Immigration Law

Seven-minute decisions must be made in this immigration court


The docket is so crowded in an Arlington, Va., immigration court that the judge had only seven minutes per case, on average, to make his decisions one recent morning.

A Washington Post reporter sat in the courtroom of Judge Lawrence Burman as he decided 26 matters before lunchtime. His is one of 57 overwhelmed immigration courts across the country grappling with 350,000 backlogged deportation cases, the story says.

The Post had the details of one case, a request for bond by an undocumented immigrant accused of drunken driving. He had two prior misdemeanors for hitting parked cars and leaving the scene, causing less than $1,000 damage. Those incidents occurred in 2003 and 2004. Burman denied bond, finding the priors were crimes of moral turpitude, making deportation more likely.

According to the Post, immigration judges hear 1,500 cases per year while federal judges decide 440. Immigration judges must share one law clerk with other judges while each federal judge is assisted by four clerks.

Psychiatrists who surveyed immigration judges in 2008 deemed the work “impossibly stressful,” with higher burnout rates than prison guards or doctors in busy hospitals. “Since then the courtroom conditions had only worsened,” the story says. “The law becomes more complex each time widespread reform defaults to more piecemeal solutions. A hiring freeze has reduced 272 judges to 249, and a congressional proposal to hire 225 more stalled last year in the House. Nearly half of the judges who are left will be eligible for retirement in the next year, which means caseloads are again expected to rise.”

The story recounted immigration judges’ verbatim comments on a job satisfaction survey. They complained of work that was similar to a factor assembly line, without enough time to think. “The volume is constant and unrelenting,” one judge wrote. ““The drip-drip-drip of Chinese water torture,” another wrote.

Prior coverage:

ABA Journal: “Immigrants face numerous hurdles as they struggle to navigate the legal process”

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