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Immigration Courts Struggle to Manage Expanding Family Asylum Dedicated Docket: TRAC

September 13, 2021 (2 min read)

TRAC, Sept. 13, 2021

"During the month of August, the Biden administration stepped up the assignment of asylum-seeking families arriving at the border to the Immigration Court's new "Dedicated Docket" program. As of August 31, 2021, Immigration Court records indicate that a total of 16,713 individuals comprising approximately 6,000 families are now assigned to this program.

But alongside the growing number of asylum-seekers assigned to the new Dedicated Docket, new questions emerge about whether these cases will be completed fairly and within the promised timeline, whether Immigration Judges will be able to manage large Dedicated Docket caseloads, and whether the Court is reliably tracking these cases as promised.

While EOIR has set up Dedicated Docket hearing locations in eleven cities, cases assigned thus far have been unusually concentrated in just a few cities. As of the end of August half of the 16,713 cases were assigned to New York City and Boston.

With the rapid influx of cases at a number of these Dedicated Docket hearing locations, half of the currently scheduled initial master hearings are not being held until after mid-November 2021, and fully one in ten are not currently scheduled until mid-February 2022. In addition, these hearings are largely to be held via video. Only eleven percent of all scheduled hearings are set as in-person hearings.

It also continues to be a relatively small number of judges who are assigned to hear these cases. Six judges now account for nearly two-thirds (63%) of the assigned Dedicated Docket cases. Each of these six judges has already been assigned over a thousand cases just during the first three months of this initiative. Judge Mario J. Sturla in Boston has thus far been assigned the most Dedicated Docket cases for any judge—3,178 cases.

Some basic arrangements are still not in place to ensure that cases assigned to the Dedicated Docket are clearly identified in the Court's database system which is relied on to manage the Court's workload. As of the end of August, fully 38 percent of cases assigned to the special hearing locations set up to exclusively handle Dedicated Dockets were not flagged as "DD" cases.

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