Use of Video in Place of In-Person Immigration Court Hearings
During the first quarter of fiscal year 2020 (October - December 2019) one out of every six (17%) of the 57,182 final Immigration Court hearings that concluded an immigrant's case was held by video. This may in fact underestimate the current use of video hearings given apparent limitations in the data (see below).
Court records indicate that video hearings were much more likely if the immigrant was detained. Three out of four (77%) detained master calendar hearings which reached a decision were held over video. Over forty percent (44%) of credible fear and reasonable fear hearings that reached a decision were also held by video. And when a decision on granting bond was reached, one out of three (34%) custody hearings were held by video. The odds of a video hearing were lowest for separate individual hearings scheduled to hear an individual's asylum or other claim for relief from removal. See Figure 1 and Table 1.
Figure 1. Percent of Hearings Held by Video Concluding the Proceeding (Oct - Dec 2019)
(Click for larger image)
The 57,182 hearings in which a decision was reached made up only a small proportion of all hearings that were held during the first quarter of FY 2020. A much larger number of hearings - some 566,537 in fact - were scheduled but were continued for a variety of reasons. Continuances can be granted by the judge and a subsequent hearing scheduled at the request of either party to provide, for example, more preparation time or for the immigrant to try to secure representation. Hearings can also be continued because the judge became unavailable, there was insufficient time to conclude the hearing, or a variety of other events interfered with the conduct of the hearing.
Table 1. Immigration Court Hearings by Nature and Type, October - December 2019
When looking at scheduled hearings that were continued, only one out of every twenty-five (4%) were held by video. Looked at from a slightly different angle, when the scheduled hearing was in-person, it was over three times more likely to receive a continuance than in scheduled video hearings. The main reason for this, however, is that continuances are most likely in master calendar hearings which made up 83 percent of all hearings that were continued. This compares with only 39 percent that were master calendar hearings where a decision was reached.
Hearing Location and the Use of Video Hearings
Not surprisingly, detained hearing locations have the highest recorded usage of video for their final hearings concluding the proceeding. The Houston Service Processing Center headed the list with the largest number of video hearings during last quarter. Virtually all of its 818 hearings were by video. The second largest number of video hearings was conducted in the Polk County Detention Facility in Texas. The third largest number of video hearings were conducted with detained immigrants at the Chicago Court.
At the other end of the spectrum, records indicate that a total of 84 out of the 185 Immigration Court hearing locations held no final hearings by video. Table 2 provides details at each hearing location.
Table 2. Final Immigration Court Hearings by Location and Type, October - December 2019
Video Hearings May Be Undercounted
TRAC's analysis in this report should be viewed as a preliminary but necessary first-step in understanding the current use of videoconferencing in immigration proceedings. We note that the Immigration Court records may, in fact, understate the current use of video hearings. For instance, despite widespread reporting on the use of video in hearings conducted in so-called tent cities as part of the MPP "Remain in Mexico" program, TRAC noticed that those hearings do not typically appear to be identified as video hearings in court records. Despite this caveat, we hope this study contributes to the bourgeoning public discussion about the magnitude and role of the use of video hearings in the Immigration Courts.
 Figures in this report were compiled from court records obtained through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University from the Executive Office for Immigration Review.
 Altogether, combining these two types of scheduled hearings, video was used in conducting 6 percent of the 623,719 (57,182+566,537) hearings scheduled during October - December 2019.