About the Data

Findings are based upon a detailed analysis of the millions of records covering each proceeding filed in the Immigration Courts. 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 from its CASE database system which tracks the workload of the Immigration Courts. 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).

Counting Proceedings. 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. Following is information on the various ways that you can examine data through the tools.

  • Immigration Court. 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."

  • Hearing Location. Each Immigration Court usually has more than one geographic location in which judges hold hearings. 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. Normally a hearing location is administered by a single Immigration Court. However, occasionally a case at a hearing location normally assigned to one Immigration Court ends up being handled by a different Immigration Court.

  • State. The state or territory where the Immigration Court assigned administrative responsibility for the case is located. Note that the actual hearing location may be in a different state. See detailed list of hearing locations in states that differ from the state the Immigration Court itself is based.

  • Nationality. The recorded nationality of the alien in the proceeding.

  • Charge Category. By selecting the charge category you can view the entire set of cases (All charges), or just view those cases with:

    • immigration charges
    • criminal, national security, or terrorism charges

    For additional information on the meaning of these charge categories see "About the Data" to TRAC September 2011 report.

Two Types of Tool to Choose from: "Backlog" vs. "Processing Time"

TRAC's Backlog Tool allows you to examine cases which are pending before the Immigration Courts and haven't been yet decided. In contrast, TRAC's Processing Time tools (by Outcome and by Charge) look at cases once they have been decided, and include information on the outcomes that resulted.

Both tools calculate figures on average days. The "average days" statistic in the Backlog Tool gives you wait times. The figure tells how long on average people have already waited in the queue. However, the figures tell you nothing about how much longer individuals may need to wait before their cases are actually resolved. In fact, a large influx of newly arriving cases can bring down the average wait times since new cases have just joined the queue and their wait times as yet are short. The average time courts actually have taken to render decisions is provided by the Processing Times tools, since in these tools only completed cases are examined.

Backlog Tool: Specifics on Available Measures

Pending Case Counts. Pending cases count all Immigration Court proceedings that remain open at a given point in time. The current pending case count represents the latest point in time available that is covered by the data. Earlier pending case counts are computed for the last day of the last month in each fiscal year (September 30).

Average Days Pending. Average days measures the average length of time pending cases have been waiting. For example, for any case open at the end of a fiscal year, that date (September 30) is compared with the date the specific proceeding was opened and the number of days between these two dates is calculated. This is the number of days that case has been open. These individual time periods are then summed over all pending cases. This sum is finally divided by the number of pending cases to compute average days. For average days for a point in time other than at the end of the fiscal year, that date is substituted for September 30 and then the same procedure is followed.

Processing Times Tools: Specifics on Available Measures

Completed Case Counts. Counts are compiled by fiscal year. Fiscal years run from October 1 through September 30. For the current period, completed counts cover the time period up until the date when the data extract was made by EOIR. Because of normal recording delays, the numbers are likely to under-report the most recent time period. This is because not all cases completed by that date will actually have been recorded in EOIR's database.

In general, all case completions are counted. Excluded from these counts, however, are proceedings which were closed because the case was transferred or a change in venue was granted. TRAC associates 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 counts only that final disposition.

Average Days for Completed Cases. On each completed case, the number of days between the recorded filing date and the date the case was closed is used. Averages based upon this length in time are computed. For cases in which there was a change in hearing location or a change in venue, average days to dispose of a case also includes the time spent before the case was transferred so that a more complete picture of the actual time is obtained.

Two Alternatives. There are two different versions of this app to choose from depending upon whether you want to examine processing times by the decision outcome, or look at processing times on completed cases by the original type of charge. The following decision outcomes are available.

  • Removal Orders. Cases in which an Immigration Court judge sustains the charges against the individual and issues a removal order. The term "removal" is used in a generic sense and includes orders of deportation, exclusion, etc. A removal order bars the individual from returning to the U.S. for a period of years, or in some cases permanently.

  • Voluntary Departure Orders. Cases in which an Immigration Court judge sustains the charges against the individual and issues an order of voluntary departure. A so-called "voluntary departure" is when the individual is required to leave the country but is not legally barred from returning.

  • Terminated (no grounds for removal). Cases in which an Immigration Court judge finds the charges against the individual are not sustained and "terminates" the case. Situations where the alien has established eligibility for naturalization can be grounds for termination.

  • Relief Granted: Cases in which an Immigration Court judge finds the original charges are sustained but finds provisions in the immigration law entitle the individual to "relief" from removal, allowing them to remain in this country.

  • Administrative/Other Closure: Cases in which an Immigration Court judge decides not to deport the individual for other unspecified reasons, or closes the case administratively or because of the failure of the government to prosecute the case. This category also includes closures in which the individual is given temporary protected status.