Last summer, due to the surge in undocumented women and children crossing the border from Mexico in to the United States, the U.S. Immigration Courts have been inundated with hundreds of thousands of non-criminal cases that were filed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
These cases have been fast-tracked or placed on what is referred to as a “rocket docket.” Unfortunately, many of these undocumented minors and women do not have the opportunity or time to afford adequate legal representation. The new directive announced by the Department of Justice (DOJ), which handles the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), commonly known as the U.S. Immigration Court, continues to push these cases forward to completion. In order to do so they have rescheduled what they are considering non-priority cases. These cases, all non-criminal in nature, are being rescheduled for a date in the very distant future, almost five years to be exact.
The date that has been assigned is currently is November 29, 2019, which happens to be the day after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as “Black Friday!” This is a day, when many government attorneys, including immigration judges and prosecutors, often take annual or vacation leave therefore it is likely that these cases will be rescheduled yet again.
This announcement sends a message that these non-priority cases are not the immediate concern of the Department of Homeland Security at the present time. Most of these individuals will continue to be permitted to remain unrestricted from detention as well as free from the risk of deportation or removal, while their cases are pending with the immigration court. The date is also significant because of the likelihood that the cases will not go forward on this date is obvious, and is being perceived a measure by DOJ to suspend or delay these cases indefinitely.
A spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security said that the decision to postpone the non-priority cases comes as a direct result of President Obama’s directive to expedite the cases of the newly arrived women and children, who recently crossed the border from Mexico, last summer. These cases have been given priority and are currently being scheduled ahead of cases that may have been in the system for months and sometimes years.
Some of the backlog in the U.S. Immigration Court stems from a lack of man power in the government who are authorized to hear these cases. In the entire fifty states, there are fewer than 230 immigration judges total. The number of current cases that have been filed nationwide and are in the system exceed 375,000. These numbers contribute to the overall inability of the court to efficiently hear and decide cases in a timely manner.
The cases that have been reset until November of 2019 are numerous and their impact on the individuals effected by the delay vary. There is also a strong possibility that the November 2019 date may change again, and once the immigration judges are closer to firming up their calendars, there may be opportunities to have these non-priority cases heard at an earlier time.