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Immigration Law

Biden Administration's "Dedicated Docket" Speeds Up Asylum Hearings – But at What Cost?

Austin Kocher, Jan. 13, 2022

"The Biden administration’s “Dedicated Docket” was created in May 2021 with the goal of accelerating cases that involved recently arrived asylum-seeking families while providing access to legal support and maintaining fairness.1

But a new report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University released this morning shows that the program may be doing more to generate higher than usual rates of deportation and wasting immigration judges’ time rather than create a fair and efficient asylum process.

TRAC’s report titled ”Low Representation Rates: Unrepresented Families Seeking Asylum on "Dedicated Docket" Ordered Deported by Immigration Courts” examined immigration court records current through the end of December 2021 that researchers identified as cases assigned to the Dedicated Docket program. The Dedicated Docket now includes more than 72,000 people, almost exactly the same number of people who have been enrolled in the Migrant Protection Protocols to date.

The report provides considerable insight into Dedicated Docket cases, but I want to emphasize three key takeaways.

  1. Just 15% of the 72,000 people on the Dedicated Docket have legal representation (so far). It takes time to find an attorney and the program is still relatively new. Still, this percent is still quite low, given that over 90% of asylum cases that were decided during this same period had attorneys. Granted, that 15% may go up between now and the time that cases are decided. In the first full month of cases that started in June, 45% did find an attorney by the end of the year. But that’s still low—and it leads to the next takeaway.

  2. Most of the completed Dedicated Docket cases ended in deportation. Of the roughly 1,687 cases that have been completed so far, 1,557 ended in a removal order. That’s 92%—a much higher denial rate than the roughly 70% annual denial rate of asylum cases in recent years. Of those Dedicated Docket cases that ended in deportation, 95% did not have an attorney. Just 13 people received asylum or another form of legal relief from deportation.

  3. ICE fails to turn in paperwork on time in 10% of cases. TRAC’s report shows that in 10% of cases so far—7,053 cases total—ended in “failure to prosecute.” The EOIR describes a “failure to prosecute” decision as appropriate when “DHS has not filed the Notice to Appear (NTA) with the court by the time of the first hearing.”2 Once ICE files an NTA in court, another hearing will be scheduled. This signifies ICE’s inability to keep up with its responsibilities under the Dedicated Docket program. And it also means that in an attempt to expedite asylum cases through the immigration courts the Biden administration has also wasted judges’ time by forcing them to hold hearings when the government is not ready—a big deal when the courts are facing over 1.5 million pending cases.

These findings raise serious questions about whether the Biden administration’s Dedicated Docket is achieving its stated goals or, more seriously, why this program was created in the first place given that it doesn’t appear to actually be benefitting anyone involved. These are my takeaways and not necessarily the views of TRAC as an organization.

TRAC’s report—complete with much more information, explanations of the methodology and findings, and detailed data tables—is available online at http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/674/.

1

See the announcement from the Department of Justice and the Executive Office for Immigration Review here: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/dhs-and-doj-announce-dedicated-docket-process-more-efficient-immigration-hearings.

2

See the EOIR’s explanation here: https://www.justice.gov/eoir/eoir-policy-manual/4/2."