Fast-track ‘dedicated docket’ is slowly adding asylum-seeking migrant families during surge

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McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Just two months into a new expedited federal immigration court process, nearly 5,000 migrants have already been placed into a fast-track “dedicated docket” program that works to process immigration cases in under 300 days, according to a research organization.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a Syracuse University research institute that tracks immigration court cases, on Tuesday reported that by the end of July, about 1,700 migrant families totaling about 5,000 people had been placed into the program, which started at the end of May.

That’s an average of 150 migrants per day added to the court’s workload and assigned to special hearing locations. And nearly half — 41% — are from Ecuador and were sent to courts in New York City and Newark, N.J., TRAC found.

But TRAC notes that the numbers assigned to the program pale in comparison to the migrant encounters that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have made during that time period — most in South Texas in the Rio Grande Valley.

Graphic Source: TRAC

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland on May 28 announced the expedited immigration court program would begin in 10 cities, including El Paso and San Diego. The rapid dockets are also operating in Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle. Boston also has since been added to receive these cases.

Families apprehended between legal U.S. ports of entry and placed in removal proceedings and approved for alternatives to detention were among those who qualify to be placed in the dedicated docket. The Department of Homeland Security is working in partnership with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees all immigration courts, to make information on the program available to migrants and to refer families to pro bono legal service providers for possible representation.

Graphic Source: TRAC

“The Biden administration, like each presidential administration that has come before, appears to be experimenting with new approaches to managing the massive number of pending cases. The Dedicated Docket is the latest in a long line of attempts to accelerate new cases,” Austin Kocher, a TRAC researcher said Tuesday.

Kocher cautioned, however, that it’s uncertain whether the dedicated docket is actually helping to expedite cases or just shuffle them around.

“In the past, programs like the Dedicated Docket have done more to create confusion and shuffle cases around than to solve the underlying systemic programs faced by the court. It remains to be seen whether the Biden administration will stick to this program and if the Dedicated Docket will have positive or negative effects on immigration judges’ workloads,” Kocher said.

“Many questions exist about the criteria used by the Border Patrol to select which families are assigned to the Dedicated Docket,” the TRAC report says.

In announcing the program, Mayorkas and Garland said: “While the goal of this process is to decide cases expeditiously, fairness will not be compromised.”

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