which would later be subject to appeal, further delaying resolution and tying up the courts.
Meanwhile, the remaining immigrants waiting for their day in court have continued to increase. The waiting times vary from court to court. One California court has the longest wait times in the country, with an average wait of 837 days, well over two years. Phoenix, Arizona has the third longest wait time, at an average of 805 days. California has the most backlogged cases at over 80,000, followed by Texas and New York. Arizona ranks eighth in the nation with 14,699 cases as of July.