Reduction in Courts’ Backlog

Erick Widman

Given the record number of apprehensions along the southern border of the United States for a second year, concern is growing over the backlog of immigration cases in courts. Immigration lawyers say the status quo cannot prevail or case volumes will continue to increase. We do not see a distinct plan for how the government is prioritizing the 1.9 million immigration cases of current backlog, a number that has more than doubled over the last five years according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) maintained by Syracuse University. TRAC indicates that 1,565,966 asylum seekers are waiting for their hearings in the courts.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memos define “priority” cases as those which involve people who are a threat to public safety, national security, or border security. Many cases related to low-level offenses, or cases with incomplete paperwork, linger in the judicial system.

Lack of resources is another factor plaguing the courts. This year, funding was secured to hire 100 new judges for immigration court, but it takes time to hire and train them.

Our expert immigration lawyers help individuals and businesses located throughout the United States and around the globe. If you are interested in our immigration services or would like to set up a phone or in-person consultation with a seasoned immigration lawyer, please give us a call at (503) 427-8243 or schedule a consultation here.

Reduction in Courts’ Backlog

After the former administration piled on immigration case upon immigration case, the Biden administration now faces a severe backlog. The graphic below represents how of the hundreds of thousands of people seeking to get immigrant visas, only a few have interviews scheduled. For example, the 2019 monthly average of people waiting for visa interviews was 60,866. In 2021, there were 506,221 people waiting. This backlog makes Biden’s attempts to reform the system more difficult, but immigration advocates are hopeful that Biden will succeed in dismantling the Trump administration’s restrictive policies while making his own mark on the system through substantial reform.

Source: Analysis of data from DOS webpage, “National Visa Center (NVC) Immigrant Visa Backlog Report

There is hopeful news. On Friday June 25th, ICE lawyers were given the discretion to drop cases against longtime residents and those deeply rooted in the United States. On Friday, it was also suggested that cases more than five-years-old be delayed. This measure would nix another 200,000 cases from the backlog. In other news, the Department of State (DOS) has broadened interview waiver eligibility for NIVs and consular posts are starting to hold routine visa services as before.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has seven suggestions about how to eliminate backlog for the Biden administration:

  1. Reopen America
  2. Resume statewide processing of visa renewals
  3. Expand visa interview waiver eligibility
  4. Automatically extend visas that have expired during the COVID-19 global pandemic by 24 months
  5. Maximize staffing on IV processing at consular posts
  6. Revise regulations to allow virtual immigrant and non-immigrant visa interviews
  7. Leverage US-based consular officers to adjudicate visa applications.

Take Action and advocate for the Biden administration’s elimination of restrictive immigration policies (i.e. Title 42 and COVID-19 based travel bans) by filling out AILA’s three-question form (at the bottom of the linked article) that will email US lawmakers to urge them to make reforms.

Dent in Green Card Backlog in November

The Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC) saw a minor reduction (3.6%) in the backlog of immigrant visa (IV), from 399,286 waiting cases last month to 384,760 cases in November.

NVC reveals that the number of green card applicants whose cases were documentarily complete (i.e., all the required documents have been presented to and accepted by the NVC and an interview is waiting to be scheduled) also reduced this month by more than 12,000, from 435,063 to 423,367. The number of DC cases, overall, has been on a downward trend since July 2021.

The number of applicants waiting for interviews of green card also decreased by nearly 3,000 from October to November. Whereas in November, the NVC scheduled 38,607 interviews, they scheduled 35,777 interviews in October. Although this number is not significant yet, any news about a reduction in the green card backlog is welcome and promising.

If you have legal immigration concerns, get them answered by our expert immigration attorneys right away.

A Vital Rethinking of the System

Deep systemic changes are required to address the backlog. While both the Obama and Biden governments changed their immigration enforcement priorities to focus on those with criminal backgrounds, it is not clear if such re-prioritization will affect caseloads overwhelming the immigration courts. Even after the Administration of Obama changed its priorities for immigration enforcement, the court backlog continued to increase.

The Justice Department and DHS announced a “dedicated docket” in May 2021 to serve those who entered into the United States on or after May 28, 2021. The new docket promised to speed up decision times—a judge in one of 10 cities would finalize the case within 300 days of the hearing, as per the announcement.

Although the dedicated docket was designed to take into account the backlog for recently-arrived families, it fails to address the staggering systemic failures at work, according to elected officials, immigration attorneys, and advocacy organizations. The new docket is criticized as “premised on the faulty assumption that the ten cities selected for this proposal have excess or spare capacity to provide legal representation.” Both the Trump and Obama Administrations also made efforts but failed to implement similar expedited dockets.

See an Immigration Lawyer

With offices in Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, California, and Washington, Passage Immigration Law is a firm ready to assist you and your family through all immigration matters. Our expert immigration attorneys are ready to guide you through the complexities of family and employment immigration, citizenship, DACA protection, deportation, and much more. We strive to provide highly individualized, customized, and cost-effective services.

Our immigration lawyers approach every client interaction with professionalism and a sense of urgency. We understand that we have been entrusted with a significant responsibility: assisting our foreign national clients shape their destinies and lives in this country. Our team of immigration lawyers appreciates the speediness required when getting visas for critical personnel and works tirelessly to ensure your requirements are met.

When other law firms say “no,” we welcome you with open arms. Do not hesitate to contact us to discuss your immigration issues with our dedicated law firm. Contact us today at (503) 427-8243 or you schedule a consultation here.

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