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A National Assessment of the Biden Administration’s Dedicated Docket Initiative

Published Dec 6, 2022

The Immigration Court’s Dedicated Docket (DD) program was created by the Biden administration to speed the processing of families seeking asylum after arriving along the Southwest Border. Over 110,000 DD cases covering each individual in these families have now been assigned to this initiative. To determine how this program is working, this report follows this cohort of cases.[1] A total of nearly 40,000 of these cases have now been closed.

The goal set by the Biden Administration on May 28, 2021, when it announced this new initiative was to issue decisions in these cases within 300 days from their initial master calendar hearing. However, the Administration announced: “While the goal of this process is to decide cases expeditiously, fairness will not be compromised.”

Using detailed case-by-case Immigration Court records, this report is the first full-scale national assessment of whether the program has lived up to these goals. We found in brief:

  • Cases did in fact move expeditiously: 83% of closed cases were completed in less than 300 days from the date of the NTA. Cases without attorneys were closed faster than those with attorneys.
  • Only 34% found representation in closed cases, falling far short of announced objectives. [2]
  • Only 33% were able to file an asylum application in closed cases since the paperwork is difficult to complete without representation.
  • Only 7% were granted asylum since even with representation, and after filing asylum applications, families with expedited hearing schedules were much less likely to prevail and be granted asylum.

The end result of the Dedicated Docket’s winnowing process was that only 2,894 out of 39,187 closed cases for families assigned to the Dedicated Docket were granted asylum – just 7 percent. At each stage, as discussed in the following sections, expedited hearing processing substantially reduced the odds that families were able to have their asylum claims considered and asylum itself granted. See Figure 1.

Figure 1. Few Families on Dedicated Docket Win Asylum

TRAC’s analysis of the dismal outcome of Dedicated Docket cases thus far, along with past evaluations of earlier “rocket docket” initiatives,[3] points to there being no quick fix for the country’s asylum backlog. With time and a substantial increase in resources – including more judges, asylum officers, support staff, publicly provided attorneys for asylum seekers and perhaps an independent Article I Immigration Court – the asylum process might become reasonably speedy without sacrificing fairness.

But short of that, the evidence suggests that the United States can implement schemes to make asylum cases fast or make asylum cases fair, but not both. The country needs careful and independent monitoring of this administration’s growing initiatives to expedite asylum cases so the public can judge whether these initiatives live up to their goals and the claims being made as to their “success.”

The Workload of Dedicated Docket Hearing Locations

The Biden administration launched the Dedicated Docket at the end of May in 2021. The number of new cases added to the Dedicated Docket grew sharply in the late summer and fall of 2021, then dropped off after March of 2022. By the end of September of this year, a total of 110,708 cases had been filed, although DD assignments actually peaked back in November of 2021. As cases have moved through the courts, the pace of DD case closures has grown with time and is currently around 3,000 to 4,000 per month. See Figures 2 and 3.

Figure 2. Declining Volume of Cases Now Assigned to the Immigration Court's Dedicated Docket, May 2021 - September 2022
Figure 3. Volume of Immigration Court's Dedicated Docket Closures, May 2021 - September 2022

Families from 12 countries have dominated those assigned. One out of five (21%) of those assigned were from Brazil. The second and third largest nationalities represented were families from Ecuador (13%) followed by Colombia (9%). The traditional Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) were further down the list and together have made up 19 percent — a comparatively small fraction given how overrepresented these nationalities are throughout the immigration system. See Table 1a.

Despite this overall pattern, the prevalence of certain nationalities has changed over time. While Brazilians were the largest nationality initially, Cuban families surpassed them during the period of January to March of 2022. The percent of DD cases from Colombia then became the most frequent nationality from April to September 2022. See Table 1b.

Table 1a. Individuals Assigned to the Immigration Court's Dedicated Docket by Nationality as of September 2022
Nationality All Cases Percent
All 110,708 100%
Brazil 23,205 21%
Ecuador 14,373 13%
Colombia 10,029 9%
Honduras 8,762 8%
Cuba 7,767 7%
Nicaragua 7,627 7%
Venezuela 7,593 7%
Haiti 7,209 7%
Guatemala 6,661 6%
El Salvador 5,117 5%
Peru 4,658 4%
Chile 1,537 1%
Other Countries 6,170 6%
Table 1b. Individuals Assigned to the Immigration Court's Dedicated Docket by Nationality, by Assignment Date and Current Status as of September 2022
Nationality All Cases Date of Notice to Appear Current Status of Case Percent Closed
FY 2021 Oct-Dec 21 Apr-Jun 22 Jan-Mar 22 Jul-Sep 22 Pending Closed
All 110,708 33,149 37,905 22,415 5,765 11,474 71,521 39,187 35%
Brazil 23,205 9,268 8,840 2,600 497 2,000 17,491 5,714 25%
Ecuador 14,373 7,697 3,590 2,004 318 764 8,691 5,682 40%
Colombia 10,029 632 1,707 2,406 1,917 3,367 8,117 1,912 19%
Honduras 8,762 3,138 3,788 1,408 195 233 4,126 4,636 53%
Cuba 7,767 1,156 2,876 3,120 452 163 4,296 3,471 45%
Nicaragua 7,627 1,881 3,238 2,249 129 130 5,035 2,592 34%
Venezuela 7,593 1,502 3,732 2,049 119 191 4,530 3,063 40%
Haiti 7,209 1,844 2,504 2,107 323 431 3,999 3,210 45%
Guatemala 6,661 2,799 2,457 1,053 159 193 3,279 3,382 51%
El Salvador 5,117 1,509 2,326 926 141 215 2,807 2,310 45%
Peru 4,658 200 841 807 960 1,850 4,002 656 14%
Chile 1,537 373 642 412 33 77 967 570 37%
Other Countries 6,170 1,150 1,364 1,274 522 1,860 4,181 1,989 32%

Initially, there were ten cities where families on the Dedicated Docket were sent to attend their hearings. Over time, this number expanded to twelve. However, caseloads were not distributed evenly among these Dedicated Docket locations. The El Paso DD hearing location is currently responsible for the smallest number of cases with just 398, while four locations – Boston, Newark, Miami and New York City – each have 10,000 or more. See Table 2.

Nationality groups also ended up concentrated in specific locations. Based on current court records, for example, the Boston DD hearing location has been assigned the largest number with 20,282 persons on their Dedicated Docket. Seven out of ten of these families are from Brazil. Miami has concentrations of Cubans, Venezuelans, and Haitians. See Table 3.

Table 2. Individuals Assigned to the Immigration Court's Dedicated Docket by Current Hearing Location and Status as of September 2022
Hearing Location All Cases Date of Notice to Appear Current Status of Case Percent Closed
FY 2021 Oct-Dec 21 Apr-Jun 22 Jan-Mar 22 Jul-Sep 22 Pending Closed
All 110,708 33,149 37,905 22,415 5,765 11,474 71,521 39,187 35%
Boston 20,282 6,992 7,633 1,968 590 3,099 16,086 4,196 21%
Newark 16,365 5,513 4,918 3,003 840 2,091 12,614 3,751 23%
Miami 14,723 3,083 6,986 3,758 346 550 3,654 11,069 75%
New York City 10,847 6,292 2,199 773 560 1,023 4,759 6,088 56%
New York City-Broadway 6,555 902 2,098 2,359 278 918 4,128 2,427 37%
Los Angeles 6,268 1,808 2,068 878 412 1,102 2,096 4,172 67%
San Francisco 5,753 1,530 1,866 918 538 901 3,390 2,363 41%
Denver 2,710 848 733 452 372 305 1,227 1,483 55%
Seattle 2,254 772 576 420 144 342 1,042 1,212 54%
San Diego 944 360 249 140 97 98 431 513 54%
Detroit 778 205 228 90 93 162 459 319 41%
El Paso 398 103 126 69 34 66 107 291 73%
Non-DD Court 22,831 4,741 8,225 7,587 1,461 817 21,528 1,303 6%
Table 3. Immigration Court Decisions Granting and Denying Asylum by Custody Status, FY 2021 - FY 2022
Nationality All Boston Newark Miami New York City NYC-Broadway Los Angeles San Francisco Denver Seattle San Diego Detroit El Paso Non-DD Court
All 110,708 20,282 16,365 14,723 10,847 6,555 6,268 5,753 2,710 2,254 944 778 398 22,831
Brazil 23,205 14,691 4,007 1,628 132 73 26 232 37 560 49 13 0 1,757
Ecuador 14,373 917 3,575 39 5,937 2,961 28 12 21 15 13 6 0 849
Colombia 10,029 690 1,683 884 810 868 1,248 1,256 707 217 30 171 23 1,442
Honduras 8,762 483 1,566 1,057 877 595 883 875 653 419 45 236 116 957
Cuba 7,767 8 27 3,220 6 0 26 0 23 13 0 6 67 4,371
Nicaragua 7,627 46 77 908 187 27 500 402 252 83 13 10 13 5,109
Venezuela 7,593 121 90 2,076 204 38 121 80 130 85 9 16 96 4,527
Haiti 7,209 965 1,051 3,066 392 334 17 37 20 37 471 49 0 770
Guatemala 6,661 771 1,003 660 411 252 1,162 945 263 203 130 143 21 697
El Salvador 5,117 454 560 149 435 316 1,111 884 260 171 12 32 16 717
Peru 4,658 152 1,954 165 472 419 284 407 146 93 21 2 3 540
Chile 1,537 200 253 584 74 90 8 13 7 8 68 9 1 222
Other Countries 6,170 784 519 287 910 582 854 610 191 350 83 85 42 873

The Shuffle of Dedicated Docket Cases Between Hearing Locations and Judges

The current court assignment for families on the Dedicated Docket does not necessarily reflect their original assignment. During the course of the program, a surprising volume of transfers have occurred.[4] Indeed, despite a 53 percent increase in overall Dedicated Docket cases over the last nine months, some hearing locations have actually had a net loss in cumulative caseloads because large numbers of cases were transferred out to other DD hearing locations as well as to non-DD hearing locations. See Table 4.

At the end of December 2021, for example, the Miami Dedicated Docket recorded 15,786 assigned cases. Despite a continuing flow of new cases to Miami (as previously shown in Table 2), at the end of September 2022 the case totals there on its Dedicated Docket – both pending and closed -- had dropped to 14,723.

A further shuffling of cases appears to have occurred for the New York City DD hearing location when a second DD hearing location in New York City was established. Between December 2021 and September 2022, the original NYC DD hearing location had a net decline of 17 percent in its caseload even though new cases continued to be assigned there, indicating that the outflow of cases (i.e. case transfers) exceeding newly assigned cases.

And while through calendar year 2021 just 2,055 (3%) of individuals originally assigned to the Dedicated Docket were recorded at non-DD hearing locations, [5] nine months later one in five of the individuals (22,831 or 21%) had been transferred by the Court to non-DD hearing locations.

A transfer to a new hearing location also meant a different judge was assigned responsibility for the case. However, those at the same DD hearing location also experienced frequent judge changes. A relatively small number of judges were initially assigned to hear these cases. TRAC found only six judges accounted for nearly two-thirds of the DD cases assigned by the end of August 2021. When DD cases were added to one judge’s existing workload, for example, the judge's total workload rose to 6,896 cases – an impossible load for DD cases to be handled quickly. At a number of DD hearing locations, this led to juggling judge assignments for a given family as these courts struggled to handle required master and individual hearings expeditiously.

Table 4. Individuals Assigned to the Immigration Court's Dedicated Docket by Previous and Current Hearing Locations
Assigned Hearing Location DD Cases as of: Net Change
Dec 31,2021 Sep 30,2022
All Dedicated Docket Cases 72,289 110,708 53%
DD Hearing Location 70,234 87,877 25%
Miami 15,786 14,723 -7%
Boston 14,939 20,282 36%
New York City 12,996 10,847 -17%
Newark 11,487 16,365 42%
New York City-Broadway - 6,555 -
Los Angeles 5,434 6,268 15%
San Francisco 3,909 5,753 47%
Denver 2,364 2,710 15%
Seattle 1,597 2,254 41%
San Diego 707 944 34%
Detroit 673 778 16%
El Paso 342 398 16%
Non-DD Hearing Location 2,055 22,831 1011%

TRAC Finds EOIR Data Management Issues with Dedicated Docket Cases

Although it would be valuable to track precisely how often transfers between hearing locations have taken place over the course of this program, this is not possible for Dedicated Docket cases. This is unusual. Normally, this would be possible for TRAC to do this analysis because each record in EOIR’s database for any case assigned to a hearing location is also assigned a unique ID. When a case is transferred to a new hearing location, normally a new proceeding record with a new unique ID is created in order to track proceedings at that hearing location.

However, when an exact proceeding-by-proceeding match was done of the database records TRAC received at the end of December 2021 with the records received at the end of September 2022, their entries were no longer the same. For 17 percent of these cases, EOIR appears to have simply written over the original location with the new location, effectively destroying the original entry in its official master database. Thus, the fact that the family had previously been sent to entirely different hearing location has been lost through data erasure. [6] In addition, 687 cases were now no longer present in the Court’s master database files – they had been inexplicably deleted despite the fact that hearings had been scheduled and even taken place for those families. But now no record for them existed.[7]

These erasures also occurred for changes in judge assignments. When TRAC compared records at just these two points in time, the judge assignments for the same exact proceeding were different for nearly half (45%) of the families. Again, because the name of the judge assigned had simply been written over the EOIR’s data no longer contained a proper record of not just this recent change but also any of the prior changes in judges who may have been officially assigned to the family’s case.

The EOIR has not been transparent about the degree of case transfers, including (1) transfers from DD to non-DD hearing locations, (2) transfers from one DD hearing location to another, and (3) from one Immigration Judge to another. The administration’s announced goals had been to minimize this degree of case shuffling[8] because it is widely acknowledged to be wasteful of the Court’s time, not to mention imposing extra burdens on the families seeking asylum and for their attorneys.

The Court has also not been transparent about the criteria used for initially assigning families to a Dedicated Docket, nor the consistency in their application by CBP officials stationed at different locations along the border. For instance, buried in a footnote to a table EOIR has posted reporting Dedicated Docket numbers, it mentions that in April 2022 “DHS determined that Cubans, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans did not meet the requirements for placement on the dedicated docket. Most Cubans, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans were subsequently placed on a non-detained docket.”

Consistent with this footnote, many Cubans and Venezuelans who were disproportionately assigned to the Miami Dedicated Docket have now ended up at non-DD hearing locations.[9] TRAC’s analysis (see earlier Table 3) shows that as of the end of September, 56 percent of Cubans and 60 percent of Venezuelans originally assigned to the Dedicated Docket were now assigned to non-DD hearing locations. And fully 67 percent of Nicaraguans had been transferred to non-DD hearing locations.

But TRAC also finds that, while not mentioned by EOIR on this list, court records also show that a smaller but substantial number of Brazilians and Colombians have been transferred to non-DD hearing locations, raising questions about whether a similar decision had been made about these cases.[10]

Dedicated Docket Cases and Expedited Processing Speed

Cases assigned to the Dedicated Docket have generally moved expeditiously, reflecting the Biden administration’s goal of moving these cases to the front of the line and moving them more quickly through the Immigration Courts. The vast majority (83 percent) of completed cases had been closed within 300 days from the date of the NTA.[11]

The average days between the date of the NTA and the date the case was closed, setting aside cases dismissed because DHS failed to file the NTA, was 232 days. El Paso had the shortest closure times at 181 days. New York City had the longest time to closure with an average of 261 days, but still well below the 300-day benchmark. The median number of days across all hearing locations was 239 days. See Table 5.

For cases that are still pending, the average days since the NTA was issued and the end of September was 260 days, with a median of 289 days.

However, median figures mark the middle of the distribution of days that cases are taking, so half of the cases are already taking longer than this median figure. So far, when pending cases and closed cases are considered together, about one-third (36%) of cases have exceeded 300 days. Since the initiative was only launched at the end of May 2021, roughly 16 months have elapsed. It will take more months to assess how often and for how long Immigration Judges allow delays in resolving cases where there may be special difficulties finding representation or particular problems requiring additional time to obtain important documentary and testimonial evidence to support a family’s asylum claims.

Table 5. Number of Days Between Date of NTA and Case Decided by Immigration Judge
Current Hearing Location Days to Close
Average* Median*
All 232 239
New York City 261 272
San Diego 250 266
Newark 247 255
Seattle 240 259
Boston 240 260
New York City-Broadway 229 221
San Francisco 226 229
Miami 225 222
Denver 212 209
Detroit 207 216
Los Angeles 195 202
El Paso 181 176
Non-DD Court 205 232
* Excludes cases dismissed by Immigration Judge because DHS had filed no NTA by the time the first hearing was held.

Many Families Have Not Found Representation

Thus far, only 43 percent of all cases assigned to the Dedicated Docket have found representation. Representation rates rise when families have longer to locate representation. For those assigned during FY 2021, 58 percent found representation by the end of FY 2022. Representation rates decline for families assigned during each succeeding three-month assignment period. For cases added to the Dedicated Docket between October and December 2021, 47 percent found attorneys. This percent then drops to 38 percent for cases assigned between January and March of 2022), drops again to 25 percent for cases assigned between April and June 2022, and drops again to only 6 percent for cases assigned last quarter between July and September of 2022. See Table 6.

There is also considerable variation in representation rates across the twelve DD cities. San Diego has the highest rate (77%) and Miami has the lowest (22%).

Table 6. Percentage of Dedicated Docket Cases Which Found Representation by Hearing Location and Time Since Assigned to the Program
All DD Cases FY 2021 Oct-Dec 2021 Jan-Mar 2022 Apr-Jun 2022 Jul-Sep 2022
All Represented All Represented All Represented All Represented All Represented All Represented
All 110,708 43% 33,149 58% 37,905 47% 22,415 38% 5,765 25% 11,474 6%
San Diego 944 77% 360 82% 249 88% 140 78% 97 74% 98 32%
New York City-Broadway 6,555 56% 902 74% 2,098 68% 2,359 59% 278 30% 918 10%
New York City 10,847 52% 6,292 65% 2,199 48% 773 43% 560 28% 1,023 2%
San Francisco 5,753 52% 1,530 60% 1,866 65% 918 59% 538 40% 901 10%
Seattle 2,254 51% 772 66% 576 47% 420 58% 144 40% 342 23%
Boston 20,282 51% 6,992 65% 7,633 59% 1,968 52% 590 22% 3,099 3%
Los Angeles 6,268 45% 1,808 63% 2,068 48% 878 49% 412 30% 1,102 10%
Detroit 778 43% 205 42% 228 54% 90 77% 93 56% 162 2%
Newark 16,365 42% 5,513 55% 4,918 51% 3,003 38% 840 15% 2,091 4%
El Paso 398 31% 103 45% 126 31% 69 41% 34 26% 66 0%
Denver 2,710 28% 848 35% 733 21% 452 41% 372 28% 305 5%
Miami 14,723 22% 3,083 32% 6,986 19% 3,758 23% 346 24% 550 2%
Non-DD Court 22,831 40% 4,741 56% 8,225 48% 7,587 28% 1,461 13% 817 7%

Cases Move Faster Without an Attorney

Without attorneys to help guide their cases, families without representation tend to move more quickly through the asylum system. For all cases closed as of the end of September 2022, only one third (34%) were represented. Representation rates among only closed cases again varied by DD city with San Diego having the highest rates with three quarters (78%) represented, while Miami had the lowest rates at just 11 percent. Denver was next to the bottom with less than a quarter (21%) represented. See Table 7.

A number of closures occurred at the first scheduled hearing when the Immigration Judge dismissed the case because the DHS had failed to file the NTA with the Court – a necessary step in order for the Court to have jurisdiction to hear the case. When these closures are set aside, about half (52%) of the remaining closed cases were represented.

Although requested, neither EOIR nor DHS has released information on what has happened to these families when their case was dismissed. The government could issue a new NTA when the first NTA is closed for failure to prosecute.[12]. Or, ICE could deport them at any point in the absence of a pending Court case. Indeed, because families assigned to the Dedicated Docket according to the government are also being closely monitored by ICE's Alternatives to Detention program, they could be taken into custody at any time.

As has been well documented time and again through many programs, lacking representation few families on the DD were able to complete the necessary paperwork to formally file their asylum application before their case closed. Thus, they never had an asylum claim adjudicated on its merits. To be on the Dedicated Docket in the first place, families were screened and presumably not ineligible for asylum. Thus, the lack of an asylum claim is not due to the family failing to meet the eligibility for filing an application, but because they could not complete the paperwork.

Accordingly, in at least two-thirds of the cases no real hearing on the families’ asylum claims took place. See Table 8. (If cases dismissed because of DHS failed to file the NTA with the Court, the filed asylum applications represent 51 percent of remaining closed cases.)

Comparing representation rates for each DD hearing location with the respective proportion filing asylum applications, the two percentages closely resemble each other. See earlier Table 7. This clearly documents as a practical matter the overriding need for the assistance of an immigration attorney in order to successfully prepare and file an asylum application.

Table 7. Finding Representation Proved Difficult and as a Result Most Families Seeking Asylum Had Their Cases Closed Without Having a Hearing on Their Asylum Claims
All Closures as of September 30, 2022
Actual Adjusted*
Percentage Represented Percent Filed Asylum Application Percentage Represented Percent Filed Asylum Application
All Dedicated Docket Cases 34% 33% 52% 51%
DD Hearing Locations:
San Diego 78% 75% 82% 80%
Seattle 55% 68% 57% 70%
New York City-Broadway 54% 55% 58% 59%
San Francisco 53% 56% 59% 63%
New York City 48% 45% 64% 61%
Los Angeles 43% 40% 61% 57%
Newark 35% 30% 39% 33%
Detroit 34% 43% 35% 43%
El Paso 30% 35% 45% 53%
Boston 26% 22% 46% 39%
Denver 21% 29% 28% 38%
Miami 11% 12% 39% 41%
Non-DD Courts 46% 43% 48% 45%
* Adjusted to exclude from the denominator cases closed by the Immigration Judge because DHS had not filed the NTA by the time of the first hearing.
Table 8. Asylum Applications Filed in Immigration Court Dedicated Docket Closed Cases by Representation Status, September 2022
Asylum Application Filed Representation Total
Yes No
Yes 11,351 1,524 12,875
No 1,781 24,531 26,312
Total 13,132 26,055 39,187
Percent Filed 86% 6% 33%

Only 7 Percent of Families Assigned to the Dedicated Docket Won Asylum

Very few families who were able to file a formal application for asylum with the Immigration Court received asylum. Of those families who filed applications, a total of just 10,301 had a full asylum hearing with a decision on the merits to either grant or deny their asylum claims.[13]. Of these, just 2,894, or 28 percent of families were granted asylum. This compares with 52 percent granted asylum in regular proceedings during FY 2022. See Figure 4.[14].

Figure 4. Asylum Grant Rates, FY 2022

Compared with the total cases that have been decided so far, and given the many additional barriers along the way that eliminated cases before they got to this final stage, another way to look at this is that the 2,894 individuals awarded asylum represented a mere 7 percent of the 39,187 cases closed thus far on the Dedicated Docket. See earlier Figure 1.

There was considerable variation in grant rates. As TRAC previously reported, asylum grant rates varied widely depending upon which Immigration Judge decided the case. The range includes a judge in Miami who only granted asylum to 3 percent of individuals appearing before him on the Dedicated Docket, to a grant rate of 53 percent on the opposite coast when the case was assigned to a judge in the Los Angeles Dedicated Docket.[15]

Asylum grant rates also varied widely across the twelve Dedicated Docket courts. The highest grant rate was at the El Paso Dedicated Docket. Here two-thirds (68%) were granted asylum, although only 65 cases in total had been decided as of the end of September 2022. The San Francisco DD Court granted asylum in 48 percent of its cases, while the Boston DD Court was in third place with a 41 percent asylum grant rate. See Table 9.

At the other extreme was the Detroit DD Court which thus far granted asylum only 13 percent of the time, and the Miami and Seattle DD Courts which has granted asylum just 15 percent of the time.

Table 9. Immigration Court Asylum Decisions on Dedicated Docket Cases by Hearing Location, as of September 2022
Hearing Locations All Decisions* Grant Asylum Percent Granted
All 10,301 2,894 28%
El Paso 65 44 68%
San Francisco 1,206 577 48%
Boston 671 276 41%
San Diego 156 47 30%
New York City-Broadway 1,045 312 30%
Newark 880 239 27%
New York City 2,247 547 24%
Denver 340 73 21%
Los Angeles 1,355 270 20%
Miami 885 136 15%
Seattle 667 97 15%
Detroit 114 15 13%
Non-DD Court 670 261 39%
* Includes asylum cases decided on their merits by the Immigration Judge granting or denying the asylum application.

In making comparisons, it is important to recognize that the makeup of DD cases in different cities, as well as compared with non-DD cases, aren’t necessarily the same. However, all the evidence suggests that grant rates were generally much lower for families who were heard on an expedited hearing schedule.

For example, the three countries with the largest number of asylum decisions during FY 2022 – El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras -- had sharply lower asylum grant rates when they were assigned to the Dedicated Docket.[16] Individuals from El Salvador had just half the asylum grant rate (only 18%) for families appearing on the Dedicated Docket as compared with those heard in regular proceedings where the grant rate was 36 percent. For Guatemala and Honduras, their asylum grant rates on the Dedicated Docket were each also only 18 percent. However, for those heard in regular proceedings during the same period, the grant rates were 32 percent and 29 percent, respectively. See Table 10.

Table 10. Comparing Immigration Court Asylum Decision Outcomes for Northern Triangle Countries on Dedicated Docket vs. Regular Proceedings, FY 2022
Nationality DD Asylum Decisions Regular Asylum Decisions
All* Grant % Grant All* Grant % Grant
El Salvador 1,102 202 18% 6,574 2,353 36%
Guatemala 1,244 228 18% 6,022 1,948 32%
Honduras 1,182 215 18% 5,067 1,467 29%
* Includes asylum cases decided on their merits by the Immigration Judge granting or denying the asylum application.


Thus far, the United States has implemented initiatives to make asylum cases fast, but not necessarily fair. Careful and independent continuing monitoring of this administration’s growing initiatives to expedite asylum cases is called for. Only in this way will the public have the information it needs to judge whether these initiatives live up to their goals and the claims being made as to their “success.”

[1]^ Counted are cases which the Immigrant Court has assigned a “DD” flag to, or which have been scheduled for hearing in a designated Dedicated Docket hearing location. Tracking of Dedicated Docket cases by the Immigration Court as TRAC reported earlier has been unreliable. As of the end of September 2022 about one in five cases assigned to DD hearing locations had not been assigned a “DD” flag while an additional similar proportion had been assigned a DD flag but had not been assigned to a Dedicated Docket hearing location. In reporting results, TRAC separates statistics for current DD and non-DD hearing locations. Complicating the situation, many proceedings which ended up at non-DD hearing location had started at a DD hearing location. For some cases the transfers were in the opposite direction. Figures may underestimate the number assigned to the DD initiative because of the continuing data management issues at EOIR. Some cases once assigned inexplicably disappeared from EOIR’s master database system. For other cases, the DD hearing locations were altered months later and written over. See discussion at “The Shuffle of Dedicated Docket Cases Between Hearing Locations and Judges” later in this report.
[2]^ EOIR’s Policy Memorandum 21-23 announcing the program stated: “Respondents whose cases are placed on these dockets will be provided with a number of services, including access to information services and possible referral services to facilitate legal representation. Each city in which EOIR has established the Dedicated Docket has an established pro bono network.
[4]^ TRAC noted in its August 2021 report that: “It wasn't uncommon for a dedicated docket case to first be assigned to the normal docket at that location, and then later transferred to what is being treated as a new hearing location, one designated for handling the dedicated docket. Such a transfer usually also involves a change in the judge assigned as well.”
[5]^ A number of these in non-DD hearing locations at the end of December 2021 had transferred to DD hearing locations by the end of September 2022. As TRAC had reported, sometimes those flagged as being assigned to the DD initiative were initially scheduled for hearing in the same city but in the usual or default hearing location there. They were subsequently transferred to the Dedicated Docket hearing location in that city.
[6]^ Even though most, although not all, of these transfers occurred between locations in the same city rather than between major cities, the act of overwriting data in the EOIR’s database wipes out the official chronological record of when important changes took place. If this occurred on an ongoing basis, it creates confusion as to what actually occurred. Some information can be pieced together from the remaining records on scheduled hearings, but these records (assuming none of these were overwritten) reflect when a future hearing may be scheduled rather than when the transfer took place.
[7]^ EOIR’s database creates a unique computer-generated ID for each case (NTA) that allows tracking of all proceedings for that given individual. This is separate from the unique computer-generated ID assigned to each proceeding within a given case.
[8]^According to EOIR in describing its Dedicated Docket program: “EOIR works continuously with DHS to have Notices to Appear (NTAs) filed electronically—and in the correct location with appropriate dates/times—to reduce the number of cases that must be rescheduled. This new process should significantly decrease the amount of time it takes for noncitizens to have their cases adjudicated while still providing fair hearings for those seeking asylum.”
[9]^ Although some continued to be assigned (see earlier Table 1b).
[10]^EOIR published statistics not only don’t track cases unless they are currently assigned to a Dedicated Docket location, they also state they don’t count proceedings at DD locations if they are not also marked with a DHS-assigned DD case flag. If this is correct, given the unreliability of DD case flags. then EOIR appears to be excluding about 20 percent of cases actually currently being processed at its designated Dedicated Docket hearing locations in its own statistics.
[11]^ The 300-day goal was after the initial master calendar hearing rather than the NTA date. Wait times for the initial master calendar hearing varied widely. At the end of August 2021, TRAC reported that “half of the currently scheduled initial master hearings are not being held until after mid-November 2021 [~ 3 months out], and fully one in ten are not currently scheduled until mid-February 2022 [~6 months out]. At the end of September 2022, the overall median time before the initial master hearing ranged from 32 days in Miami to 72 days in Detroit. But half, of course, ranged higher. A few hundred cases appeared to have wait times of over a year for their first scheduled hearing, although the actual hearing date could be moved up.
[12]^ Over four months ago, TRAC submitted a FOIA request to EOIR seeking records identifying cases where DHS has filed a new NTA with the Immigration Court to restart cases dismissed because the DHS failed to file the original NTA with the Court. As of now, no information has been received in response to this request.
[13]^ The absence of a grant of asylum did not necessarily mean the individuals were ordered to leave the country by the Immigration Judge issuing a removal or voluntary departure order. Sometimes other relief was granted. Some cases were terminated while others were dismissed, closed for administrative reasons, or on the basis of prosecutorial discretion.
[14]^ For this comparison, the average days shown in Figure 4 are just for those asylum cases decided on their merits. Fewer average days reported for all DD closed cases shown in Table 5 reflects the shorter times taken by cases which did not have a hearing on the merits of their asylum claims .
[15]^ See Table 2 of TRAC’s earlier report with judge-by-judge asylum decisions in Dedicated Docket cases.
[16]^ These were the only three nationalities with both a sizable number of decisions in regular proceedings and in Dedicated Docket cases during FY 2022.
TRAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit data research center affiliated with the Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Whitman School of Management, both at Syracuse University. For more information, to subscribe, or to donate, contact trac@syr.edu or call 315-443-3563.