US immigration court caseloads spike amid government crackdown

Backlogs at US immigration courts are up by more than 30 percent in the past 18 months, according to a Syracuse University research center study [text]. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse [official website] study found that the 4,145 cases referred to federal prosecutors in March and April were the most in any two-month period since the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency [official website] was created under the Bush administration five years ago. The extra workload has also increased wait times for rulings, up to an average of 443 days. Among nationalities, Armenians with cases pending have the longest wait times of 938 days — more than twice the national average. Other nationalities whose citizens were within the top five in terms of the length their cases had been pending were Indonesia (731 days), Lebanon (688 days), Albania (830 days), and Iran (594 days). The heightened caseloads come as the federal government stiffens immigration enforcement and local police offices are increasing communications with immigration officials. As of January 2009, there were an estimated 10.8 million illegal immigrants in the US, 1 million less than 2007, according to the Department of Homeland Security [official website]. In the same period, deportations have more than doubled, peaking at 387,790 last year.

Federal authorities have indicated that the workload would continue to grow [AP report] if Arizona's new immigration enforcement law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive] is implemented. The Arizona law criminalizes illegal immigration and requires police officers to question an individual's immigration status if the officer has a "reasonable suspicion" to believe an individual is in the country illegally. The constitutionality of the law has been widely disputed, and the legislation is now facing several lawsuits [JURIST report]. Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform [statement; JURIST report], noting the role of immigrants throughout US history and indicating that immigrants must continue to play a role as the country grows and develops. He acknowledged the continuing difficulty with securing the border but cited efforts made by the administration to improve enforcement of current laws, including increased numbers of enforcement agents.

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