Houston immigration attorney John Nechman used to wear a suit to work practically every day because he was always in court. But things drastically changed about a year and a half ago, when all of his removal cases scheduled to be heard in Houston’s downtown immigration court were reset to the same ten-day span in November 2019. Now he practically never has to go to court. He says it’s like that for every immigration attorney in town.
“It’s bizarre,” Nechman said in an interview. “There are waiting rooms [in the downtown court] with no people. I don’t even know if the judges are actually behind their doors. If you talk to any regular practitioner in immigration removal cases, this is just strange to all of us. I don’t even have to take my car in for servicing like I used to. In the past, I’d be driving out to all the detention centers practically every day. Now, it’s once a week at most.”
The immense backlog in Texas’s immigration courts is certainly not new. In May last year, the Houston Chronicle reported that a large number of cases stemming from before 2014 were being reset to 2019. But the backlog problem appears to be getting worse, or, at best, remains stagnant. According to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which gathers data on immigration court proceedings, as of December 2015, Texas had the second-most pending immigration cases with nearly 77,000, trailing only California’s 82,000. Since 2014, the state’s backlog has increased 58 percent. The average projected wait total for each pending case in Houston is now nearly five years.
BY LEIF REIGSTAD for Houston Press
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