February 10, 2014

The Feb. 3 news article “A future decided in seven minutes ” illustrated the U.S. immigration court system’s deplorable lack of resources. Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reports that the nation’s 249 immigration judges labor under a record backlog of 357,167 pending cases, with the average case pending for 570 days. The immense U.S. immigration enforcement system is drowning the court system.

Some draw the wrong conclusions from these facts. They argue that noncitizens in removal proceedings should receive even less process, not more. In fact, the vast majority of those removed each year never see the inside of a courtroom.

In a 2010 report on the removal adjudication system, the American Bar Association decried removal in the “absence of administrative or judicial review and any other procedural due process protections.” It called for more judges and a higher ratio of clerks to judges. The courts also should rely more on pretrial conferences to limit the legal issues that judges consider, make greater use of prosecutorial discretion and appoint counsel for indigent noncitizens who may have bona fide claims to stay in the United States.

Nearly 215 years ago, James Madison characterized deportation as “among the severest of punishments.” A sufficiently resourced and reformed immigration court system would provide greater assurance that the right decisions are being made in these consequential cases.

Donald Kerwin, New York

The writer is executive director of the Center for Migration Studies of New York.