San Diego

Deportation Backlog: Half a Million Cases Pending

Across the nation, there's more than 500,000 pending cases, yet less than 300 immigration judges to get through them

President Donald Trump is keeping his promise to crack down on illegal immigration.

But under the current immigration court system, it can take years to actually get deported.

The reason? A huge backlog.

Across the nation, there's more than 500,000 pending cases, yet less than 300 immigration judges to get through them. In San Diego, there's only about half a dozen immigration judges. The court system is understaffed and the facilities are often maxed out.

"The backlog is incredible, in some cities very easily four or five years," said Andrew Nietor, Chair of San Diego's Immigration Lawyers Association. "I've had clients flown from San Diego to Louisiana, just because they don't have the capacity right now in the San Diego detention facilities."

President Trump has promised to increase deportations and speed up the process, yet the current infrastructure can't manage a dramatic spike. More deportations will ultimately cost more money.

"There's definitely going to be a marked drastic increase in the number of detentions," Nietor said. "There will have to be an increase in immigration judges, Department of Homeland Security staff, attorneys and detention facilities. The tax payers are going to have to come up with billions of dollars."

But experts said finding immigration judges is easier said than done. The federal government is aware of the backlog and says it's in the process of hiring more judges and court staffing. But that's just one side of the issue. The other is U.S immigration laws.

"If you're not an authorized resident, and you're undocumented, then you have to go right?" said Everard Meade, Director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. "Well when you look at the U.S. immigration laws, it's actually really complicated. We've created all these exceptions to the rule over the years that are incredibly complicated."

Meade says that having more immigration judges would make it easier to remove people who don't have a valid immigration claim to stay in the country.

"The U.S spends about $19 billion a year on immigration enforcement," Meade said. "But we only spend about $360 million on the court system. Over the last 15 years, the enforcement budget has grown, the judicial system has not."

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