The Chicago Tribune has a long, sobering, and troubling article about the immigration court system. This gets way too little attention. The court infrastructure is terrible, and leaves judges in a position of trying to make snap decisions about the lives of thousands of people.
Judges handle, on average, more than 1,200 matters a year, leaving them so overwhelmed they mostly issue oral decisions "that sometimes are not fully researched or based in law or fact," according to a 2010 report commissioned by the American Bar Association.
This puts a strain on the judges themselves, who have to digest the details of cases rapidly, all of which have high stakes. Even at that pace, people sometimes have to wait years to have their cases heard.
On Thad Gembacz's first day as immigration judge in Los Angeles, he had 1,198 cases.
On his last day, a dozen years later, in 2008, he had 1,464.
No matter how hard he worked, he says, cases kept coming "like a flow out of a spigot. You can't turn it off."
As more restrictive laws are passed, this will only get worse without comprehensive reform, and that reform will have to address the court system as well.