EDITORIAL: Reinforcements: Case backlog necessitates more immigration judges

A main cause of our nation’s immigration problems is the immense backlog of cases awaiting resolution. Congress and President Trump would go far in addressing those problems by hiring 100 more immigration judges to process those cases and attack the backlog.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, whose district reaches into the Rio Grande Valley, wrote the legislation to create the new positions, and the House of Representatives already has passed it. We hope the Senate sees the prudence in the bill and approves it, and President Trump signs it into law.

This legislation is sorely needed. The current bottleneck of immigration cases has reached more than 1.2 million. The average wait time for action on cases is 793 days in Texas, Cuellar says. That’s more than two years.

Reducing the backlog is especially critical during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Those most at risk for catching the viral disease are those confined to close quarters, such as immigration detention centers. Indeed, some of the worst outbreaks have occurred at such centers as well as jails, prisons and nursing homes.

The pandemic has added to the backlog as well. Cuellar said that several immigration judges have quarantined themselves and while some have continued to hear cases at home over remote internet networks, some have not.

Cuellar’s proposal also seeks to provide more courtrooms where the judges could work. Surely a system that combines temporary facilities and remote technology could be expanded. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the administration set up “tent courts” in Brownsville and other locations where immigrants could address judges via computer screen. It seems a perfect system to help continue court reviews during the pandemic.

In the meantime, immigration officials could seek assistance from city, county and even school districts across the country. These bodies often have chambers that sit unused much of the time, when public meetings aren’t being held. It might be feasible for Immigration and Customs to contract for blocks of time at some of these facilities to hold hearings.

This is not a pro-immigration proposal; it simply speeds up the process of deciding who stays and who is rejected. Not only do valid applicants receive visas faster, but those who are disqualified are settled and deported faster as well. In fact, the Trump administration has increased the number of immigration judges already. This legislation would further supplement the courts and help cut the backlog even faster.

Many immigrants enter the United States illegally because they simply don’t have faith in the legal system. Showing them that their applications will be processed in a reasonable time surely would encourage many to apply for visas and reduce the number of scofflaws.

Adding immigration judges seems a practical and necessary way to address a lingering problem. It deserves passage.