Immigration courts in the United States that are already suffering from massive backlogs could be thrown into even more chaos next year when almost 50% of the 21 judges on the circuit become eligible for retirement at some point during 2014. There are already 32 vacancies in the court, which has caused a backlog of almost 350,000 cases, according to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which is responsible for overseeing the country’s 59 immigration courts.
As a result of the backlog, immigrants that have perfectly valid asylum claims are spending years in legal limbo, while judges are increasingly overwhelmed. At the same time those immigrants who do not have legitimate legal claims to remain in the United States stay locked up at the taxpayer’s expense.
The average retirement rate is just 5% per annum according to the Executive Office, which would likely see a minimum of 11 judges retiring next year, but many more may be pushed into accepting retirement at the earliest available opportunity because of the increasingly difficult conditions, the National Association of Immigration Judges president, Judge Dana Leigh Marks, believes.
“We are the forgotten stepchild,” Marks notes. “When Congress wants to fund immigration enforcement, they forget about the court.” Marks adds that it can take many months to vet judicial appointments and sometimes even longer for the new judges to then be able to get fully up to speed. Caseloads have increased by 15% in the last two years, yet extra resources are scarce.