Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a new memo Wednesday urging immigration courts to more quickly process cases and to start chipping away at the backlog.
In the Wednesday memo to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, Sessions said immigration courts need to commit to “the timely and efficient adjudication of immigration cases.” He also said 60 additional immigration judges would be hired in the next sixth months to help with the work.
The Trump administration has been trying to change the "culture" of how immigration lawyers handle immigration cases, by relying less on a tool used under the Obama administration to delay court decisions on whether to remove illegal immigrants.
Sessions listed five “core principles” that he said EOIR personnel should adhere to when adjudicating these cases. One of these is that “unwarranted delays and delayed decision making” do not serve “the national interest.”
Under former President Barack Obama, immigration attorneys would routinely push for an administrative closure, or a pause in the proceedings, before an immigration judge. That delay would leave cases for illegal immigrants in limbo.
A report released by the Center for Immigration Studies earlier this year said the Obama era used this procedure on 200,000 deportation cases over eight years.
Sessions also reminded all EOIR staff and officials that they are to apply immigration laws “as enacted, irrespective of our personal policy preferences.”
Another “core principle” is to promptly and lawfully resolve “meritless” cases or motions before the courts or the appeals board, as well as to follow EOIR’s “performance measures” when adjudicating cases.
Sessions also reminded EOIR officials that there is often fraud in the immigration court system, and that fraud can lead to “delays, inefficiencies and the improper provision of immigration benefits.” Fraud should be immediately documents and reported, Sessions wrote.
"With today’s memo, the Attorney General reaffirms his commitment to the rule of law and to the timely and proper adjudication of immigration court cases,” said EOIR Acting Director James McHenry in a statement Wednesday. “EOIR has already begun to see the effects of this commitment, and — with the same dedication from EOIR staff, attorneys, and judges — can further work toward realizing our goal of cutting the pending caseload in half by 2020.”
According to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, at Syracuse University, there are roughly 650,000 pending cases in the federal immigration court system. A majority of those are in California (120,000) and Texas (102,000).
Also Wednesday, the Justice Department released EOIR data on the first 10 months of the Trump administration. From Feb. 1 to Nov. 30, court orders of “removal” of an illegal immigration from the U.S. by the Department of Homeland Security were up 30 percent over the same time last year.
Roughly 87,000 people were ordered deported by immigration judges in that time span.
Immigration judges also ordered 100,000 illegal immigrants to leave the country voluntarily by a certain time, or risk being deported — a jump of 34 percent over the same time last year.
And nearly 128,000 final decisions were made immigration cases before an immigration judge during the 10 month period, the EOIR said. That's up 18,200 over the same time period last year.