Findings are based upon a detailed analysis of 3.4 million records covering each proceeding filed in the Immigration Courts for fiscal years 1998 — 2010. These individual case records were obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), a unit within the Department of Justice in which these administrative courts are housed.
Coverage. The EOIR data were extracted by EOIR on September 27, 2010 from its CASE database system which tracks the workload of the Immigration Courts. Because of normal recording delays, the numbers for FY 2010 are therefore preliminary figures and are particularly likely to under-report counts for the July-September 2010 period.
EOIR records cover all individuals who have been referred to these special courts but not those whom ICE has sought to remove through its independent administrative powers. Over the years, Congress has given ICE (and its predecessor agency the INS) new authority to deport someone without bringing a charge before the Immigration Courts. One such procedure, authorized in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, affects some individuals who have been classified as "aggravated felons" (for definition, see earlier TRAC Report, Aggravated Felonies and Deportation).
What We Counted. Each alien charged is counted separately. A case is a "proceeding" that has been opened in the Immigration Courts, an administrative body within EOIR. Proceedings most commonly are opened by the filing of a Notice to Appear (NTA) by the Department of Homeland Security seeking an order of removal for an alien.
Proceedings do not include what EOIR refers to as other "matters" such as bond redetermination hearings and motions. Also excluded are proceedings which were closed because the case was transferred or a change in venue was granted. TRAC associated the one or more closed by "transfer" proceedings together with the proceeding that was ultimately decided by the court which received the transferred case and then counted that final disposition. Average days to dispose of a case also included in the calculations the time spent before the case was transferred so that a more complete picture of the actual time was obtained.
Legal terminology has changed over the years when referring to deportation versus removal, and we use these terms interchangeably and in a generic sense to cover any situation where the government seeks to obtain an order to require an individual to leave the country. The report considered ICE to have been "successful" when the government obtained either (1) an order of removal or its equivalent such as an order of deportation, exclusion, etc. or (2) a voluntary departure order. A so-called "voluntary departure" is when the individual is required to leave the country but is not legally barred from returning. A removal order bars the individual from returning to the U.S. for a period of years, or in some cases permanently.
How Immigration Courts Are Organized. There are over fifty Immigration Courts located in different parts of the country assigned the administrative responsibility for handling proceedings in their geographic district. Courts are usually referred to by the city or place where they are located — what EOIR refers to as their "base city." Each Immigration Court usually has more than one geographic location in which judges hold hearings and their jurisdiction can include hearing locations in more than one state. Some hearing locations are in state, local or federal prisons for aliens serving time, or in detention facilities for individuals who have been detained pending the outcome of their Immigration Court case. Sometimes videoconferencing is used so that the alien and judge are not physically present at the same location.