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Immigration courts struggle with biggest backlog in Minnesota’s history

Every weekday morning in a tiny federal courtroom near the Minneapolis-St. Paul international airport in Bloomington, a dozen or more people accused of immigration violations — many of them without lawyers — appear before one of Minnesota’s three immigration judges to argue or accept charges that could ultimately lead to deportation.

That court and its judges are inching their way through the largest immigration case backlog in Minnesota’s history. There were 2,500 open cases at the end of fiscal year 2010 — the 14th largest backlog in the country. That’s a 46 percent increase over the count at the end of fiscal year 2008 — slightly above the nationwide increase of 40 percent for the same period.

Also at a record high is the length of time cases are pending. The average wait was 410 days in 2010, up 36 percent from 2008. The national average is now 456 days.

Data released by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse ranks the pending cases by nationality. There are 864 immigrants from Mexico with cases before the court, the largest group by far — the next group down the list is Salvadorans with 176 open cases. Guatemalans (171 cases), Kenyans (110) and Somalis (109) follow close behind.

What happens to these people while they wait? How do judges cope with the backlog? What challenges to attorneys and other advocates face? What has changed in law enforcement that so many more people are being pushed into the system?

Immigration case backlog for Minnesota

Immigration case backlog for Minnesota
Source: Transactional Records Clearing House

We know some of the answers thanks to local and national reporters. But what’s missing in the coverage so far? We’re working to fill in the holes and we need your stories to do it.

Are you a lawyer or advocate who works with people who have cases before the court? Do you work in the court? Are you a law enforcement officer? Or have you been ordered to appear at any time in the past five years? I want to hear from you.

I’ve created a simple and secure form below where you can share your experiences from Minnesota’s backlogged immigration court. No detail is too small.

Average days to resolution for immigration cases in Minnesota

Average days to resolution for immigration cases in Minnesota
Source: Transactional Records Clearing House

You don’t have to use the form below. We can do this the old-fashioned way too: call me at 612-455-6964 or email me at or mail the material to MinnPost’s offices at 900 6th Ave. SE. #220, Minneapolis, 55414. You can even send a fax to 612-455-6960.

What you share will not be published without your permission; it will be confidential and will help to inform and guide our reporting.

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