By Contributor Isabel Blum
Amid news of a deadly earthquake in Iran, the looming possibility of impeachment, and Bloomberg’s potential presidential bid, the once hot-topic of immigration has been fading from the headlines, but why?
Google Trends, a service providing data on the relative interest of any particular search term over time, shows that for the general topic “immigration,” interest has plummeted from its peaks in October 2018 and June/July 2019. Both conservative and liberal media outlets are at fault for this sudden silence, corresponding to the public’s decreasing interest on the topic.
While observing the decrease in public interest, it is imperative to question what is not said as much as to fact-check what is. Contrary to the recent media disinterest in the topic, border crossings have continued to increase and waiting times for immigration cases in courtrooms nationwide have skyrocketed.
The Department of Justice’s policy changes have increased the number of average waiting days for an immigrant’s court hearing and contributed to the backlog of cases pending initial hearing dates, known as uncalendared cases. Since the start of the Trump Administration’s policies, the current backlog in Immigration Courts has increased by an appalling 148%, jumping from 542,411 cases in 2016 to 1,346,302 cases today (combining uncalendared and calendared cases).
Despite the media’s focus on asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, this group of immigrants has not caused the increased backlog. Rather, contributing factors include the reopening of long-closed cases and the resulting increase in caseloads assigned to each judge in Immigration Court. On average, the 442 current immigration judges face a pending caseload of over three thousand cases, causing clogged dockets and exacerbating wait times. The New York City Immigration Court bears the brunt of such policy changes. With the largest backlog nationwide, hearings are scheduled as far as five years from now. These wait times are not uncommon; cities such as Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, and Arlington face years long wait times.
Source: TRAC Immigration
Why is President Trump not announcing this? Easy answer: the Trump administration is well aware that the data challenges its never-ending theatrics of American prowess and progress under his administration.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the agency responsible for immigration courts in the U.S., published an inaccurate report in late September 2019 in which the records thousands of court proceedings present in an earlier release from the month were deleted. The EOIR’s mishandling of data suggests either an inattentiveness to accuracy or a genuine challenge in processing the increased number of caseloads. Legislators, lawyers, and the public alike bestow trust in federal agencies such as the EOIR for their accuracy, and its recent errors call government transparency into question among other troubling consequences.
A lack of accountability on the government’s behalf creates distrust and discord, weakening the U.S.’s immigration system and causing harm to those under its care. While the Trump administration continues to hide behind off-putting data and mishandling of reports, it is crucial for the public to maintain interest and demand transparency from agencies like EOIR, the Department of Homeland Security, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.