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New York Immigration Court Backlog Reaches Historic High

More cases are pending than ever according to new data from Syracuse University

The immigration court backlog in New York state has reached a historic high, according to data recently released by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

In fiscal year 2021, which ended on September 30, 2021, New York immigration courts had 161,562 pending cases – a 22,000 case increase from the previous fiscal year. The vast majority of those pending cases were in New York City. In the first quarter of the 2022 fiscal year, from October through the end of December, the New York immigration court backlog jumped to 167,614 pending cases, according to TRAC. 

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New York’s numbers mirror a national trend, according to TRAC’s analysis. At the end of December, there were nearly 1.6 million pending cases in immigration courts across the country, which is the largest in history, a TRAC report released Tuesday said. 

The number of national pending immigration court cases is nearly the size of the population of Philadelphia, the TRAC analysis found.

Since the beginning of the Biden administration, “the growth of the backlog has been accelerating at a breakneck pace,” the report says. Nationally, the quarterly growth in the number of pending Immigration court cases between October and December 2021 “is the largest on record,” according to TRAC. 

In this three month period from October to December 2021, the backlog grew by nearly 140,000 cases — which is significantly higher than even the greatest growth of pending cases during the Trump Administration. 

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The Clearinghouse said that the main contributor to the rising number of pending cases is the recent spurt of cases filed by the Department of Homeland Security, not the pace at which cases are completed. Additionally, the shut down of many immigration courts during the pandemic has, “of course,” contributed to the expansion of the backlog, TRAC said.

“These findings suggest that the Immigration Courts are entering a worrying new era of even more crushing caseloads — all the more concerning since no attempt at a solution has yet been able to reverse the avalanche of cases that Immigration Judges now face,” the study said. 

“The immigration courts are in crisis and there needs to be major changes,” said Samuel Cole, the Executive Vice President of the National Association of Immigration Judges. The “only way out of the backlog is to have an independent immigration court, with professional administration of the court, outside of the political machinations of the Department of Justice,” he added.

The backlog has led to each immigration judge, on average, having over 2,700 cases under their umbrella of responsibility, Cole said. “The worst part is not the strain on the judges. That’s our job. The strain’s on the respondents who have to wait, and wait, and wait,” he said.

This story was updated to include comments from Samuel Cole, the Executive Vice President of the National Association of Immigration Judges.

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