view counter

ImmigrationImmigration cases clog immigration courts across the country

Published 31 July 2014

The highly publicized mass immigration of Central American children into the United States — roughly 57,000 over a little under a year — many court systems are facing a crisis as the number of judges, lawyers, and juries available cannot keep up with demand. Across the United States, that caseload reached 375,373 trials last month — an average of 1,500 per each of the country’s 243 immigration judges. Some rescheduled cases are being pushed back as late as 2017.

Due to the highly publicized mass immigration of Central American children into the United States — roughly 57,000 over a little under a year — many court systems are facing a crisis as the number of judges, lawyers, and juries available cannot keep up with demand.

As theBaltimore Sun reports, nearly 60 percent of the children which are facing deportation are also arriving into courts without lawyers to represent them. Much of this leads to delayed hearings, which only further compounds the crowding, resources, and time needed for effective processing to occur. Across the United States, that caseload reached 375,373 trials last month — an average of 1,500 per each of the country’s 243 immigration judges. Some rescheduled cases are being pushed back as late as 2017.

“We’re extremely overwhelmed,” said Adonia Simpson, managing attorney for immigration legal services at the Esperanza Center in Baltimore, “The numbers are just off the charts.”

TheSun notes that Maryland is a clear example of the problem that is impacting many states.

Judge Lisa Dornell, serving at the George H. Fallon Federal Building in Baltimore, handled many cases last Monday with children that lacked an attorney.

“What efforts have you made to look for a lawyer?” Dornell, with the help of an interpreter, asked the family of a 15-year old Guatemalan boy. Unsurprisingly, the answer was that they could not afford one, as an immigration lawyer in Maryland could cost anywhere from roughly $3,000 to $10,000.

The Maryland State Bar Association, in the meantime, has decided to make the cases of these minors the focus of their pro bono legal work for the year. They are pledging ten attorneys to the effort. As the paper notes, some of their policies could have implications for other states as well, “Those attorneys may help overcome a quirk in immigration law. Because immigration court is a federal endeavor, immigration lawyer do not need to be licensed in the state where they practice.”

Yet despite much of these efforts, many groups that represent child immigrants say the attorney shortage will remain a serious problem. Megan McKenna, a spokeswoman for Kids in Need of Defense reported that referrals for the new attorneys filled up within minutes.

“We have to limit the number of cases we can take every month in each of our offices,” she said, “Our internal resources have just not risen to this incredible situation.”