The migrant crisis at the southern border is putting an increasing strain not only on border officials but also on the immigration courts, as both migrant encounter numbers and court backlogs hit enormous highs.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Friday announced that there were 242,418 migrant encounters at the southern border in November, including migrant encounters at ports of entry and illegal immigrant encounters by Border Patrol between ports of entry. That is the highest November on record and the third-highest month of the crisis so far.
Announcing the November numbers, acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller said that the agency is facing a “serious challenge” and that it and federal partners need more resources from Congress as requested in the supplemental funding request.
“Despite ongoing challenges, in November, the men and women of CBP continued their tireless work and recorded increased seizures of illegal narcotics while facilitating lawful trade and increased holiday travel,” he said.
The Border Patrol union was more critical of the challenge facing agents.
“While our agents are more than willing to sacrifice the holidays to protect fellow Americans, that’s not what they will be doing,” National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd said Friday. “They will be processing the illegal border crossers for release into the U.S. while large parts of the border will be left wide open to exploitation by organized crime. These will not be happy holidays for the hard-working men and women of the Border Patrol.”
Meanwhile, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University published data this week showing how the number of cases before the immigration courts has now exceeded three million cases. That number has spiked from around 530,000 in December 2016 at the end of the Obama administration. At the end of the Trump administration, it stood at around 1.3 million. That was before the massive migrant crisis that hit the southern border in 2021. By the end of 2021, the backlog stood at 1.6 million and 2 million by the end of 2022. As of November of this year, the backlog is now at 3.075 million.
TRAC noted that the hiring of new immigration judges has accelerated under the Biden administration, with 682 judges now working and closing an average of 975 cases each during the latest fiscal year, but it has not been enough to keep up with the wave of migrants coming in.
“Immigration Judges are swamped. Immigration Judges now average 4,500 pending cases each,” TRAC said in a report. “If every person with a pending immigration case were gathered together, it would be larger than the population of Chicago, the third largest city in the United States. Indeed, the number of waiting immigrants in the Court’s backlog is now larger than the population found in many states.”
Sources also told Fox News that Border Patrol has released more than 386,000 illegal immigrants into the U.S. with Notices to Appear since October, not including releases by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Republicans have criticized the administration for releasing migrants into the interior and have called for greater restrictions on asylum and the use of humanitarian parole by the administration.
The administration has said it is dealing with a hemisphere-wide crisis and needs more funding and comprehensive immigration reform to reduce backlogs and fix a “broken” system. It has also implemented a rule to expedite asylum claims using U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers rather than immigration judges.
The Biden administration’s funding request, meanwhile, includes $1.4 billion for additional immigration judges. The administration has expressed openness to restrictions on releases in order to get a funding deal done, but it is unclear if it will be enough for Republicans and if it will lose support of Democrats in the process — some of whom have loudly opposed restrictions on asylum.
Lawmakers have expressed optimism at the possibility of a deal, but have warned that it won’t happen before January at the earliest.
Fox News’ Bill Melugin and Griff Jenkins contributed to this report.