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As ICE enforcement grows, immigration courts can't keep up

As the number of people detained in a series of ICE operations across the country continues to grow, some say already backlogged immigration courts won't be able to handle the caseloads, leaving families in limbo.

One U.S. congressman from Texas is taking up the issue. In December, Representative Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, introduced the "End the Backlog Act."

It would freeze funding for ICE and Customs and Border Protection until funding for immigration courts is increased.

Rep. Veasey writes, "For years, Republicans in Congress have drastically increased funding for border security without keeping pace with the needs of immigration courts. A shortage of immigration judges not only creates a backlog of cases but also keeps immigrant families in legal limbo."

After numerous requests for more judges over the past decade, the 250 immigration judges in 58 courts across the country are bogged down with backlogged cases, which are now at an all-time high.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice tells CBS Austin News the latest executive review shows 534,019 pending immigration cases.

Local immigration attorney Martha Aranda with Morales & Sparks PLLC says phone calls from local families in fear of deportation have been pouring in to their Austin area offices, since ICE's "Operation Cross Check" began late last week.

She says families are terrified of being torn apart, but Aranda has fears of her own -- how long all these new cases could be dragged out in court.

Right now, 14 of Morales & Spark's clients are awaiting November 2019 court dates, and Aranda says they've been waiting for years.

"So I don't even know what they're going to do now, because the cases were already so incredibly backlogged. These judges have way too many cases," said Aranda.

With more immigration enforcement expected in the coming days, Aranda says she thinks the worst is yet to come.

"These [detention] facilities are pretty crowded, and I only imagine it's going to get worse," she said.

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