Latest Immigration Court Numbers, as of December 2012
The latest available data from the Immigration Courts show that during December 2012 the government reported 14,898 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) filings seeking deportation orders. Such filings are down 25 percent through the first three months of FY 2013 (which began in October) when compared with average monthly filings during FY 2012, according to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). Requests for deportation orders were slightly lower in the month of December — down 0.2 percent — than the earlier low reached during November (see Table 1).
These latest figures show declines which began after 2009. For example, monthly filings — while down 25.0 percent since FY 2012 — are down 27.6 percent from levels in FY 2011, and have fallen 30.0 percent from monthly filings during FY 2009.
These latest Immigration Court numbers are based on case-by-case information obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).
Actual counts for fiscal year 2013 beginning in October, as well as for earlier years, are available using TRAC's Immigration Court Deportation Proceedings Tool which has been updated with data through the end of December 2012. The tool also provides separate figures by the most serious charge ICE based its deportation request on. Details are separately available for those ICE charged with: (a) being an aggravated felon, (b) other criminal activity, (c) terrorism, (d) threats to national security, (e) illegal entry, (f) other immigration charge, and (g) other miscellaneous charges.
During December 2012, ICE was successful in obtaining 8,262 new deportation orders from Immigration Judges. This number includes both removal and voluntary departure orders. As shown in Table 2, this was 15.9 percent lower than the number that ICE obtained last month when it had obtained 9,827.
Not only are the number of deportation orders down, but the proportion of closures resulting in removal has fallen precipitously. During the first three months of FY 2013 only 56.6 percent of Immigration Court closures resulted in a removal or voluntary departure order. In the remainder of the cases (43.4 percent), the individual was allowed to remain in the country. This year's figure is by far the lowest removal percentage seen since TRAC's systematic tracking began in 1998. For example, in FY 1998 74.3 percent of all court closures resulted in deportation orders, and just two years ago (FY 2011) the rate was 70.2 percent.
Deportation orders issued by the Immigration Courts started falling in 2010. While deportation orders rose slightly in October, this appears to have been only a one-month anomaly: both November and December 2012 orders fell sharply. December orders were also down 23.2 percent from the average monthly number of deportation orders issued during FY 2012, and were 38.0 percent lower than the monthly average during FY 2011.
It is also too soon to tell what the impact will be on actual ICE deportation activity. Despite fewer removal orders, deportations have continued to climb (see TRAC's August 13 report). Recent case-by-case data obtained by TRAC from ICE under the Freedom of Information Act suggests that ICE may increasingly be bypassing the Immigration Courts, deporting individuals without Court action using other provisions of the law.
You can obtain more detailed figures by state, Immigration Court, hearing location, and nationality using TRAC's Deportation Outcomes by Charge Tool which has been updated with court decisions reported through December 2012.
With both filings and closings falling, the Immigration Court backlog in December began inching back up, after small declines in October and November. As shown in Table 3, during December the backlog grew by 0.6 percent to 322,818 cases. While still slightly (-0.7 percent) below the historical backlog high reached in September 2012, the current backlog is still 8.5 percent higher than it was at the end of September 2011, and 22.8 percent higher than at the end of September 2010.
There is often month-to-month fluctuation in processing and wait times, but in general delays were up significantly over levels observed at the end of September 2012. The average number of days for cases to get resolved over this period are shown in Table 4. Cases resulting in removal orders took 262 days on average, one day longer than last month, and more than two additional months longer for decisions than at the end of September. Relief orders took over two years (852 days) on average in December, lower than in November, but 71 days longer than the average last year.
Further, unclosed cases now in the Court's backlog have already been waiting on average nearly a year and a half (545 days) and typically will need to wait considerably longer before they are resolved. Average wait times continue to creep upward each month.
Full details on the Court's backlog — by charge, state, nationality, Immigration Court and hearing location — can be viewed in TRAC's Immigration Court Backlog Tool, now also updated with data through December 2012.
Or, to view similar details on the processing times by outcome you can use TRAC's Processing Times by Outcome Tool also updated with data through December 2012. Separately tracked are the number as well as the average number of days taken to handle removals, voluntary departures, terminations, relief orders, and administrative closures.
December also saw just over one thousand new prosecutorial discretion (PD) closures of cases before the Immigration Courts, fewer than in any month since last April. It is too soon to tell whether this drop was due to a slackening in activity (with many individuals on vacation over the holidays) or a longer-term trend indicating the winding down of the program. Table 5 shows monthly figures since the program began.
Overall there were a cumulative 13,407 PD closures through the end of December, representing about 4.8 percent of the Court backlog.
It is taking a long time for PD closures to work their way through the system. As of the end of December, such closures were taking on average 885 days across all months the program has been in effect, rising an additional ten days this past month. This means that the latest closures are taking a particularly long time. For example, those closed just in December involved court filings from, on average, a full three years ago, or 1,011 days (see earlier Table 4).
The Los Angeles Immigration Court continues to lead the country with the largest number of closures under this program — 3,150, up from 2,761 at the end of November. The San Francisco Immigration Court continues in second place with 946 PD closures overall, up from 913 in November. The Denver Immigration Court is still in third place with 782 PD closures, rising from 759 in November. Compared in percentage terms, for those courts which had a backlog of at least a thousand pending cases, the San Diego Court led the nation with 18.8 percent of its backlog closed under the PD program. The Portland, Oregon Court was second with 15.1 percent of its backlog closed, while the Charlotte Court was third with 13.9 percent.
TRAC's Immigration Prosecutorial Discretion Court Closures Tool provides a detailed look at the cases for each court and hearing location with data updated through December 2012. The tool also provides prosecutorial discretion closures by type, as well as compared with each court's pending caseload.
Instructions on using some of TRAC's tools can be found in recorded webinars. Click on the link in the table below corresponding to the tool you would like demonstrated, and advance to the timestamp listed.