CHICAGO (September 27, 2017) – The Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has delayed more than 22,000 immigration court hearings to accommodate what the Trump administration called “surge courts,” in an attempt to fast-track deportations at the expense of due process. In at least five of the detention centers where these courts were established, immigration judges arrived for temporary detail assignments to find there were not enough cases to keep them busy.
EOIR released internal memos and emails providing insight into the rapid establishment of the surge courts in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) Transparency Project. The nearly 200 pages of documents span correspondence between EOIR and Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from February through May 2017.
Politico Magazine covered these findings today as part of its investigation into the growth of the immigration court backlog under the Trump administration.
“The human costs of the delays caused by this shuffling of dockets can be tragic,” said NIJC Policy Director Heidi Altman, who filed the FOIA request. “A delayed case can mean delayed employment authorization, delayed protection, and delays in reunification with spouses and children waiting abroad in dangerous conditions.”
The Trump administration saw the surge courts as one means to accommodate the large increase in deportation cases expected – and eventually realized – under the Trump administration’s immigration executive orders. Immigration judges were removed from already-backlogged immigration dockets to be sent on one- to two-week “detail” assignments in courts in at least a dozen detention centers around the country.
A chart compiled by EOIR in response to NIJC’s information request shows that 22,811 hearings were rescheduled in courts throughout the country because judges were sent to surge courts. In many of these cases, volunteer attorneys and clients traveled long distances to court only to learn from the court staff that their cases would not be heard that day.
In February, an email to the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor for ICE detailed the docket sizes that would warrant assigning a detail immigration judge from another court, but by April 4, 2017, an EOIR internal review of the surge courts found at least five courts where assigned judges were not fully occupied.
The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. Visit immigrantjustice.org and follow @NIJC.