To that end, the Obama administration picked up where its predecessor left off -- adding miles of new fencing and hundreds of new agents to the border and deporting undocumented immigrants at a record-breaking pace. The volume is all the more notable given that fewer migrants are coming in illegally and that almost 1 million left voluntarily last year.
The result of the increased enforcement is a mountainous caseload overwhelming the nation's immigration courts. (They are not courts in the usual sense, and do not belong to the judicial branch of government. Rather, judges are employees of the attorney general.) In 2008, for example, 231 judges completed an average of 1,200 proceedings each, and the numbers keep climbing. The work is "like holding death penalty cases in traffic court," Dana L. Marks, an immigration judge in San Francisco and the president of the National Assn. of Immigration Judges, told the New York Times.