Last December, the head of the immigration courts told all immigration judges to start using phone interpreters for any language but Spanish. The reason given was budgetary. Yet immigration judges and attorneys complain that telephone interpretation has serious drawbacks that can lead to unfair results. They also claim it is adding to the immigration court backlog.
Currently, there are over 800,000 immigration cases waiting to be resolved by U.S. immigration courts. A majority involve people seeking a chance to stay in the U.S. rather than being deported. And, although the case backlog has been growing for at least a decade, it has jumped by almost 50 percent since 2017, when President Trump took office. Now, the average time to complete an immigration court hearing is 578 days.
The U.S. immigration courts, which handle civil cases involving immigration law, are technically a part of the Department of Justice. That gives them quite a bit less independence than traditional courts. The U.S. attorney general has the right to set court policy and even to change precedential rulings. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has just set new quotas for immigration judges in an effort to resolve a massive case backlog and, some say, to speed up deportations.