A shortage of judges and the government shutdown in 2013 have created a massive backlog in the immigration court in Houston, Texas. Official reports show that the four judges in the downtown Houston immigration courts still had more than 16,600 pending cases in November 2013, which is a significant increase over just five years before. In fact, those immigration judges experienced a 250 percent increase in case load since 2009. As a consequence, those who are waiting for their cases to be heard are likely to be sorely disappointed; the Houston court's backlog will likely delay judgments for more than a year.
Authorities say that immigration clients are facing significant hurdles because of the frequent and repeated delays. Those applying for permanent residency and citizenship are being forced to reapply for previously acquired authorizations, for example, and their fingerprint checks are often repeated because the documents expire. One infamous example involves a client who came to the U.S. illegally 18 years ago, and he is still being forced to wait for several years for his case to be heard.
The Department of Justice has at least acknowledged the problem, and advocates say that more justices might be on the way for the Houston court. Nationwide, only 252 judges are working to clear some 350,000 immigration cases; the department is looking to hire an additional 32 judges in the near future. Texas is horribly overwhelmed with immigration concerns, however, with more than 50,000 cases still pending as of November. San Antonio has 12,400 pending cases, and El Paso boasts nearly 7,800. Judges themselves say they are overwhelmed by the responsibility and magnitude of the immigration cases; although they want to take each case seriously, they are being forced to act quickly to make life-changing decisions.
Clients whose cases are being delayed in the Houston courts may benefit from consulting with a qualified immigration attorney. Those professionals may be able to help their clients learn more about U.S. immigration law, providing them with the tools that they need to increase their chances of success.
Source: The Associated Press, "Houston immigration court has thousands of cases" No author given, Dec. 23, 2013