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Utah's first immigration court opened Monday, allowing undocumented workers a chance to plead their case to a judge in person instead of through a telephone or video conference.

“By creating this in Utah, it's going to permit immigration officials to address the increasing caseload,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who helped push through federal funding for the court at 5272 S. College Drive (500 West) in Murray.

Immigration cases in Utah have skyrocketed in recent years, reaching more than 800 cases this year compared with about 300 in 2000, Hatch said. Previously, those cases were handled at an office in Salt Lake City, but judges were located elsewhere, even across the country.

“This personal contact with the judge is good for everybody,” Hatch said, noting that it would save money over time.

Judge William L. Nixon heard his first case on Monday.

Elaine Komis, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, an agency of the Justice Department, said the court was needed to address the rising number of cases, which are expected to continue increasing in the next few years.

- Thomas Burr