One of President Trump’s goals was to quickly deport more immigrants that are in this country illegally. However, if the administration is not able to hire on immigration judges more quickly, that goal won’t become a reality. Read our updated blog on the hiring of new immigration personnel.
It currently takes more than 2 years for the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review to hire new judges, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report. This has led to a backlog of more than half a million cases awaiting adjudication, as of October 2016.
Between 2006-2015, the backlog of pending cases has more than doubled. Staffing levels have increased by 17 percent, but EOIR has processed fewer cases each year. The average number of days to reach an initial decision sky-rocketed from 43 days in 2006 to 286 in 2015. The average case in the systems backlog has been sitting for 404 days.
The office has about 1,000 full-time employees across 58 courts across the country. Judges hear testimony from immigrants from immigrants and individuals the Department of Homeland Security has awaiting removal. They also review documentary evidence.
“The effects of the case backlog are significant and wide-ranging, from some respondents waiting years to have their cases heard to immigration judges being able to spend less time considering cases,” GAO said.
Several factors cited for the growing list of unheard cases include an inadequate number of judges, insufficient clerks and support staff, funding shortages, lack of translators, and a surge of complicated cases involving undocumented children in 2014. GAO also partly blamed the FBI’s security clearance process for slow hiring. However, they found that only accounted for 41 days of the more than 740 it took EOIR to fill vacancies between 2011-2016.
Under the Trump administration so far, ICE has arrested 37 percent more immigrants between January 22 and April 29, compared to the same period in 2016, but removals dropped by 12 percent.
Trump’s FY2018 budget calls for 75 more EOIR judges but the agency has remained well below the staffing threshold authorized by Congress for years. ICE acting director Thomas Homan said, “we certainly think” the administration will restore the deportation rate to that under President Obama. “We have more work than we have resources. We could certainly use more resources.”
In January, President Trump issued an executive order to help ICE agents by eliminating restrictions on deportations and prioritized removals. That could get stalled, though, because GAO found EOIR doesn’t have a long-term plan to deal with its staffing issues and the case backlog.
The agency also hasn’t addressed the close to 40 percent of its workforce is currently eligible for retirement and their operational issues causing the significant spike in the number of continuances.
GAO said, “By addressing its hiring process and developing a hiring strategy that targets staffing needs, EOIR would be better positioned to hire judges more quickly and address its staffing gaps.” EOIR officials mostly agreed with GAO’s recommendations and they have taken steps to address them, but the auditors said the agency’s efforts so far have been insufficient.