Washington - The U.S. Justice Department is going on a hiring spree for immigration judges in hopes of easing an intractable case backlog.
In its budget proposal for the fiscal year 2024 that starts October 1, the department is seeking $1.46 billion for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, a subagency within the department tasked with adjudicating immigration claims.
The request represents an increase of nearly 70% in funding and will enable the agency to hire 965 new judicial staff, including 150 new immigration judges, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in written testimony before a Senate appropriations subcommittee.
"Then we'd be placing them in areas of the highest number of cases," Garland said.
In recent years, the agency has deployed newly hired immigration judges to Southwestern states to deal with an influx of migrants.
In fiscal year 2023, Florida, Texas, California and New York had the largest number of pending immigration cases.
There are currently about 600 immigration judges in the country, more than double from just a few years ago, handling more than 2 million cases.
In addition to hiring more judges for immigration courts, Garland said, the Justice Department plans to expand virtual hearings at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a backlog reduction initiative.
The attorney general made the comments during testimony on the Justice Department's budget request of nearly $40 billion for the next fiscal year.
The department's proposal for additional judges and judicial staff comes as the number of pending claims in immigration courts continues to grow.
Last year, the number of immigration cases topped more than 2 million, up from about 344,000 a decade ago, according to data compiled by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.
The backlog has expanded even as immigration judges are adjudicating cases at a record pace, according to TRAC.
"It suggests that may not be the answer that we were hoping for," Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee, said.
The "ultimate way" to ease the backlog, Shaheen said, is through comprehensive immigration reform, a goal that has long eluded lawmakers.