After serving as an immigration judge since 1993, Judge Wayne R. Iskra recently announced his retirement, effective January 16, 2013. The Department of Justice has a partial hiring freeze in place –allowing for the replacement of every three immigration judges with the appointment of one immigration judge. As such, there are no plans to replace Judge Iskra, which will cause tremendous delay on the Arlington Immigration Court’s docket. Of particular concern are detained cases which will have to be reassigned to other Immigration Judges. Immigrants who are subject to mandatory detention and must fight their cases from ICE detention facilities were already receiving final hearings anywhere from six months to nine months out. Judge Iskra’s retirement would likely lead to further delay as his caseload must be redistributed to the remaining immigration judges who have their own full caseloads and were operating with reduced staff and resources.
For non-detained cases, clients have already seen hearing dates being scheduled for as far out as January of 2017, for their first hearing before an immigration judge. While the backlog benefits immigrants who are not eligible for relief and will ultimately be ordered removed, it will cause enormous difficulties for clients who have meritorious cases in a number of different ways. For example, for clients who have meritorious asylum claims, they must wait years before their case can be heard. They must wait until their case is decided before they can petition for derivative status for any immediate family members residing abroad. Often asylum applicants have emotional and psychological problems such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the persecution they have endured. Waiting years for a decision that could mean the difference between life or death only adds to the anxiety and the uncertainty of their situation and that of their families. Finally, these delays are costly for immigrants. Of those immigrants who are eligible for work permits while their case is pending before the immigration court, many must pay $380 each time they renew their work authorization. For immigrants who are not eligible for work permits while their case is pending, such as applicants for withholding of removal under the Convention against Torture, finding work can be difficult.