The number of cases awaiting resolution before the Immigration Courts reached a new all-time high of 297,551 by the end of September 2011, according to very timely government enforcement data obtained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). The case backlog has continued to grow — up 4.2 percent — since TRAC's previous report for data up to the end of July 2011, and 60 percent higher than levels at the end of FY 2008 (see Figure 1).
Wait times slightly decreased since our last report. The average time these pending cases have been waiting in the Immigration Courts of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) is now 489 days, compared with 490 days at the end of July this year.
Backlog by Charge
A mere 8.3 percent of the pending caseload was made up of "criminal" cases — that is, those charged with criminal activities, actions adverse to national security, or aiding terrorism. This is down from 9.1 percent at the end of fiscal year 2010.
In contrast, 91 percent of the current backlog involved individuals charged with violating immigration rules, e.g., entering the country illegally, entering legally but overstaying their visas, or violating other procedural requirements. This category of pending cases has climbed sharply this year, up from 236,415 at the end of FY 2010 to 270,159 at the end of September 2011.
The average days cases have been pending are longer for individuals facing immigration charges (497 days) compared with those facing criminal charges (403 days). Because cases with immigration charges tend to move through the courts more slowly, they accumulate and thus make up a larger proportion of the pending caseload than of court filings generally. (See TRAC report examining ICE deportation filings by charge. For a detailed listing of the actual charges ICE has used, see this table.)
Among individual Immigration Courts, Memphis, Kansas City and Charlotte had the lowest proportion of criminal cases (2.9%), followed by New Orleans (3.1%) and Elizabeth (3.4%). Baltimore and New York also had 4 percent or fewer criminal cases in their pending workload.
In only two courts — Napanoch (New York) and York (Pennsylvania) — did criminal cases make up more than half of the court backlog. All other courts — whether handling detained or nondetained individuals — had only a minority of criminal cases in their pending caseloads
Full details — by charge, state, nationality, Immigration Court and hearing location — can be viewed in TRAC's backlog application, now updated with data through September 30, 2011.
Wait Times by State
Wait Times by Nationality
Highest Growth Rates in Pending Cases
Courts With Declining Case Backlogs