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At the Breaking Point: Rethinking the U.S. Immigration Court System

July 20, 2023 (1 min read)

MPI, July 20, 2023

By Muzaffar Chishti, Doris Meissner, Stephen Yale-Loehr, Kathleen Bush-Joseph and Christopher Levesque

"With a backlog of nearly 2 million cases, the U.S. immigration court system is in crisis. Many cases now take years to adjudicate, with asylum seekers, for example, waiting four years on average for their initial hearing and longer for a final decision. Serious concerns have also been raised about the quality of court decisions.

These twin issues of caseload quantity and decision quality have wide-ranging roots, from long-standing operational challenges in the courts to new crises in the Americas that have intensified humanitarian protection needs and other migration pressures. The courts' dysfunction has had severe knock-on effects for other parts of the nation’s immigration infrastructure, including notably the immigration enforcement and asylum systems.

This report takes stock of the many challenges facing the immigration courts and outlines recommendations that would advance the goal of delivering decisions that are both timely and fair. It explores issues including court caseload and personnel levels, docket management strategies, the use of technology in the courts, and access to representation. Importantly, the report focuses on changes that can be accomplished administratively—a necessity in a time when Congress has proven itself unlikely to tackle significant immigration matters."