FY 2021 Begins with Largest Immigration Court Backlog on Record
(24 Nov 2020) Fiscal Year 2021 began with the largest number of Immigration Court cases in its active backlog to date: in October, 1,273,885 immigration cases were pending before the courts. Most of the pending cases—918,673 or 72 percent—involved nationals from Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and El Salvador. Over four out of every ten immigrants waiting to have their cases heard were from Guatemala and Honduras. Mexicans had fallen to third place, followed by individuals from El Salvador.

In FY 2019, immigration judges had decided more asylum cases than ever, rendering decisions in 67,641 cases. Due to court closures surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, which TRAC previously reported on, the number of asylum cases decided in FY 2020 declined somewhat but remained high at 59,531. The most significant monthly decline took play between March 2020, when immigration judges issued decisions in 7,001 cases and April when that number declined to just 1,380. October 2020 saw 2,200 completed cases—the fifth month in a row of slow but steady increases in asylum case completions since a low of 1,157 in May.

New cases under the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as "Remain in Mexico," remained low. In October 2020, the Immigration Courts recorded 662 new MPP cases compared to 5,042 in October 2019. New MPP cases were at their lowest in May and June, when there were 136 and 215 new cases respectively, then increased to 1,130 in September. October's 662 cases represent yet another decline in new cases, at almost half of the number the previous month in September.

Of the 2,200 asylum cases completed in October 2020, 1,532 (70%) were denied, while 668 cases (30%) were granted asylum or some other form of relief. Notably, Immigration Judges in Baltimore, Maryland, completed more asylum cases than any other court in the country in July (with 106 completed asylum cases), August (153), and September (191), exceeding much larger and busier courts such as those in San Francisco, New York City, and Los Angeles. This is likely due to being one of the earliest courts to reopen for non-detained hearings after shutting during the pandemic. In October, the San Francisco eclipsed Baltimore with 289 completed asylum cases compared to Baltimore's 208—but these data nonetheless illustrate the geographically uneven effect that court closures have had on the Immigration Court system.

To examine a variety of Immigration Court data, including asylum data, the backlog, MPP, and more now updated through October 2020, use TRAC's Immigration Court tools here:

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