5 things to know about immigration courts

The Associated PressJuly 12, 2014 

Immigration Overload Courts

FILE - This June 18, 2014, file photo, detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, processing facility in Brownsville,Texas. Immigration courts backlogged by years of staffing shortages and tougher enforcement face an even more daunting challenge since tens of thousands of Central Americans began arriving on the U.S. border fleeing violence back home. For years, children from Central America traveling alone and immigrants who prove they have a credible fear of returning home have been entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge.

ERIC GAY, POOL, FILE — AP Photo

An overlooked element in the immigration debate is the nation's Immigration Court system, where many of the newly arrived migrants will have their cases resolved. Here are key facts about the court system and its struggles:

OVERFLOWING CASELOAD

The number of immigrants with cases before the immigration courts has jumped 7 percent since October to more than 375,000, the agency's highest caseload to date. The number of cases before the immigration courts rose by 23,000 during the previous fiscal year.

WAIT TIMES

The average time a pending case has been before the immigration courts is now 587 days, which is about 19 months, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Immigration lawyers say getting a hearing can take much longer than that. For example, in Los Angeles, the average time a case has been before the immigration court is more than two years, data show.

COURT LOCATIONS

The country has 59 immigration courts overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice. Some are inside detention centers, while others deal with immigrants who are not detained. The states with the biggest immigration caseloads are California, New York and Texas.

DEPORTATION VERSUS RELIEF

Immigration judges decided more than 140,000 initial cases during the 2013 fiscal year, which doesn't include cases reopened or returned on appeal. More than two-thirds of the immigrants were ordered deported, while about 17 percent qualified for relief. Four years earlier, about 82 percent of the initial cases decided by the courts ended in deportation, according to agency statistics.

NATIONALITIES

The top five countries of origin of immigrants with initial cases decided by the court during the 2013 fiscal year were Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and China, according to the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review.

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