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Immigration Court Case Closures Accelerate, Racing to Catch Up with Growing ICE NTA Filings

February 21, 2023 (4 min read)

TRAC, Feb. 21, 2023

"Immigration Court dispositions are reaching record highs. In FY 2023, Court closures are on pace to grow to nearly half a million cases disposed of by Immigration Judges. Case dispositions in FY 2022 were a record 47 percent higher than the previous high set during FY 2019. During the first four months of FY 2023 (Oct 2022-Jan 2023), Court closures reached 172,180, 85 percent higher than a comparable period during 2019.

However, if the pace of new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) filings in Immigration Court continues, FY 2023 may also reach a new record for incoming cases. During the same four months of FY 2023, a total of 329,380 Notices to Appear (NTAs) issued by the DHS were recorded in Immigration Court case-by-case records. Thus, the Court is on pace this year to receive nearly a million new NTAs seeking to deport immigrants. See Figures 1 and 2.

Figures 1 and 2. Department of Homeland Security New Notices to Appear in Immigration Court Compared with Court Cases Completed, FY 2013 - FY 2023 (through January)

Zooming in to examine trends month-by-month, Court closures increased rapidly up through June 2022. Since then, Court closures have bounced around between 40,000 to 50,000 per month. In January 2023, case closures were just under 49,000. See Figure 3.

Even this accelerated growth in case closures has been insufficient to catch up with new Court receipts as also shown in Figure 3. New NTAs reaching the court peaked in August 2022 at just under 100,000, then fluctuated up and down, ending at around 92,000 in January.

The difference between new DHS NTAs and Court case dispositions is shown month-by-month in Figure 3. The area between the two lines in Figure 3 shows the cases added to the Court backlog during each month. There have been only a few months since January 2017 when closures exceeded new NTAs issued. This occurred from October 2019 to March 2020. However, in reality DHS had long fallen behind in filing NTAs, so new cases actually reach the Court’s workload in a slower stream so didn’t fall so rapidly and kept above closures during this period. See TRAC earlier report on delayed NTA filings.

Figure 3. New Department of Homeland Security Issued Notices to Appear (NTAs) in Immigration Court vs. Court Closures, January 2017 - January 2023

Immigration Court Backlog Is Now 2.1 Million

Closures would need to be double current levels simply to keep up with new filings. The likelihood of doubling the judges and staffing of the Immigration Court any time soon to achieve such a goal seems remote. As of the end of last year, the Executive Office for Immigration (EOIR) reports there were 634 Immigration Judges. A record number of 104 judges were hired during FY 2022, and according to EOIR press releases, 66 have been added so far during the FY 2023. See Table 1. However, despite this record hiring, new hires are only a fraction of the number that are actually needed to keep up with new filings and start reducing the existing Court backlog.

Table 1. Growth in the Number of Immigration Judges, FY 2010 - 2023 (as of February)
Fiscal Year Number of Immigration Judges
New Hires Left Position On Board
2010 17 na 245
2011 39 11 273
2012 4 10 267
2013 8 13 262
2014 0 13 249
2015 20 15 254
2016 56 21 289
2017 64 15 338
2018 81 24 395
2019 92 45 442
2020 99 24 517
2021 65 23 559
2022 104 29 634
2023* 66 na na
* As of February 2023; na stands for not available.

At the beginning of the Trump administration the backlog was 542,411. Two years ago, at the end of the Trump administration and the beginning of the Biden administration it was 1.3 million, up 139 percent. Today, two years later at the end of the first two years of the Biden administration, the Immigration Court’s backlog has reached 2,097,195, already up 62 percent since Biden took office."