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5 things to know about immigration courts

An overlooked element in the immigration debate is the nation's Immigration Court system, where many of the newly arrived migrants will have their cases resolved. Here are key facts about the court system and its struggles: OVERFLOWING CASELOAD The number of immigrants with cases before the immigration courts has jumped 7 percent since October to more than 375,000, the agency's highest caseload to date. The number of cases before the immigration courts rose by 23,000 during the previous fiscal year. WAIT TIMES The average time a pending case has been before the immigration courts is now 587 days, which is about 19 months, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Immigration lawyers say getting a hearing can take much longer than that. For example, in Los Angeles, the average time a case has been before the immigration court is more than two years, data show. COURT LOCATIONS The country has 59 immigration courts overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice. Some are inside detention centers, while others deal with immigrants who are not detained. The states with the biggest immigration caseloads are California, New York and Texas. DEPORTATION VERSUS RELIEF Immigration judges decided more than 140,000 initial cases during the 2013 fiscal year, which doesn't include cases reopened or returned on appeal. More than two-thirds of the immigrants were ordered deported, while about 17 percent qualified for relief. Four years earlier, about 82 percent of the initial cases decided by the courts ended in deportation, according to agency statistics. NATIONALITIES The top five countries of origin of immigrants with initial cases decided by the court during the 2013 fiscal year were Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and China, according to the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review.

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