Immigration judges in Minnesota face a 3,000 case backlog

By Mark Brunswick and Alejandra Matos

MINNEAPOLIS, MN — The realities of an immigration system under siege came walking one by one, in handcuffs and prison flip-flops, into the Bloomington courtroom of Judge William J. Nickerson. In a windowless chamber with mismatched chairs and worn wood paneling, Nickerson, one of three U.S. Immigration Court judges in Minnesota, heard case after case of people from Mexico to Micronesia detained for violating U.S. immigration laws. Their appearances put faces to lives caught up in one of the country’s 59 overwhelmed immigration courts. Intensifying enforcement has built such a backlog that an immigration case first heard in Minnesota today likely would take until next year or longer — an average of 400 days — to settle. Even with regulations intended to speed justice, undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers wait in the community or languish in jail to find out if they will be deported.