Burgeoning Immigration Judge Workloads
The hiring pace for new judges continues to be insufficient to keep up with the Immigration Court's workload. As a result, the court's backlog continues to climb. While 47 new judges were hired during the first six months of FY 2019, others retired or left the bench. Thus, hiring resulted in a net gain of only 29 additional judges. As of the end of March, EOIR reports judge ranks had only climbed to a total of 424. And this total includes an unspecified number serving in administrative roles.
This relatively small number of judges face a backlog of 892,517 cases on the courts' active dockets as of the end of April, setting aside the hundreds of thousands of pending cases that have not yet been re-calendared. The three largest immigration courts were so under-resourced that hearing dates were being scheduled as far out as August 2023 in New York City, October 2022 in Los Angeles, and April 2022 in San Francisco.
The simple fact is that as more and more cases are placed on a single judge's docket, immigrants assigned to that judge are inevitably required to wait longer and longer before an available time slot opens up for their hearing.
This report focuses on what the backlog implies for burgeoning judge workloads at many courts. Findings are based upon the latest court records analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. These data were obtained from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Where Have Judge Workloads Mushroomed?
If the active pending caseload were spread evenly across all judges, the per judge caseloads would amount to over two thousand cases per judge (892,517/424=2,105). This is already an astonishingly high caseload that - even at the controversial pace now prescribed of 700 case closures per judge per year - would take fully three years to work through. And during this period if the situation didn't change, the number of new cases coming through the court's doors would be building up an ever larger backlog.
However, caseloads aren't evenly spread. In courts handling detained immigrants who receive priority in docketing, the pending per judge caseloads are much lower to help ensure that hearings can be scheduled more quickly. To make up for lower per judge caseloads at detained locations, judges at the remaining courts are left to handle much higher relative caseloads.
This section focuses on the 25 courts that account for 92 percent of the immigration court's current backlog. For judges serving in these courts, the typical (median) judge caseload is just under three thousand cases. Twenty percent of these judges have caseloads of four thousand or more cases. One judge in the Houston Immigration Court is currently assigned 9,048 cases!
Figure 1. Highest Judge Caseloads in the 25 Immigration Courts With Most Pending Cases
(Click for larger image)
Because of differences in relative staffing levels, there is also considerable variability in caseloads across these 25 courts. Figure 1 shows court-by-court, as of the end of April 2019, the highest pending caseload a judge in each of these courts had been assigned.
Next to the Houston court, the highest judge caseload was found in the Arlington Immigration Court (7,203 cases), followed by the Dallas Immigration Court (7,067 cases). The Newark Immigration Court (6,927 cases) and Baltimore Immigration Court (6,842 cases) were not far behind. See Table 1. Note that none of these figures includes additional cases that judges may have been assigned outside their home court. Outside assignments occur when judges are temporarily detailed to another court, or are assigned cases outside their home court that are handled via video-conferencing.
At the other end of the continuum, the Miami, Phoenix, and Denver Immigration Courts have generally lower relative caseloads. In these courts the highest workload assigned a judge ranged between 2,509 and 2,672 cases. Table 1 provides details on pending caseloads in each of these 25 courts. The median as well as the highest assigned pending caseload for judges handling a regular full- time load at their court are listed.
 The median pending per judge caseload was 2,954 as of the end of April 2019 across these twenty-five Immigration Courts. This likely under-estimates a typical judge's actual caseload since now a significant number of pending cases are simply assigned under a blanket designation such as "Detail Judge" or "Visiting Judge" without recording the name of the judge assigned to these cases.