Home > Immigration > Reports

One-Third of New Immigration Court Cases Are Children; One in Eight Are 0-4 Years of Age [1]

Published March 17, 2022

Almost one-third of all new cases in Immigration Court are juveniles. Case-by-case Immigration Court records updated through February 2022 indicate that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued 310,359 Notices to Appear (NTA) so far during fiscal year 2022 (October 2021-February 2022). Where age [2] is recorded, 81,080 or 31 percent of these immigrants were from 0 to 17 years of age at the time DHS issued the NTA. See Figure 1. These counts underestimate the actual number of children since for an additional 15 percent the age was unknown.

The largest segment where age was recorded, some 32,691, were children from zero to four years of age. This represents 12 percent of cases received this fiscal year, or a little less than one out of every eight. See Table 1.

Figure 1. Immigrants in New Immigration Court Cases by Age, FY 2022 (October 2021-February 2022)
Table 1. Immigrants in New Immigration Court Cases by Age, FY 2022 (October 2021-February 2022)
Age Number Percent
Total New Cases 310,359
Age Unknown 45,022
Age Known 265,337 100%
Juveniles: 81,080 31%
0-4 32,691 12%
05-11 28,443 11%
12-17 19,946 8%
Adults: 184,257 69%
18-24 43,337 16%
25-34 79,524 30%
35-44 41,730 16%
45-59 16,542 6%
60+ 3,124 1%

For over seven out of ten of these juveniles, surprisingly little is found in the Court’s case-by-case records on their status. Were these children accompanied by one or both parents and thus part of a family group? Were they unaccompanied minors? As discussed further below, TRAC was only able to determine whether these children were unaccompanied or part of a family group from the Court’s records in slightly fewer than 30 percent of these cases. This makes it difficult for the public or the Court itself to monitor how these children are being handled, and whether their special needs are being adequately addressed as their cases move through the Immigration Court system.

Figures in this report are based on the analysis of case-by-case court records obtained through a series of Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests submitted by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).

Reliable Tracking Systems on Children Discontinued Under Trump Administration Have Not Been Restored

At one time during the previous Obama administration, EOIR used a “flag” (“priority code”) that allowed the identification of families, and a parallel distinctive flag for unaccompanied children. These were discontinued at the beginning of the Trump administration. Apparently recognizing the importance of flagging juvenile cases by their status, new flags were established in a table separately tracking juveniles to identify children who were unaccompanied from those appearing as part of a family.

Unfortunately, this replacement system was never systematically implemented. Apparently DHS has not been required by administration officials to include information on NTAs which would reliably flag juvenile cases and allow the Courts to determine whether these children were part of a family group or unaccompanied.[3] Furthermore, no system appears to have been put in place by EOIR to regularly update its juvenile tracking in its database to distinguish between unaccompanied children and children part of a family group.

Determining Status of Children: What EOIR Currently Records

TRAC used two approaches to determine the status of some children. First, the EOIR established special hearing locations that are devoted to holding hearings for unaccompanied juveniles, which means that all cases assigned to these hearing locations should be children. However, TRAC’s analysis does not assume that these hearing locations captures all unaccompanied children in removal proceedings. Whether unaccompanied children are actually always assigned to one of these, especially where the Court does not have reliable tracking on who is an unaccompanied juvenile, remains doubtful.

A second set of special hearing locations have been set up for families admitted through a newly established Dedicated Docket initiative. This initiative began at the end of May in 2021 when selected families apprehended between ports of entry were let into the country, assigned to be monitored by ICE’s Alternatives to Detention (ATD), and placed on Court’s “rocket docket” in order to process these cases quickly. However, there is little reason to expect that these would be the only families with children in newly filed Court cases.

Using the list of hearing locations for unaccompanied children, TRAC first identified which children in cases filed this fiscal year were assigned to these special locations. We similarly identified the set of children assigned to the special Dedicated Docket hearing locations or who had been flagged by EOIR as in this initiative.[4] Altogether this includes 23,896 out of the 81,080 cases.

TRAC examined the youngest segment of children, those from 0 to 4 years of age, which made up 32,691 of the total 81,080 juvenile cases. A little over a quarter of these young children (27 percent, or 8,980 children in total) were part of a family assigned to the Court’s “Dedicated Docket.” Some 279 children (1%) were found assigned to a “juvenile docket” where cases for unaccompanied children are heard. Note that even for these very young children of 0 to 4 years of age, they are not legally entitled to have attorneys assigned to represent them if they are unable to find one on their own. The Court’s data provides no clarity about whether the remaining 23,432 of these very young children (or 72 percent) are part of a family unit or are facing deportation as an unaccompanied child. [5] See Table 2.

Out of all children, 20,470 (25%) were assigned to the Dedicated Docket as part of a family group, and 3,426 (4%) were assigned to the juvenile docket. This left 57,184 or 71 percent or all cases of migrants under the age of 18 whose accompanied status was unknown. In addition, because the age of the immigrant was not known in 45,022 cases, we can’t determine how many additional of these are actually children.

Table 2. Juveniles in New Immigration Court Cases by Status, FY 2022 (October 2021-February 2022)
Age In Family Group* Unaccompanied** Other*** Total****
Juveniles: 20,470 3,426 57,184 81,080
0-4 8,980 279 23,432 32,691
05-11 7,817 595 20,031 28,443
12-17 3,673 2,552 13,721 19,946
* Identified based on being assigned to Court's Dedicated docket.
** Identified based on being assigned to hearing location for unaccompanied juveniles. An additional 343 individuals whose birthdates indicates they were adults at the time the NTA was issued were assigned to unaccompanied juvenile hearing locations.
*** Status not reliably tracked in Court records.
**** In an additional 45,022 new Court cases in FY 2022, the individual's birthdate was not recorded so the counts shown underestimate the actual number children.

Nationality of Juveniles

The children TRAC was able to identify as unaccompanied juveniles tended to come from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. These were the top three nationalities among unaccompanied juveniles. While far fewer in numbers, children from Nicaragua and Mexico were in fourth and fifth place in terms of their number. Children who travel further from Ecuador, Venezuela, Russia, and Brazil came next. This was followed in tenth place by children from Haiti. See Table 3.

As shown in Table 3, those assigned to the Dedicated Docket had a distinctively different nationality makeup. Here the leading nationality was Brazil, followed by Ecuador and Honduras. In fourth and fifth place were, respectively, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Rounding out the top ten in order were: Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Cuba, and Chile.

As TRAC previously reported, these data suggest that there is selectivity based in part on nationality as to which families are admitted into the Dedicated Docket program. Their composition does not resemble the general make up of individuals seeking entry to this country along the border with Mexico. Some commentators have suggested that if a country will accept Title 42 expulsions, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will choose expulsion rather than permitting the person to enter the country through the Dedicated Docket initiative. If this is true, it suggests that the composition of nationalities on the Dedicated Docket are being shaped by the politics of Title 42 expulsions rather than the demographics of people seeking asylum in the United States.

Table 3. Juveniles in New Immigration Court Cases by Nationality and Status, FY 2022 (October 2021-February 2022)
Top Nationalities Number of Juveniles Rank Order
In Family Group* Unaccompanied** Other*** In Family Group* Unaccompanied** Other***
Children (age 0-17) 20,470 3,426 57,184
Brazil 4,093 21 3,012 1 9 6
Chile 834 8 1,280 10 13 10
Colombia 1,115 9 1,404 8 12 9
Cuba 934 4 1,146 9 16 11
Ecuador 2,336 73 2,179 2 6 7
El Salvador 1,421 445 4,691 7 3 4
Guatemala 1,552 1,523 8,892 6 1 3
Haiti 613 17 1,064 11 10 12
Honduras 2,193 939 14,900 3 2 1
Mexico 178 116 1,697 13 5 8
Nicaragua 2,105 131 4,404 4 4 5
Peru 464 2 571 12 19 13
Romania 78 7 324 16 14 15
Russia 83 36 515 15 8 14
Venezuela 1,838 51 9,304 5 7 2
All other nationalities 633 44 1,801
* Identified based on being assigned to Court's Dedicated docket.
** Identified based on being assigned to hearing location for unaccompanied juveniles. An additional 343 individuals whose birthdates indicates they were adults at the time the NTA was issued were assigned to unaccompanied juvenile hearing locations.
*** Status not reliably tracked in Court records.
[1]^ Although TRAC’s underlying data were obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and litigation, TRAC’s reports and online tools are the result of in-depth qualitative and quantitative analysis by TRAC’s research team and should be cited. The suggested citation for this report is as follows: Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (March 17, 2022). One-Third of New Immigration Court Cases Are Children; One in Eight Are 0-4 Years of Age. Syracuse University. https://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/681/.
[2]^ For simplicity we refer to “age” as being recorded. Actually, it is the date of birth that is recorded. EOIR released the month and year of birth and TRAC calculated age by computing the difference between the date recorded on the NTA with the birth date using the 15th of the month as the approximation of the withheld day of birth within the recorded month. Note that using the first or last day of the month instead of the 15th made little difference in the resulting counts.
[3]^ It would be doubtful whether EOIR could impose or enforce such an order since the Immigration Court has no independent status as it might were it an Article I Court.
[4]^ TRAC identified children assigned to the Dedicated Docket by not only using their hearing location but also included children that had a special flag set for Dedicated Docket cases. TRAC has found that neither method alone reliably identifies families assigned to this initiative. See report section “Dedicated Docket Case Tracking Still Not Fully Implemented” in January 13, 2022 TRAC Report.
[5]^ TRAC also separately examined whether children were being assigned to another special program. According to the Court’s records covering this fiscal year (October 2021 – February 2022), only 3 juveniles out of the 920 new Immigration Court cases required to remain in Mexico, were juveniles. All three were 0-4 years of age.
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 trac@syr.edu or call 315-443-3563.
* This report showcases the first significant change in the design of TRAC's reports in many years and reflects TRAC's commitment to making improvements that will benefit our users.