Immigration courts: record number of cases, many problems

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Everyone was in place for the hearing in Atlanta immigration court: the Guinean man hoping to stay in the U.S., his attorney, a prosecutor, a translator and the judge. But because of some missing paperwork, it was all for nothing.

When the government attorney said he hadn't received the case file, Judge J. Dan Pelletier rescheduled the proceeding. Everybody would have to come back another day.

The sudden delay was just one example of the inefficiency witnessed by an Associated Press writer who observed hearings over two days in one of the nation's busiest immigration courts. And that case is one of more than half a million weighing down court dockets across the country as President Donald Trump steps up enforcement of immigration laws.

Even before Trump became president, the nation's immigration courts were burdened with a record number of pending cases, a shortage of judges and frequent bureaucratic breakdowns. Cases involving immigrants not in custody commonly take two years to resolve and sometimes as many as five.

The backlog and insufficient resources are problems stretching back at least a decade, said San Francisco Immigration Judge Dana Marks, speaking as the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.

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