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Expand chart
Note: Pending cases equals removal, deportation, exclusion, asylum-only, and withholding only; Data: Dept. of Justice; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of immigrants waiting on a judge to decide whether they can stay in the U.S. keeps climbing, according to Justice Department data.

Why it matters: Immigration-court backlogs "are basically crippling the whole system," Georgetown Law professor and former immigration judge Paul Schmidt told Axios.

By the numbers: On average, immigrants are waiting 727 days for decisions on their court cases — roughly twice as long as immigrants had to wait two decades ago, according to Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) which gathered millions of court records.

The big picture: The long waits have resulted in many Central American families being released after crossing the border illegally, because it is nearly impossible for their cases to be decided on within the 20 day detention limit for children.

  • The backlog also incentivizes migration. Migrants can expect at least a few months in the U.S. before they have to show up to court, immigration experts said.

The Trump administration cited the growing backlog as a reason for new rules all but cutting off Central Americans from gaining asylum.

  • Migrants who are disqualified for asylum under the new rule will still have the chance to fight deportation in front of an immigration judge.
  • And many of the administration's actions — such as increasing ICE arrests and limiting judges' ability to dismiss low-priority cases — have made the problem worse, according to Schmidt.

How it works: There are 431 DOJ-appointed judges handling immigration cases, up from 289 in FY 2016, according to Justice Department data. The Trump administration has ramped up hiring for immigration judges and put pressure on them to work faster.

  • While they wait for their court date, asylum seekers, green-card applicants, immigrants arrested by ICE and others are either held in an ICE detention center, asked to pay bail or released, sometimes with an ankle bracelet or other monitoring device.

Go deeper

5 hours ago - World

Top general: U.S. losing time to deter China

Stanley McChrystal. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stanley McChrystal, a top retired general and Biden adviser, tells Axios that "China's military capacity has risen much faster than people appreciate," and the U.S. is running out of time to counterbalance that in Asia and prevent a scenario such as it seizing Taiwan.

Why it matters: McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently briefed the president-elect as part of his cabinet of diplomatic and national security advisers. President-elect Joe Biden is considering which Trump- or Obama-era approaches to keep or discard, and what new strategies to pursue.

Progressives shift focus from Biden's Cabinet to his policy agenda

Joe Biden giving remarks in Wilmington, Del., last month. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Some progressives tell Axios they believe the window for influencing President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet selections has closed, and they’re shifting focus to policy — hoping to shape Biden's agenda even before he’s sworn in.

Why it matters: The left wing of the party often draws attention for its protests, petitions and tweets, but this deliberate move reflects a determination to move beyond some fights they won't win to engage with Biden strategically, and over the long term.

Dave Lawler, author of World
7 hours ago - World

Venezuela's predictable elections herald an uncertain future

The watchful eyes of Hugo Chávez on an election poster in Caracas. Photo: Cristian Hernandez/AFP via Getty

Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday, Nicolás Maduro will complete his takeover of the last opposition-held body, and much of the world will refuse to recognize the results.

The big picture: The U.S. and dozens of other countries have backed an opposition boycott of the National Assembly elections on the grounds that — given Maduro's tactics (like tying jobs and welfare benefits to voting), track record, and control of the National Electoral Council — they will be neither free nor fair.

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