Press Release

Congressman Cuellar Secures 25 Additional Immigration Judges in FY17 Appropriations Bill Along with Court Space, Electronic Filing System, and Performance Measures

Fiscal Year 2016 government funding package included 55 new immigration judges for combined total of 80 new immigration judges

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 24, 2016 | Riley Brands (202-226-0507) | comments

Today Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28) announced he included a number of provisions in the Fiscal Year 2017 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to help our nation’s immigration courts cope with a near half-million backlog of immigration cases by adding 25 immigration judges, new court space, a new electronic filing system and performance improvement measures. The 25 new immigration judges in the FY 2017 bill come in addition to the 55 Congressman Cuellar secured under the Fiscal Year 2016 government funding package, for a combined total of 80 new judges from FY 2016 and FY 2017. Currently, authorization exists for 374 judges; with the new judges added, that would bring the total up to 399. The bill was passed out of the full U.S. House Appropriations Committee today.

The congressman’s language attempts to reduce the time immigration review cases spend in the system by addressing the root causes of their delays.

Specifically, the provisions address a shortage of immigration judges and inadequate facilities and IT systems.

The congressman’s language adds 25 new immigration judges to the bench. This follows on 55 judges added by the congressman in the FY 2016 omnibus package that went into effect late last year.

These extra judges are sorely needed. Currently, the median length of time it takes to dispose of a case in which the defendant is released from custody (a “non-detained” case) is 665 days, or nearly two years. The average length for a case in which the defendant remains in custody (a “detained” case) is 71 days.

The average immigration judge hears 75 to 90 cases a week, each of which can turn on complex circumstances. Immigration judges spend around 80 percent of their working hours hearing cases and the remaining 20 percent on motions and paperwork.

Although it might seem minimal, the effect of mountains of paperwork on the speed with which cases are processed is substantial. Currently, the U.S. government’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the office responsible for handling immigration cases, uses an antiquated paper-based filing system to keep track of cases. Congressman Cuellar has included language in the FY 2017 appropriations bill to allocate $1.706 million to upgrade this system to an electronic one.

Looming over the issue of how to store files is where to store them and where to put the new judges. To prepare for their arrival, Congressman Cuellar secured $5.727 million in the bill for additional courtroom space and equipment. This new courtroom space will help speed up the processing of immigration cases by giving judges the underlying infrastructure they need to do their jobs.

Congressman Cuellar secured these funds in order to ease the pressure on our immigration courts, but he has also included language to ensure that positive outcomes are derived from the assistance. In the appropriations bill, he inserted language directing EOIR to provide a report to the U.S. House Appropriations Committee on how court space is being used within 90 days of enactment and set a new goal of disposing of detained cases within 60 days and non-detained cases within 365 days while protecting due process rights.

“As the member of Congress for a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border, I pay close attention to the way our government handles immigration cases,” Congressman Cuellar said. “For years I have been concerned about the backlog of immigration cases nearing half a million as a result of insufficient resources to handle them all. I have turned my attention to the underlying causes of delays in our immigration system so that we can properly address this pressing issue. I would like to thank my longtime friend and Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chair John Culberson (R-TX-7) for his help in adding this language and these funds. I would also like to thank Commerce, Justice, Science Ranking Member Mike Honda (D-CA-17), Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY-5), and Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY-17). Finally, I would like to thank EOIR Director Juan P. Osuna, his staff, and the immigration judges across the country for their hard work in processing the heavy caseload of immigration cases on a daily basis.”

“Reducing the backlog of deportation cases continues to be one of my highest priorities,” said Chairman Culberson. “Working with Representative Cuellar, I was pleased to add 55 additional immigration judges last year and 25 this year. Rep. Cuellar and I also developed performance measures to ensure deportations are handled promptly while protecting due process rights.”

To see the language the congressman included, please click here.

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