Local immigration lawyers push for separate immigration court to combat case backlog

ROANOKE, Va. – Congress is weighing in on a bill that could drastically change the nation’s immigration system.

The nation has hit a record, with a backlog reaching nearly 1.6 million immigration cases.

Congress is looking at a bill that aims to separate immigration court from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Elizabeth Stevens with Porch Thompson Law in Salem has been pushing for this change since 2017.

“We can’t do band-aids anymore just by throwing more judges or more this or more that,” said Stevens. “What we need to do is complete restructuring. It needs major surgery.”

She said it would give judges more control of their courtroom and dockets and lead to a more efficient and fair system.

According to Trac Immigration, Virginia is the seventh in the nation with regards to the most pending immigration cases.

Every time a new president enters, new political influence pushes back the timeline for cases.

Immigration attorney Rachel Thompson said every administration change feels like “whiplash” but explaining this to her clients is the toughest part of her job.

“And I have to keep coming back and say, ‘oh, you know how I told you however long ago, well the administration has changed. And this is how your case has changed because of it,’” she said. “And it really cheapens my words and now I can’t trust anyone. Priorities are different because the person in the White House has changed.”

Once a client is in removal proceedings, Thompson said most of her clients’ cases are being pushed to 2025 or 2026.

“If the law keeps on changing for these poor people, are they ever going to think they really need to follow it,” Stevens said. “It’s just going to change again.”

Thompson said the current system rushes cases and doesn’t allow enough time for a proper trial.

“They are trying to put a three-to-five-hour case in a one-to-two-hour slot,” Thompson said. “I have to say we can’t try a case in less than two hours. And unfortunately, they are still making us do it.”

Stevens said they are working with staff in the Senate to also make a companion bill to encourage the push for change.

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