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400,000 immigrants are waiting years for a court hearing

Most immigrants in court are waiting 1-2 years to see this.
Most immigrants in court are waiting 1-2 years to see this.
Andrey Burmakin via Shutterstock

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University keeps tabs on the country's immigration courts — where immigrants go to determine whether they should get legal status, or be deported. As of July 2014, they found, nearly 400,000 immigrants are waiting for their cases to be resolved — a record high, and an increase of over 20 percent in a little under two years.

The average immigrant with a pending case, according to TRAC's data, has been waiting for 567 days — a little over a year and a half.

Here's how it breaks down around the country, based on regional immigration court data. (Kansas is split between the Missouri and Illinois regional courts.):

immigration court backlogs as of july 2014

Immigration courts around the country have been facing a serious backlog for years: more money is poured into federal immigration enforcement, which means more immigrants are coming into the court system, but the courts themselves aren't getting the same increases in funding to hire more judges and staff.

As the number of migrant children and families coming to the US from Central America continued to rise through this spring, it sparked a crisis that threatened to overwhelm the immigration court system — which could barely deal with the immigrants it already had. One of the ways the federal government responded to the crisis was to send a resource "surge" of immigration judges and court officials to Texas, where most of the migrants were entering the US.

The immigration courts with the biggest caseloads are the ones with the biggest immigrant populations — states like Texas, California, New York, and New Jersey. But they appear to have more judges a pair of heartland states who have smaller caseloads but longer waits: Nebraska (and Iowa), and Ohio. But no matter where an immigrant lives in the US — with the exception of Hawaii — her local immigration court isn't going to have the resources to quickly resolve her case.

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