Delays in NY Immigration Courts on the Rise

New York City Immigration Court is located at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan (Screen shot via video by Kate Ryan)

New York’s immigration courts are bursting at the seams with the constant influx of cases. This has not only worsened the existing delays in pending proceedings but also pushed a number of counties in New York City and Long Island to the top of the list of the 100 areas with the highest number of immigrants awaiting a court’s reply in the country. Three areas in the state – Queens, Brooklyn and Suffolk – are among the top five counties with the most cases.

This was revealed by a recent study created by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University, which determined that delays in immigration courts at a national level increased 11 percent last year, reaching a historic record of 667,839 pending cases as of December of last year.

Even though these proceedings are spread across courts in more than 2,500 counties, the New York metro area and Long Island have 80,000 stalled cases, representing nearly 12 percent of the country’s total.

The number of pending proceedings increased 6 to 14 percent. Los Angeles is at the top of the list with 44,634 cases, while Harris County in Texas has 39,193, followed by New York’s Queens County with 27,659 pending cases, Brooklyn with 15,922, Suffolk with 13,127, Nassau with 10,051 cases, the Bronx with 7,521, Westchester with 4,789, and Manhattan with 3,577 pending proceedings. Staten Island ranked #97 with 1,400 cases.

Carlos Rodríguez, a Mexico native who has waited two years for a response from immigration court after a failed attempt to obtain asylum and a pending deportation order, said that his attorney told him a few days ago that he will have to wait at least another year before he hears from the court.

“This never-ending uncertainty is what makes me the most nervous, especially under the current government,” said Rodríguez, admitting that, ironically, he would rather see his case delayed even longer and a decision reached after President Trump has left office. “I am terrified that some judges may play along with the government and kick us out faster.”

Anthony Enríquez – a lawyer with Catholic Charities, an organization that helps immigrants with their cases – admits that these increased delays in court are palpable, adding that it is almost impossible “for the 35 judges they have in New York to handle more than 60,000 cases” promptly.

“New York is one of the states that receives the highest number of immigrants every year and, last year, under President Trump, there was an increase in immigration arrests, resulting in an increase in the cases the courts have to see, whether to validate deportation orders or new cases. It is because of this increase that we are seeing more delays,” said the attorney. “As an example, if someone arrives in January 2018 and starts a case in immigration court, they will not receive an appointment until maybe 2022.”

Lack of resources

The lawyer also mentioned that another reason for the rise in delayed cases is that the federal government has moved a number of judges to the border to try to prevent new undocumented immigrants from staying.

“That and other administrative measures made by the government show a lack of strategy and a desire to send a message to those who are about to come here. By moving the judges, all they are doing is significantly delaying active cases,” said Enríquez.

“The number of judges able to see these cases has not increased, either. They have the same resources as before, the same personnel and the same support. They are trying to create more cases without enough resources to allow for due process for all immigrants.”

The report also reveals that, in New Jersey, the situation is not much better than in New York. The pending cases in counties such as Middlesex, Bergen, Hudson, Union and Essex amount to more than 21,000.

Susan B. Long, co-director of the office that published the report, pointed out that many of the cases currently in the hands of immigration courts might be eligible for asylum and other immigration relief that allow people to stay in the country legally.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), said that the effects of the serious situation caused by this holdup in immigration courts go beyond the individuals with pending cases, and criticized the rise in “la migra’s” actions as an additional trigger to the problem.

“The long court delays mean that immigrants wait months and years in limbo, unable to make long-term plans for their families, while their status remains uncertain,” said Lieberman. “For people who are detained, these delays are especially devastating, as families lose their livelihood and the people who look after them.”

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