HOUSTON — If you could only use one word to describe the current U.S. immigration system, it might be "backlogged."
Temporary processing facilities are spread throughout Texas because U.S. Border Patrol processing stations are overcrowded with men, women and children. Once a person is processed, their information is uploaded to a federal database and the legal fight begins.
The legal arm of the immigration process is long. It currently spans years because courts are backlogged with pending cases.
Lawyers across Houston are ready to help the latest wave of undocumented immigrants.
"Houston is definitely, Harris County is definitely, one of the places that has sort of the largest number of children resettled,” Terry Cody said.
She’s the Legal Director for Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
The nonprofit organization, which has locations throughout the country, assists in various aspects of an immigrant’s journey. From Catholic sisters and volunteers helping people just across the U.S. border in Mexico to a humanitarian respite center in McAllen, Texas helps children and families navigate federal immigration courts in Houston.
“We’ve been doing this, actually, since 1983,” Cody said of Catholic Charities St. Frances Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance. “We also work with a lot of fabulous pro bono attorneys in the Houston area.”
Catholic Charities is a part of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative whose community partners offer free or low-cost legal help. The organization is gearing up for a lot more outreach and referrals as undocumented immigrants from federal processing facilities to temporary housing and refugee shelters.
“Sometimes we forget, I think, how sort of foreign and intimidating this whole process is,” Cody said. “You’re talking about folks that are, that have been through trauma already.”
That trauma stems from why a person fled their home country and who they’ve left behind, to the abuse from human smugglers and fear of what might happen next.
Of each immigrant’s story, Cody said, “everybody’s unique but they are all heartbreaking. It’s something that you never get used to.”
The Catholic Charities St. Frances Cabrini Immigrant Legal Assistance Program runs off donations. Cody is hoping Houstonians offer some monetary support.
Syracuse University tracks the immigration court backlog. According to its data, Texas leads the nation with 211,795 cases pending during the fiscal year 2021. A majority of those cases are pending in immigration courts in the Houston area. Each pending case is averaging an 891-day wait, or about 2 1/2 years.