Ballooning Wait Times for Hearing Dates
in Overworked Immigration Courts

There were nearly a half million individual deportation cases (456,644) pending before the judges in the nation's clearly overwhelmed Immigration Courts at the end of August, according to the very latest information obtained from the U.S. Department of Justice and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). This backlog has been rising steadily for nearly a decade and has reached yet another new all-time high.

As a result, the average wait time for an individual in the Immigration Court's pending cases list has also reached an all-time high of 635 calendar days. But this average wait time only measures how long these individuals have already been waiting, not how much longer they will have to wait before their cases are resolved.

The severity of the rapidly growing crisis was revealed last January, when the court issued thousands of letters notifying individuals that their cases would be delayed for nearly five years more — until November 29, 2019. The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which operates these courts, explained that the move was needed to make room in its hearing schedule for higher priority cases due to the flood of unaccompanied minors and mothers with children who crossed the border last year. The EOIR was widely quoted as saying, however, that the 2019 date was just a temporary placeholder, and offered assurances that the majority of cases would "probably" soon be rescheduled to earlier dates.

Figure 1. Number of Cases Pending in Immigration Court
for details see TRAC's Immigration Court Backlog tool, updated monthly

It has now been more than seven months since this initial wave of rescheduling notices was issued and the situation is worsening; the backlog of pending cases is currently up 11.9 percent since the beginning of this fiscal year. Furthermore, it is about a third (32.7%) higher than it was at the beginning of fiscal year 2014 (see Figure 1).

As previously noted, there were 456,644 cases pending before the Immigration Courts at the end of August 2015. This means the court backlog has increased by more than 100,000 cases from the 344,230 that were pending at the beginning of FY 2014.

Current Wait Times for a Hearing Before an Immigration Judge

As of the end of August 2015, the court's pending workload included 421,647 scheduled hearings, with an average additional wait of 436 calendar days. Note that this is based upon the average additional number of days after August 31 that individuals will have to wait until their scheduled hearing. Since the average individual has already been waiting 635 days, the projected total time from the date their case was filed until their hearing date is 635 days + 436 days, or a total of 1,071 days — just under three years (35.2 months).

Table 1. How Long Will a Backlogged Case
Have to Wait for a Scheduled Hearing?
Wait Times Until Scheduled Hearing Total Projected Wait Days*
10% within 24 days 635 + 24 659
20% within 52 days 635 + 52 687
30% within 92 days 635 + 92 727
40% within 142 days 635 + 142 777
50% within 197 days 635 + 197 832
60% within 281 days 635 + 281 916
70% within 429 days 635 + 429 1,064
80% within 728 days 635 + 728 1,363
90% within 1,551 days 635 + 1,551 2,186
100% within 1,766 days 635 + 1,766 2,401
*Hearings can be rescheduled sooner or moved later, so these statistics are merely projected figures for the range of wait times based on the courtís hearing schedule as of the end of August 2015.

Some individuals with pending cases will of course have to wait longer for a hearing while some will have a shorter wait. Table 1 presents information on the variation in wait times until a hearing is scheduled. The court now gives priority in scheduling hearings to unaccompanied minors, adults with children, and individuals who are detained or in custody. In fact, ten percent of the upcoming hearings are scheduled within 24 calendar days.

But how about the rest of the hearing dates? A total of 55,676 cases, or 13.2 percent of all hearings, are still scheduled some 1,551 days out — for November 29, 2019, the date set in that initial wave of court notices issued last January. But thousands of hearings won't commence until even later; for ten percent, the wait time for the hearings ranged from 1,552 days to 1,766 days into the future.

Master versus Individual Hearings

According to court records, seventy-one percent of all these scheduled hearings are what the court calls "master calendar hearings." As EOIR explains, an individual's first appearance before an Immigration Judge in a removal proceeding is at a master calendar hearing. At that point, many individuals are then scheduled to appear at a later session. The purpose of the master calendar hearing is to advise the individuals of their rights, explain the removal charges the government has filed against them, take pleadings, identify and attempt to narrow the factual and legal issues, and set deadlines for filing any papers needed for subsequent hearings.

Thus, except for individuals who want to immediately agree to their removal, the "master calendar hearing" is only the first hearing — not the last. Even after waiting for this hearing, generally at least one and perhaps several additional hearings will need to be scheduled. With schedules already so backed up, these added court hearings will delay a case even longer than the projected times shown in Table 1.

As another illustration of how much longer many individuals may need to wait, court records indicate that 63,208 master calendar hearings are currently not scheduled until November 29, 2019 or later.

Hearings Scheduled and Wait Times by Hearing Location

Wait times vary a great deal from one Immigration Court location to another. Some courts focus virtually exclusively on priority cases, such as individuals who are detained or are unaccompanied juveniles. For these, wait times will of course be much shorter. Conversely, wait times can be much longer in locations where a court is particularly understaffed with too few Immigration Court judges relative to their caseload.

Information about the wait times for the 136 Immigration Court hearing locations (by state) with at least 25 pending cases at the end of August 2015 can be found in Table 2 below. Included in the table are the number of pending cases along with the average number of days these cases have already waited — the traditional backlog and wait times. Next to these columns is the average number of additional days that cases are waiting for a hearing before an Immigration Judge, based on TRAC's new analysis of the scheduled hearings in each court. In the next column is the total projected wait time — the average days "already waited" plus the average of "more until hearing" has been scheduled.

Also listed is the calendar date of the latest hearing scheduled, which translates into the maximum period a pending case must wait until its hearing beyond August 31, according to the court's current calendar. (The table is interactive, so you can sort any column by clicking on its heading.)

Of course, hearings can be rescheduled sooner or moved later, so these statistics are merely projected figures for the average wait time based on the court's hearing schedule as of the end of August. In addition, it does not include any estimate of potential future delays that may be involved if there is a need for one or more additional hearings after the one now scheduled. Nonetheless these data provide a sobering snapshot of the current state of the Court's docket and what this implies about the long delays facing many individuals before their cases can be heard.

Focusing just on the number of wait days for cases pending at the end of August, Oklahoma City's hearing location had racked up the most — an average of 1,004 days. The others that made up the top five — all with average days above 900 for individuals with pending cases — were Chicago, Illinois and Detroit, Michigan each tied for second place, followed by Omaha, Nebraska in fourth and Denver, Colorado in fifth.

However, based upon scheduled hearing dates, even in this top five there were remarkably different averages for the additional number of days before a hearing was scheduled. These varied from an average additional 153 days in Oklahoma City to 1,434 additional days in Detroit. For Oklahoma City, the latest scheduled hearing date for anyone was June 20, 2016, less than a year away. In Chicago hearings were scheduled all the way through July 1, 2020.

Once we include the additional days before a hearing was actually scheduled, the total projected wait times for pending cases ranges from an average of 22 days at the San Francisco, California video hearing location and 24 days at the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center in Oklahoma all the way up to 2,371 days for Detroit, Michigan.

Again, these projected wait times are based upon the current court hearing schedule. An unusually large number of additional days at a location often reflects the significant number of individuals assigned a November 29, 2019 hearing date. In Detroit, for example, over 75 percent of pending cases had been scheduled to be heard on that date. Clearly, that date is just a placeholder and schedules will have to change since that volume of cases cannot be accommodated in such a short time.

TRAC will continue to monitor changes in the scheduling of Immigration Court hearings and publish periodic updates to these figures.

Conclusion

The government data in this report provide concrete information about the extraordinary challenges — in terms of both enforcement and fairness — now facing the Immigration Courts. These issues in turn are becoming an increasingly important part of the current political debate over the country's immigration policies.

Table 2. Pending Cases and Wait Times Until Hearing Scheduled
by Immigration Court Hearing Location, as of August 31, 2015
(Click on column header to sort)
State Hearing Location Pending
Cases
Average Days Latest
Hearing Date
Scheduled*
Already
Waited
More
Until
Hearing*
Projected
Total
Wait*
TX Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 400 1,004 153 1,157 2016-06-20
IL Chicago, Illinois 16,717 937 790 1,727 2020-07-01
MI Detroit, Michigan 3,359 937 1,434 2,371 2019-11-29
NE Omaha, Nebraska 4,588 928 370 1,298 2019-11-29
CO Denver, Colorado 8,571 906 1,082 1,988 2019-11-29
AZ Phoenix, Arizona 9,957 853 289 1,142 2019-12-18
CA Imperial, California 1,830 819 584 1,403 2018-07-06
OH Cleveland, Ohio 5,848 811 522 1,333 2020-04-23
NV Las Vegas, Nevada 3,359 789 174 963 2017-12-21
CA Los Angeles, California 51,264 788 194 982 2019-11-29
TX El Paso, Texas 5,860 782 346 1,128 2018-05-01
MA Boston, Massachusetts 9,953 733 350 1,083 2020-05-04
NJ Newark, New Jersey 23,183 727 666 1,393 2019-11-29
PA Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 4,411 723 135 858 2017-06-29
TX Houston, Texas 32,902 709 1,077 1,786 2019-12-04
GA Atlanta, Georgia 12,617 698 576 1,274 2019-11-29
OR Portland, Oregon 1,623 692 350 1,042 2018-05-21
ID Boise, Idaho 435 690 237 927 2017-10-25
CA San Francisco, California 30,446 684 357 1,041 2019-11-29
NY Buffalo, New York 2,371 670 208 878 2017-01-31
KY Louisville, Kentucky 3,065 652 364 1,016 2019-04-08
UT Salt Lake City, Utah 1,420 648 172 820 2017-01-09
AZ Tucson, Arizona 840 644 76 720 2016-04-26
MN Bloomington — BLM 2,962 638 1,092 1,730 2019-11-29
VA Arlington, Virginia 18,199 637 577 1,214 2019-12-27
NY New York City, New York 61,854 633 299 932 2019-11-29
TX San Antonio, Texas 21,384 624 1,107 1,731 2019-11-29
TX Harlingen, Texas 4,984 569 258 827 2017-06-28
PA Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 297 555 73 628 2016-07-27
MO Kansas City, Missouri 4,183 552 432 984 2019-11-29
NV Reno, Nevada 290 542 129 671 2016-12-06
CT Hartford, Connecticut 1,562 522 174 696 2017-02-28
TX Dallas, Texas 6,739 509 202 711 2019-11-29
FL Miami, Florida 19,741 499 475 974 2019-11-29
WA Seattle, Washington 6,468 468 197 665 2018-10-01
LA New Orleans, Louisiana 6,875 462 160 622 2017-01-30
TN Memphis, Tennessee 5,102 440 224 664 2017-12-05
FL Orlando, Florida 5,191 438 101 539 2016-12-01
OH Ohio Dept. of Corr., Correctional Reception Center — ORI 34 434 110 544 2019-03-14
MD Baltimore, Maryland 11,712 431 149 580 2017-12-20
AK Anchorage, Alaska 46 419 79 498 2016-06-17
NY Downstate Correctional Facility 98 383 34 417 2015-12-16
CA San Diego, California 2,981 362 88 450 2016-04-13
AZ Arizona DOC- Perryville 25 309 80 389 2016-05-12
VI St. Thomas, Virgin Islands 66 308 95 403 2016-03-16
NC Charlotte 4,014 293 70 363 2016-10-31
IL Illinois DOC- Statesville 86 281 130 411 2016-04-11
MA Boston, Massachusetts (BJV) 2,155 268 124 392 2017-05-17
TN Memphis Juvenile 1,024 266 98 364 2016-09-27
TX San Antonio Non-Detained Juvenile 535 259 40 299 2015-11-25
MN Minnesota Correctional Facility 76 258 291 549 2017-01-18
PA Philadelphia Juvenile 775 245 115 360 2016-04-28
TX Texas DOC- Huntsville 259 243 44 287 2015-12-18
AZ Arizona State Prison-Central Unit 61 240 150 390 2016-12-06
AZ Arizona DOC- Tucson 290 233 58 291 2016-02-11
FL North Florida Reception Center (NFC) 71 232 32 264 2015-12-01
PR San Juan, Puerto Rico 108 230 44 274 2016-03-21
NC Charlotte Juvenile 1,312 226 87 313 2016-10-31
CA San Francisco Non-Detained Juveniles 236 226 92 318 2016-04-27
KY Louisville Juvenile 259 225 183 408 2016-10-31
VA Unaccompanied Juveniles 3,953 224 71 295 2016-04-13
TX Karnes County Correction Center 61 221 5 226 2015-09-08
GA Georgia Department of Corrections- Diagnostic 58 221 69 290 2015-12-04
CT Mcdougal-Walker Correctional Institution 31 218 43 261 2016-05-12
MI Detroit Juvenile 445 214 80 294 2016-12-12
CT Hartford Juvenile 367 214 60 274 2016-12-07
IL Chicago Non-Detained Juveniles 2,240 207 109 316 2018-12-03
TX Pearsall, Texas — Detention Facility 2,231 207 16 223 2015-11-18
NE Omaha Juvenile 633 198 216 414 2018-06-21
FL Florida DOC- Chipley 64 195 35 230 2015-11-10
AZ Arizona State Prison-Rynning Unit 56 182 199 381 2016-12-13
NJ Newark Detained DOCket 503 180 18 198 2015-11-03
NV Las Vegas Juvenile 428 178 108 286 2017-07-06
TX El Paso Juvenile 74 178 28 206 2015-12-03
NY Ulster Correctional Facility 117 172 41 213 2015-12-04
OR Portland — Adults and Children 900 166 240 406 2018-05-10
TX Southwest Key 385 164 24 188 2016-12-08
NY New York Service Processing Center (Varick St) 523 157 49 206 2016-03-11
HI Honolulu, Hawaii 258 145 41 186 2016-01-06
PA Moshannon Valley Correctional Facility 55 144 36 180 2015-12-14
TX Houston Service Processing Center 231 126 28 154 2015-12-02
CA Corrections Corporation of America-San Diego,ca 516 121 31 152 2015-12-14
AZ Eloy INS Detention Center 1,387 120 51 171 2016-06-13
CA San Diego Juvenile 35 116 39 155 2016-01-07
CO Denver Detention Facility 292 114 15 129 2015-10-29
WI Wisconsin Department of Corrections 33 111 73 184 2016-04-01
CA Pleasanton — Federal Correctional Institution 25 107 35 142 2015-11-09
OH Butler County Sheriff's Office 26 105 11 116 2015-09-21
TX Laredo, Texas — Detention Facility 43 101 8 109 2015-10-02
VA Arlington Detained Location 526 99 26 125 2016-07-05
MN Bloomington Juvenile 340 99 38 137 2015-12-16
CA Imperial Detained 557 97 34 131 2016-03-03
TX Brownsville, Texas 29 97 81 178 2016-03-04
CA Adelanto Detention Facility West 850 96 29 125 2016-01-27
IL Chicago Juvenile 50 93 51 144 2016-04-14
TX San Antonio Detained Juvenile 47 93 20 113 2015-10-14
TX El Paso Service Processing Center 528 91 19 110 2015-12-02
TX T. Don Hutto Residential 704 88 12 100 2015-11-09
MO Kansas City Immigration Court — Detained 79 88 17 105 2015-10-01
CA San Francisco Detained 571 84 27 111 2016-01-26
WA Northwest Detention Center 1,234 81 36 117 2016-01-29
FL Krome North Service Processing Center 322 78 13 91 2015-12-03
TX Harlingen, Texas (HJV) 294 78 29 107 2016-01-07
GA Atlanta Detained Location 199 78 25 103 2016-03-03
AZ Florence, Arizona 622 74 25 99 2016-01-13
NJ Elizabeth Detention Center 157 74 18 92 2015-10-29
AZ Phoenix Juvenile 56 74 45 119 2016-05-06
IL Chicago Detained 333 65 16 81 2015-10-27
LA Lasalle Detention Facility 394 62 25 87 2016-01-13
CA Los Angeles 3 208 62 16 78 2015-11-10
PA Philadelphia Adults With Children 198 59 116 175 2016-03-03
NJ Delaney Hall 54 59 13 72 2015-10-08
PA Pike County Prison 29 57 21 78 2015-11-03
PA York County Prison 321 56 19 75 2015-11-16
FL Broward Transitional Center 383 54 25 79 2015-12-04
LA DHS-Litigation Unit/Oakdale 352 52 29 81 2016-01-14
UT Salt Lake City Detained 104 50 18 68 2015-12-16
LA Federal Corr. Inst.-Oakdale 1 56 47 39 86 2015-11-18
TX Joe Corley Detention Facility 539 46 15 61 2015-10-08
NY Batavia Service Processing Center 222 45 14 59 2015-10-28
TX Houston Female Detained 177 41 17 58 2015-11-12
MA Boston Detained 81 41 13 54 2015-10-06
CA Orange County Detained 135 40 18 58 2015-10-23
TX Dilley, Texas (Mia) 639 39 9 48 2015-09-15
NE Omaha Immigration Court — Detained 79 38 19 57 2015-11-06
TX Johnson County Jail 79 37 13 50 2015-10-01
FL Immigration Court 41 37 12 49 2015-09-22
MN Bloomington 91 36 10 46 2015-10-07
TX Port Isabel Service Processing Center 233 34 11 45 2015-09-28
GA Stewart Detention Center — Lumpkin Georgia — LGD 589 33 21 54 2015-12-07
TX Dallas Detained 52 33 19 52 2015-10-22
MI Detroit Detainees 48 32 14 46 2015-10-15
TX Rolling Plains Detention Center 138 27 9 36 2015-10-05
CA Adelanto Detention Facility East 45 21 15 36 2015-09-29
OK David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center 55 16 8 24 2015-09-15
CA San Francisco Video 35 15 7 22 2015-09-25
TX Joe Corley Detained Female 59 5 28 33 2015-10-07
*Hearings can be rescheduled sooner or moved later, so these statistics are merely projected figures for the average wait time based on the courtís hearing schedule as of the end of August 2015.