Immigration court backlog: like “doing death-penalty cases in a traffic court setting.” July 15, 2017 by Lynn Olinger Source: Houston Chronicle America’s immigration judges have long been overburdened and under-resourced. One immigration judge has compared her job to “doing death-penalty cases in a traffic-court setting.” The stakes are high, while support and procedural protections for noncitizens facing deportation are negligible. It’s no surprise, then, that immigration judges suffer greater stress and burnout than prison wardens or doctors in busy hospitals. Now, the Trump administration is making a difficult situation almost untenable. In an effort to expand and accelerate the deportation machine, the Trump administration has hit immigration judges with a one-two punch: dramatically increasing their caseloads and, at perhaps the worst time, canceling the annual weeklong training conference for immigration judges. The impact on the entire removal system – and, more important, on the rights and lives of our most vulnerable noncitizen neighbors – will be devastating. On average, an immigration judge completes more than 1,500 cases per year, with a ratio of 1 law clerk for every 4 judges, according to a recent report of the National Association of Immigration Judges. By comparison, the typical district court judge trying civil suits has a pending caseload of 400 cases and three law clerks for assistance. This imbalance is poised to deteriorate even further. In January, the administration issued an executive order that effectively repealed and replaced a tiered system of immigration enforcement and removal priorities crafted by the Obama administration, which focused deportation efforts on the most serious offenders. President Trump’s executive order places a priority on every noncitizen suspected of violating the law. This includes noncitizens who have been charged with (but not convicted of) any offense or who have committed acts that constitute a criminal offense (though they have been neither charged nor arrested). These directives, taken together, obliterate the presumption of innocence until proven guilty – a principle long cherished in the criminal justice system but already thinly applied in the immigration context – as well as any semblance of prioritization. Immigration officers must now prioritize enforcement for noncitizens thought to “pose a risk to public safety or national security.” Those caught in this ever-widening net of enforcement will be apprehended, detained and made to face their deportation with no right to counsel, except at their own expense. Under the Obama administration, there was limited – but important – prosecutorial discretion exercised in immigration enforcement. When determining whether to apprehend, detain or place someone in removal proceedings, ICE had to consider criteria including whether that person had a serious physical or mental illness, was disabled, elderly, pregnant or nursing, or demonstrated that they were the primary caretakers of children or an infirm person.