COVID-19 Pandemic Drives up Immigration Court Backlog and Delays
(18 Sep 2020) The partial shutdown of the Immigration Court in the wake of COVID-19 continues to impact hundreds of thousands of immigrants awaiting their day in court. The current active court case backlog as of the end of August 2020 has grown to 1,246,164—up 11 percent from the beginning of March when the backlog was 1,122,824. Average wait times have already jumped 12 percent just in the past 6 months. Cases currently in the queue have already been waiting on average over 26 months as of now, and may still have to wait years longer before their hearing is actually scheduled to occur.

Where in the country are most immigrants residing when their case first reaches the Immigration Court? Among states, California has had the largest number. But foreign addresses, including those assigned to the MPP 'Remain in Mexico' program actually dominated during August. Since March 21, using public health measures during the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump Administration has been turning away those fleeing persecution at the border. Few of these had been assigned to MPP since March, but that recently changed. During August, a total of 832 were channeled to MPP and proceedings started in Immigration Court. Most were Cubans (546) or from Ecuador (211).

Monthly case completions before the March shutdown were running over 40,000. In August just 6,113 cases were completed. Roughly half (52%) of these were ordered deported or given a voluntary departure order. Before the shutdown began, this deportation order rates were much higher. For example, back in January this rate was 75 percent.

Cases requiring more time, such as those filing applications for relief including asylum, have also slowed. There were only 1,424 asylum decisions rendered during August. On these 507 were successful and the judge granted their asylum request while 11 more received other forms of relief which allowed them to remain in this country.

While EOIR as a policy has tried to move forward on hearings for immigrants who are detained, detainees with pending cases now number 29,656. Bond hearings have also slowed. There were only 2,425 bond hearings in August and bond was granted in only 622 of these. The average bond set for these individuals was $7,500.

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