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Backlog of thousands of immigration court cases in Arizona

The backlog in US immigration courts in Arizona is among millions across the United States that takes years for people to get a decision.

ARIZONA, USA — As more migrants continue to try and enter the United States, many are seeking asylum, but what awaits them are immigration courts backed up with millions of cases.

The years long wait is only expected to get longer as more people continue to flee their home countries for the United States.

Arizona has thousands of cases backed up

According to data compiled by researchers at Syracuse University, more than two million people are waiting for their Immigration Court case to be heard across the U.S.

Arizona is 23rd when it comes to the number of immigration court cases backlogged this fiscal year.

In total, there are 17,353 pending cases in Arizona, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) data compiled by Syracuse through Freedom of Information Act requests.

The states with the highest backlog include Florida and Texas, each with more than 300,000 immigration court cases pending, according to the data.

As for how long it takes to get a hearing, researchers estimate the average time in Arizona to be 663 days, which is about a year and 10 months. That’s down from a high of a more than two year wait in fiscal year 2021.

Darius Amiri, the chair of the immigration department at Rose Law Group, has been practicing immigration law for more than a decade, and says these cases can often be a long process.

“When I started my career, we had three immigration judges here in Phoenix. I think they’ve expanded that number of six or seven now, and I think that does help adjust the backlog. But it is still a long time between when someone you know seeking asylum, for example, first gets here versus when they have their first hearing,” Amiri said.

Increase in migrant encounters

CBP’s latest data between October and November show a four percent increase in migrant encounters at the southern border, for a total of 204,155 unique encounters in November.

While Title 42 was supposed to be lifted in December, the policy is now remaining in place until a Supreme Court of the United States hearing and decision.  The public health policy enacted under the Trump Administration and continued under the Biden Administration, allows the government to quickly send migrants seeking asylum back to their home country or Mexico.

Amiri doesn’t expect he increase in people looking to come to the United States to decrease anytime soon.

“The amount of people that are coming into the country puts even more of a strain on the system,” Amiri said.

That strain, Amiri says, puts pressure on the Biden Administration to tackle the backlog.

“Hiring judges is one of them. Tools such as prosecutorial discretion where you can go through and pick out cases that you could prioritize,” Amiri said. “Those are all tools that they have to address the backlog.”

Many migrants crossing in Arizona don’t stay here

Amiri agrees with other immigration advocates that 12News has spoken with, that migrants who cross the border in Arizona often don’t stay here.

“A lot of these people are coming in from Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and they have relatives or families or sponsors and other parts of the country,” Amiri said.

Amiri notes that people cross the southern border because they have to be on U.S. soil to apply for asylum.

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