The federal immigration court system is essentially a mess, according to a report released Thursday by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General.
Although there are more judges handling immigration cases, the caseload and efficiency has not improved during the last five years, the report found. The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review has a flawed system of record-keeping, with some immigration cases being counted as “completed” multiple times and others surpassing their deadline goals but appearing within bounds on record sheets.
“Immigration court performance reports are incomplete and overstate the actual accomplishments of these courts,” the IG report states. “These flaws in EOIR’s performance reporting preclude the Department from accurately assessing the courts’ progress in processing immigration cases or identifying needed improvements.”
The immigration courts have come under intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill and in cities across the country. The office in 2008 reviewed the immigration courts as part of a larger audit of the Justice Department’s politicized hiring practices under President George W. Bush, with some judges allegedly vetted for their political and ideological beliefs. The scandal rocked the department, and President Barack Obama promised when he took office to clean up the system.
Thursday’s audit reveals that the immigration court still has a ways to go. EOIR Director Juan Osuna told Congress in 2011 that he and his staff have streamlined the hiring process and made an effort to bring more staff on board to alleviate the caseload.
In Thursday’s report, looking at sample data from fiscal years 2006 to 2010, the inspector general found that despite more resources being given to the courts, the overall efficiency did not improve. Accounting for turnover, 27 judges were added to the court from 2006 to 2010 — a 13 percent boost. In fact, the number of pending proceedings increased by 59 percent in the same 5-year stretch of time — from 164,051 in 2006 to 261,426 in 2010.
The length of those pending cases also grew: The number of proceedings stretching beyond a year in the system increased from 64,236 in 2006 to 118,966 in 2010, the report states. Some cases took more than five years to complete. In the five year-span analyzed, the number of cases completed by the immigration courts declined by 11 percent, from 324,040 in 2006 to 287,207 in 2010.
“These numbers indicate that the court system overall is falling further behind and that more cases are experiencing processing delays,” the report notes.
The Office of Inspector General, headed by Michael Horowitz, also looked at the Board of Immigration Appeals, which oversees challenges to the lower court rulings. It found that non-detained aliens’ appeals on average took five times longer than those of detained aliens. The reporting procedures for counting the length of time it takes to fully process an appeal is also flawed, the report states. In one case, an appeals case took 636 days longer than what was reported by the court.