E.g., 11/30/2023
E.g., 11/30/2023
At the Breaking Point: Rethinking the U.S. Immigration Court System

With a backlog of nearly 2 million cases, the U.S. immigration court system is in crisis. Many cases now take years to adjudicate, with asylum seekers, for example, waiting four years on average for their initial hearing and longer for a final decision. Serious concerns have also been raised about the quality of court decisions.

These twin issues of caseload quantity and decision quality have wide-ranging roots, from long-standing operational challenges in the courts to new crises in the Americas that have intensified humanitarian protection needs and other migration pressures. The courts' dysfunction has had severe knock-on effects for other parts of the nation’s immigration infrastructure, including notably the immigration enforcement and asylum systems.

This report takes stock of the many challenges facing the immigration courts and outlines recommendations that would advance the goal of delivering decisions that are both timely and fair. It explores issues including court caseload and personnel levels, docket management strategies, the use of technology in the courts, and access to representation. Importantly, the report focuses on changes that can be accomplished administratively—a necessity in a time when Congress has proven itself unlikely to tackle significant immigration matters.

Table of Contents 

1  Introduction

2  Overview of the Immigration Court System
A. Goals of a Well-Functioning Court System
B. Longstanding Problems

3  Quantity and Quality Challenges and Their Underpinnings
A. The Quantity Issue
B. The Quality Issue
C. Geographic Disparities and Other Inconsistencies in Immigration Court Decisions
D. The Sum of These Concerns

4  Technology in Immigration Courts
Factors to Consider in Assessing VTC Hearings

5  The Role of Discretion in Removal Proceedings
A. DHS’s Use of Prosecutorial Discretion
B. Docket Management at EOIR

6  Redesigning the System for Adjudicating Defensive Asylum Claims at the U.S. Border

7  Representation in Immigration Proceedings
A. Legal Representation Improves the Efficiency and Quality of Court Decisions
B. Types of Representation
C. Public Funding for Legal Representation

8  Recommendations
A. Improving the Management and Efficiency of the Immigration Court System
B. Making Better and More Strategic Use of Technology
C. Implementing the Asylum Officer Interim Final Rule
D. Improving and Increasing Representation

9  Conclusion