5,000 Immigrants Assigned to Biden Administration's New "Dedicated Docket" for Asylum Seeking Families
On May 28, 2021, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice announced that the two agencies would be implementing a new "Dedicated Docket" process for families arriving at the border who are placed in immigration proceedings. The announced goal of the Dedicated Docket was to speed the hearing and resolution of family cases. A decision target of 300 days after their initial master calendar hearing was set. According to the announcement: "Families may qualify if they are apprehended between ports of entry on or after Friday, May 28, 2021, placed in removal proceedings, and enrolled in Alternatives to Detention (ATD)."
According to the latest case-by-case court data, the Immigration Court has recorded placing 4,866 people comprising approximately 1,700 families onto their dedicated docket. This compares with 108,102 individuals in family units that the Border Patrol reported apprehending between ports of entry along the southwest border during June and July this year. Thus, only a relatively small number of families encountered by the Border Patrol—less than 5 percent—thus far are recorded as assigned to this program. Many questions exist about the criteria used by the Border Patrol to select which families are assigned to the Dedicated Docket. This report describes the pace that individuals have been assigned to this program, describes the characteristics of the initial group of families who have been assigned to this program, and outlines where their cases have been directed.
Pace of Assignment to Dedicated Dockets
With the public announcement of the program on May 28, families immediately began being assigned to this program. Figure 1 displays the number of persons assigned day-by-day, based upon the recorded date of their Notice to Appear (NTA) reflected in the Court's records. While daily counts varied, dropping off on weekends, the number of daily assignments rose steadily. It currently appears to have leveled out since mid-July with an average of 140 to 150 per day, with peak days approaching as many as 250 during the work week and falling to as few as a dozen on Sundays. See Figure 1. Data reflect Court records as of the end of July.
Figure 1. Assignment of Persons to the Immigration Court's Dedicated Docket, May 28 - July 31, 2021
(Click for larger image)
We cannot tell from available data how much time passed between the moment that the Border Patrol apprehended families and the moment that families were placed on the Dedicated Docket for removal proceedings. The date of apprehension is not shown in available Court records, but the date of most recent entry into the country is available. Calculating from the date of entry, about half of families were issued an NTA within 5 days of their entry date into the U.S. However, the other half of families had a longer delay. See Figure 2. Many families waited weeks and sometime months between the date they entered the country and the date they were issued an NTA. The data does not allow us to provide a definitive explanation for these delays, but it is possible that time passed between the date they entered the country and the date they were apprehended or that processing delays caused families to wait for longer periods of time between the date they were apprehended and the date they were issued an NTA. Furthermore, it is conceivable (and even expected) that the new Dedicated Docket involved some start-up delays while procedures were put in place and while the backlog of previously detained families were assigned to this new program. If start-up issues were the reason for most of these delays, the span of time between entry date and issuance of the NTA should be expected to decline with time.
Figure 2. How Quickly After Entry Date Is Assignment Made to the Immigration Court's Dedicated Docket, May 28 - July 31, 2021
(Click for larger image)
The nationality of people put on the Dedicated Docket provides some initial clues about how the new docket is unfolding in practice. Perhaps the most astonishing characteristic of this initial group of assigned families is that 41 percent of the approximately 5,000 individuals assigned to the Dedicated Docket were from Ecuador. This sharply contrasts with the makeup of overall Immigration Court cases initiated during June and July of this year, where Ecuadorians made up just 9 percent of all new cases. Other nationality groups were less well represented by the families that were assigned to the Court's Dedicated Docket. Significantly less numerous as compared with the general make up of new Court cases are people from Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, and Mexico. See Figure 3 and Table 1.
Figure 3. Immigration Court Cases by Nationality and Docket Type, May 28 - July 31, 2021
(Click for larger image)
The Court data doesn't contain any information on where these families were picked up, or record other data that might suggest why so many Ecuadorian families are in this initial group assigned to the dedicated docket process. What we do know is that about nine out of ten Ecuadorians were assigned to the New York City-Varick hearing location (89%), with the remaining sent to Newark and Boston. Less than half of one percent were assigned to any other locations.
Table 1. Nationality of Persons Assigned to Immigration Court's Dedicated Docket, May 28 - July 31, 2021
Age and Gender
Understanding the age and gender of people on the Dedicated Docket provides additional clues about how docketing decisions are being made. Adults from 21-34 years predominated, and comprised three-quarters of all adults. The most frequent age was 26. Children tended to be quite young, with the most frequent being two or three years of age. The age distribution of the individuals assigned to dedicated dockets is shown in Figure 4.
Almost two-thirds of the adults (63%) were females. See Figure 5. About half of family units were made up of an adult with one child. An additional third were comprised of three individuals—sometimes a husband and wife with one child, or an adult with two children Most of the remaining had four individuals. The most typical family had a young female head with one or two young children.
Figure 4. Individuals Assigned to the Immigration Court's Dedicated Docket (DD) by Age, May 28 - July 31, 2021
(Click for larger image)
Figure 5 Individuals Assigned to the Immigration Court's Dedicated Docket (DD) by Gender, May 28 - July 31, 2021
(Click for larger image)
Hearing Location and Judges Assigned
Ten cities were initially chosen to set up special dedicated dockets to process these cases. According to the Administration, these ten cities were selected because they have "established communities of legal services providers and available judges to handle the cases." Since the announcement, Boston has been added to this list. While eleven cities have dedicated dockets, so far half of all cases on the Dedicated Docket have been assigned to the hearing location in New York City. Three addition cities—Newark, Miami, and Los Angeles—each have received around 10 percent, with the rest spread across the remaining seven cities. A few stragglers while flagged as assigned to the Dedicated Docket program are currently shown assigned to regular hearing locations in York, Pennsylvania and the Florida Department of Corrections at Chipley. See Table 2.
Thus far, a relatively small number of judges have been assigned to hear most cases on the dedicated docket. Nearly one out of every four of the 5,000 cases have been assigned to Immigration Judge Francisco R. Prieto who hears cases on the Dedicated Docket in New York City. With such an enormous DD caseload, all assigned in a short period of time, one wonders how the hearing process can provide proper due process while at the same time resolving cases within 300 days. Just four judges are currently assigned to hear more than half of all current dedicated docket cases. In addition to Judge Prieto, these are Judge Lisa W. Ling (also in New York City), Judge Nathan N. Aina (Los Angeles), and Judge Jason L. Pope (Newark).
Just 10 judges have been assigned to hear 80 percent of the cases assigned to the Dedicated Docket thus far. These additional six judges sit in Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, Newark and New York. See Table 3. As families continue to be assigned to the Dedicated Docket, it will be important to monitor how this new workload is distributed and whether it will be more widely shared across more judges to keep workloads manageable. Table 3 lists all judges currently assigned to hear Dedicated Docket cases and the number of DD cases they have been assigned.
Table 2. Individuals Assigned to Immigration Court's Dedicated Docket Hearing Locations, May 28 - July 31, 2021
Table 3. Immigration Court Judges Assigned to Hear Cases on the Dedicated Docket
 The joint announcement made by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas and Attorney General Garland can be found here: https://www.justice.gov/eoir/pr/dhs-and-doj-announce-dedicated-docket-process- more-efficient-immigration-hearings.
 A "docket" is an administrative tool that courts use to keep similar types of cases together. Several types of dockets exist in Immigration Court, including, for example, "juvenile dockets" for cases involving minors and "detained dockets" for cases involving people who are being held in immigrant detention at the time of their hearing.
 TRAC found the flag EOIR had assigned to tag cases assigned to the DD process unreliable and therefore used a composite measure that included individuals so flagged along with any other individuals who were assigned to a "DD" special hearing location EOIR has established to process these cases. The court did not release any "family unit" identifier so the estimate of the number of families these individuals represent is an estimate based upon common characteristics including their date of entry, nationality, and reported address inside the U.S.
 This only counts Title 8 apprehensions, and excludes families immediately deported under Title 42.
 The Notice to Appear (NTA) is a charging document typically issued by the Department of Homeland Security to persons that the agency believes are in the country unlawfully and should be deported. An NTA represents the beginning of the deportation process through the Immigration Courts, and may end in temporary or permanent lawful status, a deportation order, or other legal outcomes.
 It would be more desirable to compare nationalities for families not placed on the detained docket, but Court data doesn't as a general rule reliably flag which cases involve families.
 Anyone 18 years or older was classified as an adult.
 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. The numbers reported by city in Table 2 include all families flagged as dedicated docket cases whether or not they are still showing up on the normal docket.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 315-443-3563.