New immigration court plan aims to speed removal of some new migrants

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is creating a new process aimed at cutting the time it takes to decide the fates of newly arrived migrants in immigration courts from years to roughly six months at a time when immigration is increasingly a concern among voters. 

Under the initiative announced Thursday, single adult migrants who have just entered the country and are going to five specific cities would have their cases overseen by a select group of judges with the aim of having them decided within 180 days. 

That would mark a vastly quicker turnaround time than most cases in the country’s overburdened immigration system, which can average four years from beginning to end. And by deciding the cases faster, authorities can more quickly remove people who don’t qualify to stay. 

But it’s unclear how many migrants would go through this new docket, raising questions about how effective it will be. The details were laid out by senior administration officials during a call with reporters Thursday. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with guidelines set by the administration. 

The new docket will be in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. The officials said those cities were chosen because judges there had some availability to hear the cases and because they were big destination cities for migrants. 

Right now, when migrants arrive, particularly families, they are almost always released legally into the country, where they wait out their asylum court dates in a process that takes years.  

Detractors say this essentially serves as an impetus for migrants to come because they know they’ll be able to stay in America and often work while they’re here. The longer they’re in the United States and have established families or community ties, the more opposition there is to eventually send them back to their home country. 

The goal of quickly processing migrants who have just arrived is that by swiftly sending new arrivals back who don’t qualify to stay, it sends a message to other people thinking of migrating north that they can’t count on living in America for years while their case plays out in court. 

A record 3 million cases right now are clogging the nation’s immigration court. There are roughly 600 judges. The plan announced Thursday would not include money for more judges. 

A bipartisan border agreement endorsed by President Joe Biden earlier this year offered funding for 100 new immigration judges and aides. But Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, urged fellow Republicans to kill the deal, and it quickly died. 

The administration has tried for years to move more new arrivals to the front of the line for asylum decisions, hoping to deport those whose claims are denied within months instead of years. The Obama and Trump administrations also tried to accelerate the process, going back to 2014. In 2022, the Biden administration introduced a plan to have asylum officers, not immigration judges, decide a limited number of family claims in nine cities. 

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