Immigration Court Workload in the Aftermath of the Shutdown

The latest available data from the Immigrant Court indicates that as of February 1, 2019 the court is still playing catch up in the aftermath of the five-week partial government shutdown. It is too early to get an accurate reading of just how much larger the backlog has grown, or how much longer court delays will be before canceled hearings can be rescheduled. Court staff must first work through the deluge of piled-up paperwork and get cases properly recorded in the court's database. Then hearings need to be rescheduled before an accurate accounting can be made.

These results are thus very preliminary as they are based upon those records that have been input thus far into the court's tracking systems. Based on these albeit incomplete records, the backlog has already grown to 829,608. But until new filings are recorded, and cases put back on the active docket, these aren't reflected in this backlog count.

New Filings. Unless there was a dramatic drop in arrests and removal actions initiated by immigration authorities during the shutdown period, there appear to be a sizable number of new filings yet to be recorded and reflected in the court's workload. As shown in Figure 1, while new Immigration Court cases fluctuated between roughly 20,000 - 25,000 a month before the shutdown, filings seeking deportation orders recorded for January plummeted to just under 5,600[1].

Figure 1. Immigration Court Tracking System's Incomplete Record of Case Filings
(Click for larger image)

Canceled Hearings. The tally for hearings canceled during the shutdown and its aftermath has also been affected by delays in getting their status updated in the court records. As of February 1, a total of 80,051 hearings that had been scheduled during the shutdown were either marked in the court's database as canceled due to the "Court Closure" or their entry was simply left untouched with their status remaining blank although the scheduled hearing date was now long past. If other reasons for cancellations during the shutdown such as 'Docket Management (postpone hearing)', 'IJ leave' / 'IJ reassignment', or canceled 'to allow for scheduling of priority case' are included then canceled hearing numbers rise to 94,115.

Open Cases That Aren't Yet on the Active Docket. Also not recorded in these backlog tallies are the over 300,000 cases that were reclassified from completed to open. See earlier November TRAC report. Few of these are yet part of the active docket and thus are not counted in the official backlog figures.


[1] In normal times there is often some delay before new cases initiated by DHS are filed and reflected in the court's database. Thus, due to the shutdown, some cases initiated before the shutdown appear to still be waiting to be recorded. This may explain why new cases appear to have started declining in October and November.

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 or call 315-443-3563.