Chaos, Backlogs Straining Immigration Courts

Jeong-Seok Kang nervously slides into a seat at a wooden table in front of the judge.

Kang, a slim, middle-age man, is from South Korea. He’d been living in the Dallas area for years when, after he was stopped on a road trip near El Paso, authorities discovered he had an expired visa and began deportation proceedings against him.

His attorney, Jack Kim, goes to work explaining to Judge Deitrich Sims that Kang should have “derivative” legal status. He hands a fat sheaf of documents to the judge. Kang’s wife recently got her green card, the attorney tells the judge, so he argues that Kang should get permanent residency, too.

His wife strains her neck to watch from a back row in the crowded Dallas immigration court.

“Any criminal history?” the judge asks in a low voice.

“No,” comes a quick answer.

Kang has been in America long enough to raise two sons and run a family-owned doughnut shop in Irving. After years of worrying, he thinks he’s about to find out his fate. Things look promising.

But Sims sets a merit hearing for Dec. 6, 2017.

Kang is caught in an immigration court system that is bursting with huge caseloads and stressed by a seemingly endless shortage of judges. The U.S. immigration court backlog is at a record 474,000 cases — nearly triple the number from a decade ago.

The average case now takes two years to wind through the courts. Some can take five.

The backlog annoys both the political left and right. U.S. Rep. Jack Ratcliffe, R-Heath, called it a “de facto amnesty” at a recent congressional hearing. Immigrants live in the U.S. for years waiting to find out whether they can, well, live in the U.S.

By DIANNE SOLÍS of The Dallas Morning News
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