Thousands of California Immigration Cases Put on Hold for Five Years

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The surge in minors and families emigrating from the south had a significant effect on immigrants already in the United States seeking legalization in the courts—it pushed some of them back in the line to go before a judge.

Earlier this month, many already waiting to see a judge were told they’d wait a bit longer—until November 29, 2019, according to Devlin Barrett of The Wall Street Journal. Those put on hold are primarily people with nonpriority cases; they’re not incarcerated and are living freely here, nor do they have an immediate issue that must be decided by a judge.

The move came because the Obama administration last summer gave priority to the unaccompanied minors and families who recently came to the United States. 

The number of immigrants waiting to see a judge is staggering; about 430,000 are currently backed up. In California alone, there are more than 85,000 people, the population of a medium-sized city, whose cases are pending. Texas is next with more than 74,000 people waiting.

All those people are waiting for a spot on the calendars of only 230 immigration judges.

In California, 50,609 of those with cases pending are in Los Angeles and 28,992 are in San Francisco. There are 3,218 in San Diego, 1,852 in Imperial County and 776 in Adelanto. The California backlog more than doubled from 39,131 in 2006, and grew by 8,201 the past two years.

People in the state have been queued up for a hearing an average of 705 days—792 in Los Angeles. However, those numbers don’t reflect how much longer they must wait before their cases are actually resolved.

The average time for a hearing to be completed at the Otay Mesa location is 6,056 days. Unlike most locations, Otay Mesa hears only cases involving Mexicans. The federal building in San Diego Federal takes 4,296 days on average to complete a case, but the average for Mexicans (6,006) is much higher that El Salvadorans (877). The same goes for the Mira Loma Detention Facility, where Mexican cases take 5,892 days, compared to 2,948 for El Salvadorans. Immigrants from Afghanistan (5,846) and Peru (5,805) take longer, but Nigerian cases were concluded in 70 days and Fijians were finished in 7.

There is some hope for those whose court dates were pushed back to 2019 though. Sources in the immigration court system say the backlog could clear sooner after judges clear out the priority cases.

–Steve Straehley and Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Immigrants Could Wait Until 2019 to Have Cases Resolved (by Seth Robbins, Associated Press)

U.S. Delays Thousands of Immigration Hearings by Nearly 5 Years (by Devlin Barrett, Wall Street Journal)

Immigration Court Backlog Tool (Transactional Records Clearinghouse, Syracuse University)

Supreme Court Decision on “Aged-Out” Immigrants Disrupts Normal Ideological Blocs (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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