Fueled by border crossings, a record 3 million cases clog US immigration courts

Law Review

Eight months after crossing the Rio Grande into the United States, a couple in their 20s sat in an immigration court in Miami with their three young children. Through an interpreter, they asked a judge to give them more time to find an attorney to file for asylum and not be deported back to Honduras, where gangs threatened them.

Judge Christina Martyak agreed to a three-month extension, referred Aarón Rodriguéz and Cindy Baneza to free legal aid provided by the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami in the same courthouse — and their case remains one of the unprecedented 3 million currently pending in immigration courts around the United States.

Fueled by record-breaking increases in migrants who seek asylum after being apprehended for crossing the border illegally, the court backlog has grown by more than 1 million over the last fiscal year and it’s now triple what it was in 2019, according to government data compiled by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Judges, attorneys and migrant advocates worry that’s rendering an already strained system unworkable, as it often takes several years to grant asylum-seekers a new stable life and to deport those with no right to remain in the country.

“Sometimes hope already sinks,” said Mayra Cruz after her case was also granted an extension by Martyak because the Peruvian migrant doesn’t have an attorney.

“But here I’ve felt a bit safer,” added Cruz, who said she had to flee with only the clothes on her back with her partner and their children after repeated threats from gangs.

About 261,000 cases of migrants placed in removal proceedings are pending in the Miami court — the largest docket in the country. That’s about the same as were pending nationwide a dozen years ago, said Syracuse University professor Austin Kocher.

The backlog includes migrants who have been in the United States for decades and were apprehended on unrelated charges, but most are new asylum seekers who declare a fear of persecution if they are sent back, he added.

Backlogged courts, administered by the Justice Department, often get little attention in immigration debates, including in current Senate negotiations over the Biden administration’s $110 billion proposal that links aid for Ukraine and Israel to asylum and other border policy changes.

When migrants are apprehended by U.S. authorities at the border, many are released with a record of their detention and instructions to appear in court in the city where they are headed. That information is passed on from the Department of Homeland Security to the Justice Department, whose Executive Office for Immigration Review runs the courts, so that an initial hearing can be scheduled.

Related listings

  • Georgia Supreme Court ruling prevents GOP-backed commission

    Georgia Supreme Court ruling prevents GOP-backed commission

    Law Review 11/25/2023

    Georgia’s state Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to approve rules for a new commission to discipline and remove state prosecutors, meaning the commission can’t begin operating.Some Republicans in Georgia want the new commission to disci...

  • Biden goes west to talk about his efforts to combat climate change

    Biden goes west to talk about his efforts to combat climate change

    Law Review 08/07/2023

    President Joe Biden will travel to Arizona, New Mexico and Utah next week and is expected to talk about his administration’s efforts to combat climate change as the region endures a brutally hot summer with soaring temperatures, the White House...

  • US climate law is already turbocharging clean energy technology

    US climate law is already turbocharging clean energy technology

    Law Review 07/23/2023

    On a recent day under the July sun, three men heaved solar panels onto the roof of a roomy, two-story house near the banks of the Kentucky River, a few miles upstream from the state capitol where lawmakers have promoted coal for more than a century. ...

Nicholas C. Minshew - Minshew & Ahluwalia LLP

<Nicholas C. Minshew, Attorney at Law, concentrates his practice in the area of Family Law including divorce, separation, child support, child custody, alimony, division of property, separation agreements, domestic violence, prenuptial agreements, and child support enforcement & modification. Mr. Minshew provides legal services to clients in Washington, D.C., and throughout Maryland, including Montgomery County, Frederick County, and Prince George’s County.

Mr. Minshew obtained his Juris Doctorate degree from the American University, Washington College of Law in 2000, where he worked as an editor for the Administrative Law Review. After receiving his law degree, Mr. Minshew worked as an attorney for the global law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, and for Leonard Street & Deinard LLP representing companies in Federal proceedings. During that time, Mr. Minshew redirected his focus to provide legal services directly to individuals and families.