Immigration Courts Not Working Well


By Robert Cyr
Increased enforcement and not judges are bogging down the immigration court system.
At least one immigration attorney says overworked judges is a cause of U.S. immigration courts’ inability to keep up with growing caseloads and justice department officials say there’s a hiring freeze.
Hartford-based immigration attorney Michael Ugolini said the system is simply not built to keep up with the demand of increased caseloads and upped enforcement from the Obama administration.
“They have a big fetish on how many cases are completed,” Ugolinin said. “They seem to overemphasize the quantity of the work they do over the quality of it. The real issue is the tremendous caseload they give the judges. They need more judges and more facilities. Obama stepped up enforcement and they didn’t build the machine to handle it.”
A recent report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General found that the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the government agency that oversees immigration courts, is “flawed.”
The 74-page report, which studied fiscal years 2006-2010, found that the number of proceedings grew about 5 percent, from 308,652 in 2006 to 325,326 in 2010. During this period, the number of cases completed by immigration courts decreased about 11 percent, and the overall efficiency of the courts did not improve, regardless of an increase in judges. It also found that the EOIR may be overstating their performance by counting cases more than once.
Hartford immigration court officials declined comment.
Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge in Falls Church, Va., said that EOIR’s caseloads are tied directly to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) enforcement and detention activities and fluctuate as DHS initiates immigration proceedings.
“EOIR constantly monitors its caseload nationwide and shifts resources to meet needs in the most efficient possible manner.  Although a hiring freeze is currently in effect, certain hiring waivers may be granted and the agency is working hard to address its pending cases,” she said.
The Justice Department recommended that the EOIR:

  1. Improve reporting of immigration court data
  2. Get rid of case exemptions from completion goals to show actual case length
  3. Develop immigration court case completion goals for nondetained cases
  4. Study reasons for continuances and provide judges with standards for granting continuances to avoid unnecessary delays
  5. Track the time that judges spend on different types of cases
  6. Collect and monitor data on its use of judges’ staffing details
  7. Develop a model to determine staffing requirements
  8. Get more resources to reduce delays in processing of appeals for non-detained aliens.
  9. Improve BIA appeal statistics data to accurately show appeal processing times

EOIR’s response language included at the end of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General report can be found at the following link.  In fiscal year 2011, EOIR completed 338,114 proceedings, according to Mattingly.  EOIR’s published statistics can be found at the following link.. As of Sept. 30, 2012, EOIR had 325,467 pending proceedings.