Two top federal judges Wednesday said the nation’s immigration courts are in chaos, with the backlog of cases at an historic high of 375,000 for just 227 judges, leading to a minimum three-year delay in hearings for illegal immigrants.
In Washington to take advantage of the current crisis to demand a new court system, the judges accused the Justice Department of treating their courts like Cinderella’s abusive family by starving them of money and support and blamed the insufficient Justice funding for letting illegals “linger” in the country.
“Immigration courts are the forgotten stepchild,” said Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks of San Francisco. She was speaking on behalf of the National Association of Immigration Judges, which she is president of.
Fellow Judge Denise Noonan Slavin, the vice president of the judge’s union, said that the courts have the “status of Cinderella,” having to scrounge for supplies, support and money. She said that the lack of money forces judges to delay cases and that is “allowing those who are not entitled to be here, linger.”
During their appearance at a National Press Club event, they also said that the defense lawyers President Obama promised in June have not shown up. Obama pledged $2 million to Americorps, which was to supply the legal aid.
Asked if she had seen any yet, Marks said, “We have not.” Slavin, of Miami, said, “We haven’t seen an impact.”
While the judges said they are feeling pressure to speed up processing of the swarms of unaccompanied children crossing the border in the latest crisis, the caseload of about 1,500 per judge is bogging the system down. Marks said that it can take 15 months before the first hearing for an illegal is held, and then the final court session won’t take place for three to four years.
And the duo said the situation is getting worse — and may prompt judges to quit.
“It’s a high-stress job,” said Marks. She said that there could be a “tsunami of retirements.”
The two judges recommended that the immigration court system be given an independent role, broken off from Justice, and properly funded. Marks said that the number of judges should be doubled.
“We don’t believe the Department of Justice is advocating for us,” said Marks. “We need to have more money.”