Judges asked to close some immigration cases

March 14, 2013 7:02:34 PM PDT
A backlog of immigration cases across the country has courts clogged and now immigration judges are being told to do something about it. They're being told to close the cases, even without consent from government prosecutors.

Some immigration lawyers say a memo some judges received last week could mean wrapping up cases a lot sooner for some of their clients who are non-violent offenders.

It all has to do with a memo issued to courts addressing immigration case backlogs by the chief immigration judge at the U.S. Department of Justice last week. Attorney's across Houston have been buzzing about the memo and some are calling it good news.

"We welcome it as a positive sign to remove or administratively close some cases," immigration lawyer Baldomero Garza III said.

Garza is also the League of United Latin American Citizens' Vice President for the southwest. He's reviewed the memo, which reminds judges court resources are too limited to allow some immigration cases to drag on and on.

Garza says the memo reminds judges they have the power to manage their dockets by resolving many low-priority cases without a prosecutor.

"Ultimately, we all must be reassured that the judges will exercise discretion in terms of you are not going to release somebody that's been convicted of a violent crime, drug trafficking -- something serious that's going to put the public in jeopardy," Garza said.

Immigration attorneys say some cases drag on, allowing clients to find a lawyer or investigators to gather evidence. Judges are being reminded they can also control those continuances to better manage their courtroom.

"Yes you can delay it as long as you can, but in the end, you are using court resources that really should be going to the people that really do need to be removed," Garza said.

The U.S. Department of Justice says it will offer immigration judges guidance to better manage their dockets.

There were a total of 42,573 cases pending in immigration courts across Texas at the end of last month. The Executive Office of Immigration Review's records also show Houston had the most pending cases, a total of 13,711.
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