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Archive for Saturday, July 7, 2007

Immigration court to help relieve backlog

July 7, 2007

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— Even before the collapse of the immigration compromise in the U.S. Senate, immigration courts handling administrative cases in America's Heartland were swamped.

The U.S. Justice Department announced plans earlier this year to open an immigration court in Kansas City, Mo., to handle the backlog - noting that Missouri has ranked first or second in the nation in the past four years in the number of administrative cases originating from a state with no immigration court.

Administrative immigration cases for such things as asylum or deportation hearings in Kansas and Missouri are now heard by the immigration court in Chicago through a video link.

Last year, the immigration court in Chicago handled 3,322 cases from Missouri and 686 from Kansas, said Susan Eastwood, spokeswoman for the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review.

"We see a need and we are filling it," Eastwood said, adding the decision to open additional courts was made to provide better due process.

A decision has not yet been reached on how many states the new Kansas City court will handle. The Justice Department plans to make it a two-judge court, expected to open late this year, she said.

"Most of us are looking forward to having it down here," said Jim Austin, an immigration attorney based in Kansas City. "It will provide a better service to the public not having to use televideos to a judge in Chicago."

Currently some of his immigration cases are booked a year in advance because of the backlog in Chicago.

Austin said the court should provide more efficient and quicker handling of cases, with the most benefit probably to those people detained by immigration officials who are waiting for a bond hearing.

Two other new immigration courts - one in Omaha, Neb., and the other in Charlotte, N.C. - are also expected to be opened this year.

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