U.S. Capital

Thousands of Immigration Hearings Will Be Delayed Up to Five Years, Justice Department Announces

Feb 18, 2015

Houston, TX (Law Firm Newswire) February 18, 2015 – Clearly indicating that the U.S. immigration court system is plagued by backlogs, the Justice Department has announced that the hearing date for thousands of immigrants will be pushed back nearly five years. 

And on the same day the department made the announcement, the Senate held confirmation hearings for the president’s nominee for attorney general. In them, immigration became an unexpectedly prominent and heated issue.

The Justice Department’s January 28 announcement is likely to affect thousands, if not tens of thousands, of immigrants. Most affected individuals are considered nonpriority cases, living freely and not in detention. Those immigrants whose cases will be delayed do not have a pressing issue that requires an immediate hearing before an immigration judge. These cases will be deferred to a date that has been tentatively set for the day after Thanksgiving in 2019.

The decision follows a surge in the number of unaccompanied minors and families who crossed the border with Mexico last summer. Prior to the wave of summertime arrivals, immigration courts, which are directly overseen by the Justice Department, were already understaffed and overwhelmed with cases — 230 U.S. immigration judges handle more than 375,000 cases, which works out to an average wait time of nearly 600 days.

“The fact that the U.S. immigration court system is saturated with so many cases that multi-year wait times for hearings have become the norm is not really a new phenomenon,” said Annie Banerjee, a prominent attorney in Houston who specializes in immigration law. “What is new, though, is the administration’s decision to prioritize cases of unaccompanied minors and families.”

Across town on Capitol Hill on the 28th, senators were grilling Loretta Lynch, the department’s designated new chief, on immigration.

At her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lynch was peppered with questions regarding the constitutionality of President Obama’s November executive action on immigration. Lynch stated that she believed the president acted within his authority as chief executive to defer the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants. But Lynch, who is currently the United States attorney in Brooklyn, also said that she would respect the decision of the courts, were they to find the president’s actions unconstitutional.

Democrats on the committee stressed that immigration should not be the focus of Lynch’s confirmation hearings, but they nonetheless asked questions that afforded her the opportunity to support the White House in her responses. Meanwhile, Republicans repeatedly zeroed in on the topic of immigration when questioning Lynch, pressing the attorney general nominee on whether she agreed with departing Attorney General Eric Holder on the issue, particularly with respect to undocumented immigrants.

“It is not really surprising that the Republicans newly in control of the Senate would come out swinging against a major Obama Cabinet nominee at their first opportunity,” Banerjee said. “And in the wake of the president’s executive action on immigration, what better target than his choice to lead the department that oversees the immigration court system?”

Learn more at http://www.visatous.com

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