WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday
called on the nation's immigration courts to decide cases more efficiently,
amid a burgeoning backlog that is hampering the Trump administration's
efforts to deport more illegal immigrants.
Sessions' memo to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the
agency under the Department of Justice that conducts immigration court
proceedings, called on judges and staff to do what they can "consistent
with the law" to "increase productivity, enhance efficiencies,
and ensure the timely and proper administration of justice."
President Donald Trump's administration has so far brought on 50 new
immigration judges, Sessions said, in an effort to pare back a backlog
of more than 600,000 cases. Sessions said in his memo that the Justice
Department plans to hire 60 more judges in the next six months to cut
the pending case load in half by 2020.
Statistics released by the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday showed
that although the government arrested far more people suspected of being
in the United States illegally in 2017 than it did last year, it deported
fewer illegal immigrants.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed approximately 226,000
people from the country in the 2017 fiscal year, down 6 percent from the
previous year and lower than at any time during the Obama administration.
Trump has made strict immigration enforcement a major priority of his administration.
The slowdown is in part because fewer people appear to be trying to cross
the U.S. border illegally. Another reason is that although immigration
arrests are up, the court backlog has slowed the removal of immigrants
who claim they will be harmed if they are deported to their home countries
or have other justifications for staying in the United States. Under U.S.
policy, many of those claims must be adjudicated by an immigration judge.
In his memo, Sessions touted a surge of immigration judges to the U.S.
border and said the agency completed about 2,800 more cases than projected.
In April, Reuters reported that two of the eight immigration judges deployed
to the U.S. border with Mexico to process asylum requests from migrant
women and children were being recalled because they had so few cases to hear.
The department also said that from February through November, removal orders
were up 30 percent over the same time last year, and the percentage of
final decisions on cases was up nearly 17 percent compared with last year.
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