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Pending deportation cases hit all-time high in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — The number of deportation cases awaiting resolution has hit all-time highs both in Utah and the entire nation, according to a report released Thursday.

That information comes as Utah politicians are increasingly complaining that the federal government is not doing enough to enforce immigration laws.

Utah had 1,167 deportation cases pending as of mid-June, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University in New York, which tracks such information nationwide.

That was up from 1,061 in Utah the previous fiscal year, which was also the previous record. The number of cases pending this year is 11 times higher than the 103 cases that were pending in 2002. The numbers have generally consistently increased since then.

TRAC reported that the average wait time for resolution of Utah cases now is 471 days, up from 455 days last year — but down from the record high of 544 days in 2005.

TRAC reported that people from 81 different nations were awaiting decisions on deportation in Utah.

Mexico had the most — 696 cases, or 60 percent of the total pending in Utah. Following it were: El Salvador, with 6.5 percent of cases; Guatemala, 6.3 percent; Peru, 3.2 percent; Colombia, 1.8 percent; Venezuela, 1.7 percent; Honduras, 1.5 percent; Vietnam, 1.2 percent; and Tonga and Brazil, 1.1 percent each.

Deportation cases in Utah involved nationals of such other disparate countries as Bosnia, Moldova, Mongolia, Turkmenistan, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands and Greece.

Utah legislators are looking at passing tougher immigration enforcement laws — and all sides of the immigration debate are saying that the federal government has not done enough to enforce existing laws.

Nationally, the number of cases awaiting resolution reached a new all-time high of 247,922. TRAC said that was up by 33 percent from levels at the end of fiscal 2008.

Nationally, wait times to resolve cases now average 459 days — a bit lower than the average in Utah.

TRAC said several factors affect the number of cases and wait times. One reason for more cases and longer waits is that the government has been pursuing more deportation cases recently.

For example, it reported last week that from October 2009 to the end of June 2010, the Obama administration removed more non-U.S. citizens from the country than during any similar period in the Bush administration.

TRAC also said that last year "saw the influx of new proceedings and other matters received by the immigration courts reach an all-time high."

Another reason it takes longer to decide cases, TRAC said, are "new requirements imposed by court of appeals and Supreme Court decisions."

Finally, TRAC said the number of immigration judges nationally has declined because the pace of hiring has not kept up with judge turnover. It said some judge positions nationally have been vacant since 2006.