- There were more than 630,000 cases pending
- The announcement came after a published investigation found underworked judges at the border
The Justice Department released new statistics on Wednesday touting the effects of reassigning more than 100 immigration judges to the southern border, saying it has resulted in 2,700 more cases being completed than would have otherwise.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which manages the Justice Department's immigration court system, estimated that the judges moved to the border completed significantly more cases than if they had remained at home, and completed 21% more cases than judges historically assigned to those areas as their home courts.
Still, the 2,700-case-increase remains a drop in the bucket compared to the backlog in the immigration courts, which are separate from the broader criminal justice and civil law system and have different rules.
According to data from Syracuse University's TRAC system
, the authority for tracking the backlog, there were more than 630,000 cases pending for fiscal year 2017 through the end of August, with more than 100,000 each in Texas and California.
The backlog of pending cases is a major contributor to issues with immigration enforcement and illegal immigration. When undocumented immigrants are caught and processed to have their cases adjudicated, they can receive court dates years in the future. Unable for legal and resource reasons to detain people indefinitely, the government paroles many of those individuals until their court dates, leaving them to establish lives in the US for years before potentially being ordered to be deported.
DOJ released the statistics on the heels of an investigation
by Politico Magazine that found some reassigned judges with unfilled dockets and little to do. Citing internal DOJ documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request as well as judge interviews, Politico Magazine reported underworked judges and 22,000 postponed cases in their home courts.
Wednesday's announcement seemed to rebut that report, citing progress the Justice Department had seen made.
"EOIR is pleased with the results of the surge of immigration judges to detention facilities and the potential impact it has on the pending caseload nationwide," said acting Director James McHenry in a statement. "The Justice Department will continue to identify ways in which it can further improve immigration judge productivity without compromising due process."
President Donald Trump's executive orders have called for dealing with the bottlenecked immigration courts, including by reassigning judges and hiring more judges and attorneys. His administration is also looking at whether technology, such as video conferencing, can help.