As US immigration courts opened on Monday to the 86,000 cases that were canceled during the shutdown, attorneys speculatde that it could take years to get through this backlog.
As of the end of November, it was estimated that there were more than 800,000 cases pending before the immigration courts.
Jennifer Williams, an immigration law attorney at Legal Aid in New York City said, “They’re going to be playing catch-up for years.”
These courts were closed, unlike the Federal District Courts, because they are funded by the Department of Justice. During the shutdown the courts were only hearing cases from those who were in custody.
Judge Ashley Tabaddor said some judges have 5,500 pending cases and are already booked through the end of 2020. The backlog is troubling for immigrants because, in the two or three year wait to get a new court date, immigration laws could change.
There is a proposal from President Donald Trump that would add 75 immigration judges to the system in addition to ramping up border security. His proposal would stop many immigrants from entering the country in the first place and prevent others from bringing their case to the court at all, cutting down the backlog.
Jeff Sessions, as attorney general, enacted new requirements for judges to hear 700 cases a year and to prevent them from administratively closing cases that could not be heard without more factual information. These administrative closures were used liberally during the Obama administration to hide the backlog.