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The Chicago Reporter
September 27, 2019

Rocket Dockets: How an effort to speed immigration cases is causing havoc for countless familie
By Stephen Franklin

One clock ticks exceptionally quickly while the other drags on painfully slowly. The fast one is for immigrant families that arrived in the last year, the targets of the Trump administrationís fury about the nationís southern border, and is supposedly set to end for each case within a year. The slow one is for nearly everyone else, immigrants who have been waiting their turn, sometimes for years. But now, they may have to wait as long as four more years for their day in Chicagoís immigration court, where the backlog has nearly doubled since 2015. That day in court is obviously no small matter. It can mean the right to stay in the U.S. or go home, which for some can be a death sentence. This so-called ďrocket docketĒ for recent arrivals was set up by federal officials last November in Chicago and nine other locations. Since then, these cases have been churning towards completion or final hearings within six months or less, say attorneys and legal advocacy groups. In comparison, it took 799 days on average for a case to come to court in Chicago as of last month, according to figures from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. The backlog of cases nationally has soared under the Trump administration. There were more than one million cases nationally piled up as of August, a 93 percent increase from 2016, TRAC figures show. That doesnít include another 300,000 low-priority cases that the Trump administration has vowed to add to the courts. These cases had been considered in limbo during the Obama administration. Another good measure of this expanding backlog is the caseloads for Immigration Court judges, a number that reached an average of 4,054 for the courtís judges in Chicago in April, according to TRAC figures. Thatís more than the 2,954 average for the 25 largest immigration courts, but nothing compared to Dallas where the average caseload was 6,900.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
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