This sponsored column is by Law Office of James Montana PLLC. All questions about it should be directed to James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq., and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at The Law Office of James Montana PLLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact us for an appointment.
We’ve written before about the backlog in the U.S. immigration courts. It’s bad — it’s really bad, and getting worse, and it’s getting worse in new and interesting ways.
The good folks at Syracuse University’s TRAC system, who usually cultivate the same authorial blandness as The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, describe it as an “avalanche of cases” which is “accelerating at a breakneck pace.” When our firm founder began practicing in 2011, there were about 250,000 noncitizens awaiting trial. Now, there are 1.6 million, and the quarterly increase is up to 150,000.
Let’s consider a few intuitively reasonable (but false) explanations for why this is happening:
- Trump did it.
No, he didn’t. The Trump Administration certainly put the pedal to the floor on immigration enforcement in all sorts of ways, but the peak quarterly number of cases sent to immigration court was in FY 2019 — 78,000. That’s roughly half of the current figure.
(We hasten to add that the backlog got much worse under Trump. The immigration courts started in January 2017 with a backlog of 542,411 and ended with 1.2M. But the numbers don’t lie — the Biden administration has added another 400,000 in one year; it took the Trump administration four years to exceed that number.)
- COVID did it.
No, it didn’t. There are two important metrics for measuring the efficiency of an assembly line: the number of widgets that go in, and the number of widgets that go out. In immigration court, we call those “Case Initiations” and “Case Completions.” COVID lowered the case completion rate from 40,000 per month to about 6,000 per month in the worst stages of the pandemic, but case completion rates are back up to 22,000 per month. That drop — 18,000 per month, from peak efficiency to current efficiency — represents only about 20% of the quarterly increase in the backlog.
So, what’s the main cause? The answer is simple: The Department of Homeland Security is initiating many more cases. We don’t know the reason why, but, digging into the numbers, our suspicion is that these cases are starting at the border. The Trump Administration’s “adjudicate cases at the border and keep them out” approach failed, and, so far, the Biden administration’s “rapid, fair, and orderly” approach is failing, too.
Our main goal in these columns is to provide readers with accurate information about what is happening to immigrants in our community and country; with rare exceptions, this isn’t about us. But our experiences in immigration court over the past two years have been — shall we say — representative of the general chaos.
One of our lawyers has had four trials cancelled on short notice — once, with a phone call less than 72 hours before trial. Another one of our lawyers has been waiting for a written decision, post-trial, for eight months. (Decisions are typically issued from the bench about thirty seconds after the closing statement.) And, in the past two weeks, we’ve noticed a large number of cases being scheduled, descheduled, and rescheduled in the court’s filing system, sometimes in a matter of days, frequently with no judge assigned to the case at all. We’re all doing our best — prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys alike — but the system is not working.
A final note — it’s important to admit such things — we made a tentative prediction just a month ago, before these quarterly numbers came out:
“We predict that the Omicron variant will have little impact on the functioning of the immigration courts. Trials will continue. Perhaps the immigration court backlog will even begin to decline.”
Boy oh boy were we wrong!
As always, we welcome your thoughts and questions and will do our best to respond.
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Arlington and its neighbors have become more segregated in the last 10 years while fair housing legislation at the state level faces significant roadblocks. Arlington’s fair housing enforcement, education, and commitment to equity practices in housing policy and programs are beginning to show signs of improvement but much more needs to be done.
Join the NAACP Arlington Branch, HOME of Virginia, and Equal Rights Center for the 2nd Annual Arlington Fair Housing Conference on April 15th to discuss the threats and opportunities to advancing fair housing policy across the state and within Arlington.
The half-day, in-person event will feature speakers from fair housing advocacy organizations and government agencies including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and focus on fair housing policy trends in Virginia and Arlington County. The conference aims to advance the understanding of issues and policies related to equity and affirmatively further fair housing among local officials, advocates, and members of the public.
2nd Annual Arlington Fair Housing Conference
Is home ownership a goal of yours in 2023? Now is the time to make it happen! Grab a (virtual) drink with the area’s top Real Estate experts, learn all about the home buying process and on how you can get $1,500 towards your closing costs immediately!
Did you know the average Arlington renter will spend $150K in 5 years of renting? Stop paying down someone else’s mortgage! Join us for a Rent vs. Buy Happy Hour on Wednesday, April 5th at 6 p.m. via Zoom. If this time doesn’t work, we also are offering times convenient for your schedule!
A lot has happened in the local market since the beginning of the pandemic. Sip on your drink of choice and learn from Northern Virginia, Arlington and Washingtonian Magazines top producing agents! We will discuss the latest market updates, the home buying process and rent vs. buy cost savings. Please RSVP by clicking here.
Call/text Manavi at 703-869-6698 with any questions!
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WHS Spring Festival
Join us at the WHS Spring Festival on April 22, 2023, from 10am- 3pm at Wakefield High School(main parking lot). Come out to shop, play, and eat!
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