US courts inspector criticises immigration courts' poor performance

The inspector general of the United States' Justice Department has issued a critical report about US federal immigration courts. Michael E. Horowitz says that the courts are allowing the backlog of cases in the system to grow. He also says that, despite a rise in the number of judges, the number of cases dealt with each year is falling.

Mr Horowitz released details of his highly critical report on Thursday 1st November 2012. He said that he found it difficult even to say quite why the system was performing so badly because the courts' record-keeping was so poor.

It is certainly not down to a lack of resources. In 2006 there were 211 immigration judges. There are now 238, an increase of 27 judges. However in 2006, the immigration courts dealt with 324,040 cases. In 2010, this figure fell to 287,207, a fall of 11%. At the same time, the number of new cases issued every year is rising. There were 308,652 new cases in 2006 as compared to 325,326 new cases in 2010.

US Immigration courts deal with removal hearings brought by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services against people they believe are in the US without permission to stay from US immigration.

The process is time consuming. Before a removal hearing, a suspected illegal alien is served with a Notice to Appear.

The following are required to be present on the Notice to Appear:

• an allegation that the respondent is not a citizen of the US
• the name of the country of which the respondent is a citizen
• the date that the alleged illegal alien entered the US
• a statement that the respondent is no longer able to remain and
• the date on which the initial hearing will occur

At the removal hearing, the respondent may admit the facts alleged, in which case the judge may order the respondent's removal from the US. The respondent may then ask for an order of voluntary departure. The judge will sometimes allow this and sometimes not.

If the respondent disputes the USCIS case on the grounds that the facts in the Notice to Appear are in some way incorrect or because he should be, for some other reason, entitled to stay in the country (perhaps on the basis of an asylum claim or cancellation of removal), then the judge will set a date for a merits hearing at some time in the future when the case can be decided.

If the respondent fails to prove his case at the merits hearing, the respondent may appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals within 30 days.

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