Commentary: America’s Immigration Court System Is in Trouble

Since Donald Trump became president in 2016, the Trump Administration has engaged in what seems to be an unprecedented effort to transform our immigration court system—the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)—into little more than a deportation machine. The expansion of immigration enforcement has outpaced the growth of EOIR, creating a bottleneck, and the new quotas for immigration judges will just exacerbate the mess.

With a backlog approaching 700,000 cases, everyone agrees our immigration courts are in crisis. But these quotas will force judges to complete an average of three cases per day, affording less than two hours for individuals facing deportation to present their case and for the judge to consider the evidence and render an informed, deliberate decision.

Many cases are complex matters of life-and-death. For these people, how can the right to a full and fair hearing be accomplished in this time? And if the judges do slow down to carefully consider a complex issue, how will that decision be impacted when a judge knows every extra minute could put them closer to being fired?

In January of last year, the president rescinded ongoing efforts at smarter immigration enforcement. He diverted enforcement efforts from criminals and national security targets to simply anyone, and immigration arrests of non-criminals more than doubled last year. I predict that more people with deep ties to the United States are now in deportation proceedings—people with viable cases to remain here who cannot be moved as quickly through the courts.

During the spring and summer of 2017, judges around the nation were unnecessarily pulled out of their courtrooms for temporary assignments along the U.S.-Mexican border, further swelling court dockets. Several judges reported having little to do, border arrests were down in 2017, and net migration from Mexico has steadily been at or near zero. Then, starting last summer, government attorneys began opposing most motions to administratively close or terminate proceedings, even for the most vulnerable members of our society, like abused children and victims of domestic violence, who are pursuing legal avenues to remain in the United States through agencies other than EOIR. Now, their cases remain on the court docket unless the judge closes the case over government opposition.

By Jeremy McKinney for FORTUNE
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