An accused person's right to a fair hearing is a cornerstone of American justice. But that right has been increasingly undermined in the nation's overburdened immigration courts, which have been starved of resources and stretched far too thin in recent years.
There are too few judges, and each is required to handle a crushing caseload. In Los Angeles County, for example, a typical immigration judge had more than 1,600 proceedings on his docket last year. By comparison, judges in federal court in Los Angeles, who are also considered by some to be overburdened, each handled an average of 446 cases.
And the backlog is growing. Consider the Los Angeles immigration court, the busiest in the nation. Since 2008, overall caseloads have increased from 38,000 to 52,000, yet the number of judges has grown from 25 in 2008 to just 31 today.
A recent report by the Justice Department's inspector general found that the strain on the courts has led to delays and inefficiencies that all too often force defendants to wait months, and sometimes years, before being allowed to make their cases to a judge. These defendants are all fighting deportation, and they include people seeking political asylum as well as legal residents convicted of misdemeanors. Many who are forced to endure long delays have never been convicted of a crime.