Although the COVID-19 pandemic did not create the problems facing the US immigration court system, the Trump administration’s failure to address the pandemic in a comprehensive and scientific way is creating a crisis. Researchers at TRAC, a research institute at Syracuse University, are using their unique immigration court data sets to document the crisis.
In 2019, immigration courts completed nearly 70,000 asylum cases, the highest on record and more than double the number completed in 2017, which promised to put a dent in the enormous backlog of over 1.2 million cases.
However, COVID-19—and more importantly, the EOIR’s chaotic response to it—has since brought the immigration courts to a halt and led to a mix of confusion and outrage from immigration judges, ICE staff, and private immigration attorneys.
At the beginning of the year, the immigration courts were completing 40,000 cases per month, but that number dropped to less than 6,000 per month for May, June, and July after most hearings were postponed or cancelled. The decline in completed immigration cases, however, has not prevented ICE from starting over 110,000 new immigration cases during that same time. This will undoubtably create an even larger court backlog that will impact the courts for years and possibly decades to come.
All this is happening at a time when TRAC finds that the immigration court’s own record keeping is sloppier than ever, when experienced immigration judges are resigning or retiring in droves, and when the EOIR is actively trying to undermine the immigration judge’s union and promoting judges who demonstrate clear bias towards asylum seekers.
Austin Kocher, researcher at TRAC, will be with us to discuss the details and implications of their ongoing research on how COVID-19 is affecting the immigration court system.