The policies outlined in memos signed by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly call for authorities to prioritize for deportation proceedings removable immigrants who are charged with or convicted of crimes; have abused public benefit programs; or otherwise pose a threat to public safety as judged by immigration officers. However, there may not be enough resources to accomplish said goals. There are only 300 immigration judges in the country, and pending cases are at a record high. On average, each judge has a backlog of about 1,800 cases to hear.

According to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), more than 540,000 immigration cases are currently pending. Courts in California and Texas have the largest backlogs, with 97,860 and 95,193 cases, respectively. Immigrants free on bond typically wait more than two years for a hearing on whether they will be deported.

Join the Federal Bar Association for a timely discussion May 12-13 at the Immigration Law Conference in Denver, Colorado concerning the challenges facing immigration courts. Register today at to take advantage of early-bird registration rates.

The U.S. immigration courts, charged with determining the fate of undocumented immigrants and refugees, aren’t part of the judiciary branch; they sit under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Justice. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is in charge of the Justice Department and its Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), has the authority to direct judges on how to interpret the law and which cases to hear.

Judges, unable to keep up with the caseload, are scheduling hearings years out, which in some instances mean cases will be heard in 2020. U.S. immigration courts are increasingly failing to deliver timely decisions to people fighting deportation or asking for refuge, according to numerous interviews with lawyers, judges, and government officials.

Compounding the problem is the fact that President Trump has said he intends to freeze federal hiring, which would prevent the courts from bringing on new judges and clerks, who are federal employees. Without additional resources, the courts would probably slow deportations and make the system even more ineffective.  The solution? The Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has proposed expanding summary removal proceedings. This means that some of the recently targeted immigrants would be deported without court hearings under a program known as expedited removals.

As today’s rapidly changing political climate impacts the complex maze of immigration law and policy, the Federal Bar Association’s Immigration Law Conference provides a critical venue for in-depth discussion on law and topics that are central to immigration law practice and procedure. The two-day conference May 12-13 will feature speakers from the federal judiciary and immigration courts as well as panelists from the Department of Homeland Security, cutting edge law school clinical programs, and the private immigration bar.  Sign up today at

Stacy Slotnick, Esq. holds a J.D., cum laude, from Touro Law Center and a B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She performs a broad range of duties as an entertainment lawyer, including drafting and negotiating contracts; addressing and litigating trademark, copyright, patent, and other IP issues; and directing the strategy and implementation of public relations, blogging, and social media campaigns.