Growing backlog of immigration courts leaves many migrants in limbo

Immigrant rights advocates and immigration lawyers are increasingly concerned whether the number of migrants apprehended along our southern border will worsen an already huge backlog in immigration courts .

However, Congress remains divided over what should be included as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

“How would you characterize what is happening right now? KPRC 2 investigator Robert Arnold asked.

“Well, it’s definitely a mess,” said Jeronimo Cortina, Ph.D., associate director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston.

Cortina said our current system is outdated and ignores the current state of world affairs and what drives so many migrants to our border.

“The ultimate concern is that our immigration policy will never be corrected and that we will continue on the same path,” Cortina said. “It must be policy-free, otherwise, we’re not going anywhere.”

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Cortina talks about a path that recently led around 15,000 Haitian migrants to Del Rio where they had to camp under a bridge, while waiting to be processed by the border patrol. Migrant rights group FIEL executive director Cesar Espinosa said the current system also underestimates the desperation of migrants fleeing poverty, corruption, crime and natural disasters.

“They said: ‘We have tried, but there is no solution, and when we have two children who are starving, we just have to do what we have to do,” Espinosa said.

Adding to the problem is the way our country handles asylum claims from most of those caught crossing the border illegally, Houston immigration attorney Charles Foster.

“For people who are desperate they want to take it, just like people who go to Vegas, they want to take a chance and win in this system for a better life,” Foster said.

The clearinghouse for information on access to transactional documents managed by Syracuse University has shown since 2017, between 60 and 70% of asylum decisions issued by immigration courts refusing assistance. However, TRAC data shows that it can take years for these decisions to be made. According to the TRAC database, more than 1.4 million cases are pending in immigration court and nationally one case is pending an average of 950 days. In Houston immigration courts, which are more crowded, the average case length is 1,203 days.

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“It was never designed to deal with the mass exodus from dysfunctional countries,” Foster said of our asylum system.

As of last week, more than 12,000 Haitian immigrants were released to the United States while their deportation cases are pending.

President Joe Biden’s administration has created a dedicated dossier to speed up recent asylum claims, but that too is already crowded with thousands of cases. Earlier this year, Republican Texas Senator John Cornyn and Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar spearheaded a bill that would see asylum claims heard and decided at the border within days, but the effort is stalled at Capitol Hill. Foster, who has worked with the Republican and Democratic administrations, said faster asylum decisions could help stem the flow.

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“We have to decline the inducement, and that’s what we have now. You can play the system, if you come in and apply for asylum you can stay here for years, ”Foster said.

Another part of the political back and forth concerns the Remain in Mexico program for asylum seekers, which was set up under President Donald Trump. The program required asylum seekers in the United States to remain in Mexico while their cases are pending. Republicans accuse the Biden administration of ending this program with, in large part, fueling the current wave. Texas has sued and obtained a Federal Court ruling to reinstate the program, but the Biden administration is once again trying to end his stay in Mexico for good. A recent filing by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton accuses DHS officials of failing to make a good faith effort to comply with the judge’s order. The problem has not been resolved.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced new priorities for immigration law enforcement on Thursday. Mayorkas said he wanted ICE to focus much of its efforts on removing migrants who pose a danger to national security, public safety and border security.

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“In exercising this discretion, we are guided by knowing that there are individuals in our country who have been here for generations and have contributed to the well-being of our country, including those who have been on the front lines. in the battle against COVID, lead faith congregations and educate our children. As we strive to provide them with a path to status, we will not work in conflict spending resources seeking to eliminate those who do not pose a threat and, in fact, make our nation stronger, ”he said. Mayorkas said in a statement announcing the new priorities.

According to US Customs and Border Protection, more than 1,541,651 migrants have been apprehended or found inadmissible to the United States since October 1, the start of fiscal year 2021. This is the highest number of apprehensions in 21 years.

Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston – All rights reserved.

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