This time last year, much of the nation’s political energy was focused on Texas’ southern border, as a torrent of mostly Central American migrant women and children poured into the United States by the thousands.
While the influx of undocumented workers has subsided, whether due to enhanced enforcement, as some Texas leaders would like to claim, or for other reasons, the number of immigration cases languishing in federal courts has swelled.
According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the number of cases awaiting resolution has risen 9.2 percent nationwide during the current fiscal year, and reached an all-time high of more than 445,000 in April.
Texas has almost 77,000 pending cases, second only to California. The Lone Star State’s caseload has jumped 58.3 percent since the beginning of fiscal year 2014.
Houston leads the state with more than 32,000 backlogged cases; Dallas has close to 8,000 cases still awaiting resolution.
There are obvious legal concerns about the backlog.
Some individuals waiting for court dates do not have legitimate claims for relief, but they will remain in limbo for years, sometimes living in detention centers that are as costly as they are controversial.
Meanwhile, individuals with worthy claims face a similar fate: They are stuck in a system with no resolution in sight.
Writing in the Houston Chronicle earlier this year, the former head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President George W. Bush, Julie Myers Wood, identified the cause of the problem: “Congress has consistently increased resources for immigration enforcement without increasing resources for the courts to adjudicate removal cases at a proportional rate.”
While one could argue whether or not the federal government’s enforcement measures have been adequate, it’s certainly true that the investment in adjudication resources has been lacking.
That needs to change.
Members of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, including Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, recently led the fight to add 55 new immigration judges and support staff to the about 260 already in place.
According to Cuellar, many of the new judges will be coming to Texas to help the 31 judges already here with the significant backlog.
But with more than 75,000 cases to tackle, it’s unlikely that even this laudable effort will be enough.