Report: Many asylum-seeking migrants not getting lawyers once put in ‘Rocket Docket’

Border Report Tour

The majority of migrants placed into the Dedicated Docket fast-track immigration program in 2021 were from just three countries, according to a new report from Syracuse University. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A new report evaluating a fast-track immigration program begun last year by the Biden administration for asylum-seekers finds that many aren’t getting legal counsel.

The Dedicated Dock program was started in May as a way to reduce the 1.6 million backlogged immigration court cases, but a new study by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University finds it isn’t living up to promises made by the Biden administration to safeguard asylum-seekers.

The TRAC report finds that over 72,000 asylum-seekers have been placed into the program, which is also nicknamed the “Rocket Docket.” That’s because its goal is to have cases adjudicated within 300 days from their initial court hearing.

Over 72,000 asylum seekers have been placed in the Dedicated Docket program since May 2021. (TRAC Graphic)

Monthly case placements have ranged from 12,000 to 16,000 in August when a record number of migrants were placed in the Dedicated Docket program, TRAC found. Program placements dipped a bit in December to 10,000, the report found.

Overall, one in five asylum-seekers has been placed in the Dedicated Docket program since May, according to the TRAC analysis.

Earlier this week, TRAC researcher Austin Kocher told Border Report that 15% of migrants put in the Dedicated Docket did not have legal counsel, and that puts them at a disadvantage to winning asylum.

The TRAC report out Thursday linked that to rushing through cases.

“When cases are rushed, asylum-seekers may not have the time to obtain an attorney and prepare documents that would allow the court to make a fully-informed decision, and judges may be forced into making rushed decisions,” the report says.

(TRAC Graphic)

Data for the TRAC report was obtained by Freedom of Information requests to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees U.S. immigration court cases. The report studied cases through December, and also found:

  • In the seven months since the program began, 12% of all cases have been completed, or 11,225 cases.
  • Half of all migrants placed in the Dedicated Docket come from these three countries: Brazil, Ecuador and Honduras.
  • Fewer than 5 percent of asylum-seekers filed asylum applications as yet with the court.
  • A total of 1,557, or 2%, of all migrants placed in the Dedicated Docket have received deportation orders. Only 75 of them had lawyers.
  • In June, only 45% of cases had an attorney on record, “and the proportion of representation falls off quickly in later months.”

“The Biden administration claimed that the timebound completion goals of the Dedicated Docket would nonetheless allow ‘time for families to seek representation where needed.’ In addition to allowing adequate time to find an attorney, there further needs to be an adequate supply of immigration attorneys,” the report said.

The American Bar Association this week announced it has launched a nationwide campaign to solicit pro bono lawyers to help migrants placed on the Dedicated Docket in the 11 cities where the program is operational. The cities include Boston, Denver, Detroit, El Paso, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.

When the Dedicated Docket program was announced in May, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said, “Families arriving at the border who are placed in immigration proceedings should have their cases decided in an orderly, efficient, and fair manner. Families who have recently arrived should not languish in a multi-year backlog; today’s announcement is an important step for both justice and border security.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at ssanchez@borderreport.com.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories