The number of pending immigration court cases has soared from 130,000 in 1998 to an estimated 357,000 in 2014 according to a study by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC).  This backlog is commonly attributed to the fact that the number of judges has not kept pace with the rising number of cases. But there is another explanation.

The 270 percent increase in backlogged cases is accompanied by a 280 percent increase in the average number of days required to process a case. The question then becomes why has the processing time increased?

The BCP study points to a major increase in the number of aliens appearing in immigration court who have legal representation. This suggests that immigration lawyers are gumming up the process. Of course, the immigration bar would dispute that and say that they are simply assuring that their clients are receiving fair consideration in the immigration court system.

Another factor not in the BPC study is the greater burden placed on immigration judges by changes in the asylum law. Asylum hearings are for deportable aliens fighting deportation on the basis that they face persecution if sent home. The expansion in recent years of asylum protection to include Chinese escaping the government’s family planning policy and women seeking protection against tribal genital cutting practices, or spousal abuse, or sexual orientation discrimination has made adjudication much more difficult in sorting out whether the alien truly has a well-founded fear of persecution or is simply inventing a story in the hopes of finding a sympathetic immigration judge.

An immigration lawyer helps the alien know what to say and not to say. And, the immigration bar has long advocated adoption of public funding to allow indigent aliens to be represented.