The immigration court in Arlington, Virginia has the 3rd largest backlog of immigration cases in the country. To put it into perspective, there are 64 immigration courts in the United States. In 2017, the Arlington immigration court was rated 5th in the nation for backlogs. This means that the Arlington immigration court has not only remained one of the slowest moving immigration courts in the nation, its backlog seems to have actually gotten worse in the last few years.
So what does this actually translate to in wait times?
Currently the wait to be heard in Virginia's immigration court is 936 days, or just under three years. This year the US Department of Justice, which controls immigration courts, added two new judges to the Arlington Immigration Court, bringing the number of judges there to 17.
While a step in the right direction, it is representative of just how numerous the immigration cases are that are waiting to be heard. One reporter heard a judge say that he has 9,000 cases on his docket. And that's just one judge out of 17 at the immigration court in Virginia.
So what is causing the delay?
- Immigration law changes:
- There have been many changes in the immigration system in the last two years, and they happen very frequently now. “It would be really nice if there was one week where immigration law didn't change as I'd known it for the last 20 years,” said an unnamed immigration court judge recently.
- Increase in cases:
- From 1998 to 2019 the number of cases heard annually at the Arlington Immigration Court increased by 78%. Just from 2015 until the present, pending immigration cases have doubled. Much of this is due to the fact that when Jeff Sessions was attorney general he ended a policy that that allowed immigration judges to close a large amount of cases through a process called administrative closure. It allowed judges to suspend proceedings, but did not give an undocumented immigrant any legal status. Essentially no group is exempt from immigration enforcement now. However, recently the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Zuniga-Romero v. Barr found that immigration judges do have the authority to administratively close cases. So administrative closure is now available again in Virginia.
- An increase in asylum applications:
- During President Obama's administration the Southern border saw an increase in people requesting asylum, and that number has stayed high during President Trump's administration due to violence in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
As the federal government figures out how to deal with the increasingly large loads the immigration courts are hearing, it is very important to stay in communication with your immigration attorneys to make sure you do not miss and are prepared for any future hearing date. If you have any questions please contact Valverde Law at (757) 422-8472.