The US asylum backlog is nearing 1.6 million, the highest number on record

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Nearly 1.6 million asylum applications are pending in US immigration courts and at US Citizenship and Immigration Services – the largest number of pending asylum cases on record, according to analysis of federal data by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

US immigration courts have seen an over seven-fold increase in asylum cases from fiscal year 2012, when there were 100,000 cases pending, and the end of fiscal year 2022, when the backlog grew to over 750,000, per the clearinghouse.

“Since then, in just the first two months of [fiscal year] 2023 (October – November 2022), the asylum backlog jumped by over 30,000 new cases and now totals, 787,882,” the clearinghouse stated.

The asylum seekers are from 219 different countries and speak 418 different languages, according to the Syracuse group. About 3 out of 10 are children under the age of 18 and the leading countries of origin include Guatemala, Venezuelan, Cuba and Brazil, the group said. Florida and Massachusetts are among the states with the biggest asylum case growth.

The overall average wait time for an asylum hearing is about 4.3 years, but in Omaha, Nebraska – the court with the longest delay – the wait time averages 5.9 years, according to the group.

A growing number of asylum seekers are being electronically monitored through the Department of Homeland Security’s Alternative to Detention program, while a small portion – about 2,000 – are in ICE detention, according to the clearinghouse.

The analysis comes amid a recent surge in migrants – many from Venezuela and Haiti – at the southern US border.

Despite the continued cold temperatures, border agents in the El Paso area continue to encounter between 1,500 and 1,600 migrants every day, a federal law enforcement source with knowledge of operations on the ground told CNN.

It’s a drop compared to the numbers seen a few weeks ago, when 2,500 migrants were being encountered each day. Last week, the daily encounters dropped to about 1,500 per day, according to a statement issued by the Department of Homeland Security.

The city declared a state of emergency earlier this month over thousands of migrants living in unsafe conditions.

Many undocumented migrants – those who don’t have the proper documentation showing they’ve been processed by US border patrol – have been on the streets seeking shelter during the winter storm. The same law enforcement source also warned that human smuggling has also continued in the area.

Peter Jaquez, the Border Patrol Chief in El Paso, tweeted last week that in 48 hours, agents foiled 12 smuggling schemes and apprehended 15 human smugglers and 57 migrants.

Efforts to transport migrants to other sectors for processing are ongoing in the El Paso area, according to the law enforcement source. Last week, about 6,000 migrants were moved out of the El Paso area for processing and another 3,400 migrants were expelled in removal flights, CNN previously reported.


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