Jeff Sessions AZ 4/11/17
Sessions toughens US immigration enforcement
02:23 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Amid fierce disagreements between pro- and anti-immigration advocates, there’s one area of consensus. US immigration courts are stretched to the seams, and something needs to be done about it.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the Department of Justice would increase the number of immigration judges to alleviate pressure on the courts.

Sessions also called for more aggressive prosecution of immigration laws, which could mean more cases for the strained court system.

Here’s a closer look at the bottleneck in the US immigration court system.


This is the number of pending cases in immigration court as of February.

The country’s 58 immigration courts are already dealing with a crush of more than a half a million backlogged cases, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which tracks and analyzes immigration court decisions.

The backlog has been a major factor in officials’ decisions to release some detained immigrants, whose court dates could be years in the future.


This is the average number of days a person has wait to have a case heard by an immigration judge.

The lengthy delay has drawn criticism on both ends of the political spectrum. Conservatives say it allows undocumented immigrants to live in the US for years, which Rep. John Ratcliffe described as “de facto amnesty.” Liberals don’t like it either, saying that it hinders people’s cases, leaving them in limbo.

Wait times vary and can take more than three years depending on location.


This is the number of immigration judges who are tasked with handling more than half a million cases.

Sessions said he hopes to streamline hiring to get 50 judges in place this year and an additional 75 next year. More judges could move cases more quickly through the courts. And with the increased detentions policy of President Donald Trump’s administration, could also relieve crowding in the facilities.

Trump’s budget called for a boost in funding to bring the number of immigration judges to 449.

Dana Leigh Marks, who has served as an immigration judge since 1987, had written about the crushing caseload. “Many within the system fear it is on the verge of implosion, being completely immobilized by so many cases and so few resources that paralysis will result,” she wrote in a 2014 op-ed.


This is the number of federal immigration arrests made in 2014, according to Justice Department statistics.

And it’s a number we could see increase, now that Sessions has called for more aggressive prosecution of undocumented immigrants for immigration-related crimes.

Immigration offenses account for half of all federal arrests.

While the report may look like evidence that non-citizens and undocumented immigrants are dangerous, it’s actually more a reflection that immigration offenses are the easiest federal crime to prosecute, said Leon Fresco, a former Obama administration Justice Department official.


This is how many new cases and other motions the US immigration court system received in 2014.

CNN’s Tal Kopan and Catherine Shoichet contributed to this report.