Press Release

Rep. Cuellar Secures 100 New Immigration Judges to Reduce Court Backlog; 8 Judges will Preside at the New Laredo Immigration Court

Judges and support staff are included in FY22 appropriations omnibus package with $760 million for EOIR

Washington | Dana Youngentob, DC Press Secretary (202-340-9148), March 22, 2022

Washington, D.C.— Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) secured federal funding in the FY2022 appropriations bill to help expedite the backlog of immigration cases in Laredo and across the southwest border with Mexico. More specifically, the Congressman secured $760,000,000 for the hiring of 100 new immigration judges with support staff through the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). Nearly $4 million of this funding will be from immigration examination fees.

Each immigration judge is supported by one attorney, one legal assistant, and up to two other positions (additional legal assistant, interpreter, and other mission support staff). Additionally, Congressman Cuellar secured funding to ensure these additional immigration judges have adequate court space to conduct immigration court proceedings.

The Department of Justice recently opened a new immigration court in Laredo to also help reduce the backlog of immigration cases.  At full capacity, the Laredo Immigration Court will have 8 immigration judges.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, each immigration judge heard on average 10 to 15 individual calendar hearings per week and 2 to 3 master calendar hearings per week comprising of anywhere from 2 to 40 noncitizens.  An individual calendar hearing is a full hearing, approximately 1 to 4 hours, on the full adjudication of a noncitizen’s application for relief from removal.  

“Our backlogged immigration system is overburdened, underfunded, and has reached an unprecedented level of neglect. That’s why, as a border representative, I continue to fight for the necessary resources and funding to mitigate this backlog in a sensible and efficient manner,” said Congressman Cuellar. “The backlog has now exceeded 1.6 million pending cases nationally. Over 268,000 of those cases are in Texas. The number of immigration judges relative to the increase in incoming cases has caused extensive waiting periods, with an average wait time of 866 days; 870 days in Texas. This is not how a fair and equitable immigration system should run.”

Cuellar continued, “It’s critical that we continue to implement careful management: increasing the number of immigration judges, support personnel, and courtrooms. These are common-sense, democratic, and humanitarian solutions to the inflating number of migrants seeking asylum at the border. By employing more immigration judges, we can adequately adjudicate the individuals and families entering our country, shifting our immigration influx into an opportunity rather than a crisis. Promoting access to counsel, the rule of law, and enforcing due process is essential to America’s democracy, and I will keep supporting these ideals throughout the appropriations process. I want to thank Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, Ranking Member Robert Aderholt, as well as Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee Chairman Matt Cartwright for working with me to help address this critical issue.”

Securing New Immigration Judges
For years, Congressman Cuellar has made it a top priority to quickly place additional immigration judges into areas of highest workload, including communities along the Southwest border. He helped secure:

• In FY16, language hiring up to 55;
• In FY17, language hiring up to 10 judges;
• In FY18, language hiring up to 100 judges;
• In FY19, language hiring up to 50 judges;
• In FY20, language hiring up to 100 judges;
• In FY21, language hiring up to 100 judges;
• In FY22, language hiring up to 100 judges.

As of December 2021, EOIR had 576 immigration judges on board. EOIR plans to onboard up to the authorized level of 634 immigration judges by the end of the fiscal year. In the funding bill, Congressman Cuellar also included language that encourages EOIR to hire immigration judges from a diverse array of candidates.

Immigration Court Space

Congressman Cuellar has worked hard to secure new money for federal rental space to ensure there is adequate funding to support EOIR's acquisition of additional court space for immigration court hearings. Additionally, the Congressman included language in the final spending bill that encourages GSA to find new ways to rent or construct court space efficiently.

As of December 31, EOIR has 545 courtrooms and anticipates opening another 59 by the end of the fiscal year, bringing EOIR to a total of 600 courtrooms by September 30, 2022. 

Increasing Court-Efficiency Initiatives

Congressman Cuellar secured language that encourages EOIR and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to explore the co-location of Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security facilities with immigration-related responsibilities, including: immigration courts, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, Congressman Cuellar also supported language to support efficiencies that reduce the over 1.6 million case backlog. The increased funding would transcribe audio recordings for cases on appeal and scanning existing paper records into an electronic format.