Overwhelmed U.S. Immigration Court System

The U.S. immigration court system is overwhelmed with its current 2.5 million open cases with those seeking asylum waiting an average of 5.8 years for a trial or hearing on the merits. This primarily is due to shortfalls in the federal immigration budget.[1]

A leading example of these problems is the immigration court in Omaha, Nebraska with jurisdiction over cases in that state plus Iowa, which in recent years have drawn migrants, some with papers and some without, to work in slaughter houses and other agricultural jobs. Its three judges oversee nearly 32,000 cases that have been undecided for an average of 2.7 years while its asylum cases have an average wait of 5.8 years, the longest in the nation. [2]

An example of the pressure this overwhelmed system places on migrants is Guadalupe, a Guatemalan woman now 54 years old, who came to the U.S. on a tourist visa in 2017 and immediately requested asylum protection. After two months detention, she was released and moved to rural Iowa where she had an aunt and obtained a job at a clothing manufacturing company while her nights are often sleepless as she worries about her three children and seven grandchildren in Guatemala. Her first Omaha court appearance was in October 2017, when she obtained a final hearing date in 2020 that was postponed to 2022 because of the pandemic and then postponed again to May 2023 because the judge was not available. Now her next hearing is scheduled for September 2023 to set a date for her final hearing.


 Clearly the U.S. Congress needs to authorize more spending to equip the U.S. immigration administration and its courts for expeditious handling of this large backlog of cases. Other important related issues for Congress are (a) promoting more immigration to meet U.S. need for more workers;[3] (b) providing more financial assistance to cities and states that are absorbing more immigrants:[4] and (c) amending U.S. immigration law and procedure.[5]


[1] Caldwell, Millions of Migrants Stuck in Legal Limbo, Wall St. Journal (Sept. 1, 2023). However, the hard-right House Freedom Caucus is threatening to block an interim spending bill in Congress unless it includes a security crackdown on the U.S.-Meixco border. (Demirjian, Hard Right Injects Immigration Into Spending Fight, Raising Shutdown Fears. N.Y. Times (Sept. 1, 2023).

[2] See, e.g., List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: LAW (REFUGEE & ASYLUM).

[3] E.g., Wall Street Journal Editorial: U.S. Needs More Immigrants, dwkcommentaries.com ( July 25, 2023).

[4] E.g., New York City Pleads for Federal Financial Aid for New Migrants, dwkcommentaries (Aug. 11, 2023).

[5] E.g., Increasing Migrant Crossings at U.S. Border Call for Legal Change, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 16, 2023).

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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