The immigration court backlog in the Commonwealth continues to grow and is one of the largest in the nation.
Virginia is the sixth in the nation with the most pending immigration cases, according to the latest data from TRAC Immigration.
The data shows that there are more than 58,000 cases on the waiting list, and it continues to climb every year.
In Roanoke alone, there are more than 800 on the backlog. It’s no surprise to Poarch Thompson Law Managing Attorney Rachel Thompson.
“Now, I’ve been doing this under two different administrations,” she said. “This is now my third administration working. And when I first started the number was half of that.”
Because of this pileup, she said the majority of the immigration cases she handles are set for 2025.
“Can you imagine someone who has come here and fled extreme violence in their country and is going through trauma and PTSD?” she said. “And now they are at a point where they are seeking refuge, and they have to be put on the stand five years later at a minimum. Usually, it’s more than that.”
Between the leftover cases from the Obama administration, the Trump administration and the coronavirus pandemic, judges’ dockets are overpacked.
In 2018, the Trump administration issued a quota mandate to speed up deportations and reduce the clogged court system of immigration cases.
The mandate said immigration judges needed to complete at least 700 cases annually in order to earn a satisfactory performance job rating; however, Thompson said the measure caused more problems.
“That caused a frenzy to try to get cases through the door and it actually backfired,” she said. “Cases can’t be handled like that because the judicial system under the Department of Justice is not equipped. It’s inefficient.”
Therefore, Thompson is pushing for a separate judicial system that would handle immigration cases. The idea is to create a federal district court under Article I, which is the same power used to create the system that handles bankruptcy and some tax cases.
“There’s been a huge push for that in Congress. But until that happens we are only going to see that backlog get larger,” Thompson said.