In an indication of the incredible delays and backlogs within the immigration system in the United States, thousands of immigrants waiting for hearings have started to receive notices from the Justice Department to say that their cases have been put back by almost five years.
The delays are the result of these cases being pushed to the back of the queue to enable the courts to deal with higher-priority cases, many of which are related to the influx of immigrant families and unaccompanied minors who crossed the border into the United States last summer. Non-priority cases may now not be heard until November 2019. Those connected to the situation say that the number of people affected by the decision will be in the thousands and possibly even the tens of thousands.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association’s director of advocacy, Glen Chen, says that the massive delay is not that unusual in immigration cases. “This backlog has existed for years, and Congress just doesn’t make it a priority,” Chen points out. There are around 230 immigration judges in the United States, who handle over 375,000 cases.
Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) spokeswoman Lauren Alder Reid says that giving priority to cases involving unaccompanied immigrant minors and families is behind the delay. The result of this decision, which was made by the Obama administration, was predicted by the EOIR. “This is exactly what we said was going to happen,” she notes.