A Houston immigration judge, Judge Mimi Yam, has reportedly failed to do her part to reduce the overcrowded immigration court docket by going a total of 24 months in the last five years without issuing a single ruling. She has decided only a small fraction of the cases as her fellow judges.
Like most deportation courts, Houston has faced a record number of pending cases in 2015. There are currently 31,000 pending cases at that city’s Executive Office for Immigration Review. Judge Richard Walton decided 700 cases through May of this year, while Yam has decided only 15 in that same span of time.
An attorney that represents Judge Yam, claims that she was placed on leave for whistle-blowing. Jason Zuckerman, a Washington, D.C. attorney, said in a statement, “The Executive Office of Immigration Review has retaliated against Judge Yam in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act. The EOIR should reinstate Judge Yam immediately.”
The head of the National Association of Immigration Judges, Hon. Dana Leigh Marks, explained that 233 immigration judges are hearing cases full time. That means that each judge could be handling an average of 2,000 cases. For comparison, federal district court judges handle about 440 at a given time.
Due to President Obama’s prioritizing of certain cases, many cases are being pushed back to be heard during or after 2019. The average delay in Houston is roughly 673 days.
Between July 2014 and May 2015, Yam decided only 293 cases. In October, she decided zero cases, while in September she decided 122. Judge Walton decided more than 1,400 cases and two other judges (Brisack and Yates) decided over 1,000 cases.
Houston immigration attorney’s explain that even straightforward cases would remain stagnant in Yam’s court. The long delays are said to correlate with her long absences and unstable docket.
Delays in immigration courts can leave immigrants in peril. This delay also allows immigrants to stay for years when they perhaps should’ve been sent home quickly.
One case involved an Ethiopian woman that sought asylum because she could face death for losing her virginity outside of marriage. She is quoted as saying, “”They would have had to harm me to keep their access to heaven,” in reference to her family’s interpretation of Islam. She has been waiting for asylum since 2013. Before her case could be heard in Yam’s court, the hearing was postponed to 2019.