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Immigration case backup: "I feel like my life is on hold"

By Crystal Price
EL PASO, Texas -- A shortage of immigration judges across the nation has caused a massive pileup of thousands of cases across the country.

The backlog of cases hits especially hard in the Borderland where some people have to wait up to four years to go before an immigration judge.

"It's just amazing how many cases each judge has to handle," said Gabriel Jimenez, an immigration attorney in El Paso.

Since 2008 the number of immigration cases in El Paso waiting for a judge has grown by more than 331 percent. The numbers of cases have gone from 1,808 to 7,792.

"Since President [Barack] Obama came into power, we've had an increase in arrests and people being placed into deportation proceedings," Jimenez said. "That has also contributed to the backlog has happened in the last four or five years."

Jimenez said a lack of funding from the government is also to blame for the lack of judges.

The average wait time for clients in El Paso to go before a judge is 18 months.

The immigration cases included individuals who are detained and must remain detained until they can go before a judge.

There are also some cases that include non-detained individuals.

Jimenez's law office is transferring some cases to courts in other cities to ease the caseload in the Borderland.

"If they live in other cities, sometimes it's possible to transfer the case out of El Paso to another city where the cases aren't as backlogged," Jimenez said.

One of Jimenez's clients, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he has been waiting two years for his first hearing. The Mexico native said his initial hearing is not scheduled until April 2015.

"I'm very frustrated," he said. "It feels like my life is on hold, I'm afraid that I might get detained again and deported."

The Chihuahua native no longer has his green card, which makes day-to-day business a struggle without a identification. He said all he can do in the meantime is wait as he looks toward an uncertain future.

"As time passes and I get older and if there is a negative result in the case, then I'm going to be an old man by the time I restart my life in Mexico," he said.

El Paso has the third-worst backup for immigration cases in the country, according to Transactional Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) data. San Antonio is the second-worst and Houston came in as the worst in the nation.



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