Why do we have an enormous backlog of immigration cases along our southern border? Well, as far back as 2006 the immigration backlog had already reached 169,000 cases, so the Bush administration asked for more funding for immigration judges. Congress ignored the request. Then, in 2008, we passed a law guaranteeing judicial proceedings for children who arrive from countries other than Canada or Mexico. That increased the backlog further, and when Barack Obama took office he tried to at least fill all the existing judicial vacancies. But as Stephanie Mencimer reports, that wasn’t nearly enough:
Immigration judges can expect to handle 1,500 cases at any given time. By comparison, Article I federal district judges handle about 440 cases, and they get several law clerks to help manage the load. Immigration judges have to share a single clerk with two or three other judges. The lack of staffing creates an irony that seems to be lost on the current Congress: Too few judges means that people with strong cases languish for years waiting for them to get resolved, while people with weak cases who should probably be sent home quickly get to stay in the United States a few years waiting for a decision.
….Today, there are 243 judges—just 13 more than in 2006 and 21 fewer than at the end of 2012—and more than 30 vacancies the government is trying to fill. All this despite the fact that the immigration court backlog has increased nearly 120 percent since 2006. And that was before the kids started coming.
Obama has tried to get funding for more judges as part of the annual budgeting process. No luck. He’s tried to pass comprehensive immigration reform that included funding for more judges. No luck. Now he’s trying to get emergency funding for the border crisis that would include money for more judges. So far, no luck.
There are, obviously, multiple causes of the current border crisis. As usual, though, Congress is one of them—and, in particular, obstructive congressional Republicans who aren’t really much interested in doing something that would fix an ongoing border crisis that provides them with useful political attack ads. If Congress needs someone to point the finger of blame at, all they have to do is look in a mirror.