WASHINGTON --- The wait time for immigration cases originating in Iowa is far above the national average, according to a new report.
Iowa's immigration cases are sent to Nebraska, where the average wait time for a case to be heard is 525 days. The national average is 482 days.
The Nebraska court that handles cases from Iowa has also seen a 43 percent increase in the number cases since 2008, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse using data from the Department of Justice. That's lower than the national average of 50 percent.
The backlog of immigration court cases awaiting review and wait times for cases to be heard nationwide has jumped to all-time highs in the last year, the report said.
Study co-author Susan Long said the government does not track where immigrants awaiting adjudication are picked up, so it is impossible to know how many of Nebraska's cases originated in Iowa.
Cedar Falls immigration attorney Miryam Antúnez de Mayolo attributes the dramatic rise to increased use of the 287(g) program, which allows designated state and local police officers to enforce federal immigration laws.
"In Iowa, people are being stopped by police more. We call it 'driving while Hispanic,'" she said. "They get pulled over for a broken tail light and end up in a detention facility."
For Iowa immigration cases, the wait is long.
Trials for some of Antúnez de Mayolo's clients are scheduled as far ahead as 2013.
Bob Dane, a spokesman for the anti-amnesty Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the adjudication delay allows illegal immigrants to "game the system."
Although illegal immigrants can volunteer for expedited removal, they rarely do so, he said.
"Why would you (leave voluntarily) when you keep hearing that amnesty is right around the corner if you wait it out?" he said. "They will do anything to drag out the process."
Antúnez de Mayolo estimated that 95 percent of her clients have children or spouses who are U.S. citizens.
Illegal immigrants who are already here should be given criminal background checks and, if passed, be allowed to stay, she said.
The cost of background checks for millions of people would be enormous, Dane said.
But if that cost --- about $80 --- were passed on to the immigrants themselves, like many routine government applications already require, then the government would actually save money, Antúnez de Mayolo countered.
"The problem we're having is that so many resources and so many hours for judges are being used," she said.
"It's really the cost-effective solution, too."
Juan Osuna, director of the Executive Office of Immigration Review --- the division of the Department of Justice responsible for immigration court administration --- testified before Congress in May that about 10 judges retire every year, so any positive effects of the last year's hiring boon will soon bust.
None of the new hires went to the Nebraska court, which has only two judges.