Report: Pandemic may impact 850,000 immigration cases

The current backlog in immigration court and growing cancellations “will certainly increase hearing delays for months and probably years to come,” says a new report from Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

According to the TRAC report, more than 365,000 immigrants have been impacted by the partial shutdown of the immigration court due to COVID-19.

TRAC’s estimate of those impacted by the partial shutdown states 368,000 immigrants have been impacted by the partial shutdown that began in earnest in early March — but the report underscores that more than 850,000 immigrants could be affected by the shutdown even if the court were to open immediately.

“However, this does not represent the full scope of the long-term impact of COVID-19 on the courts,” the report stated. “TRAC estimates that once scheduling delays for the rest of the individuals in the court’s backlog are taken into account, 850,000 immigrants — or more than three-quarters of a million — may well be affected by the shutdown even if the Court were to reopen today.”

TRAC is careful to warn that compiling exact numbers of immigrants affected by the partial shutdown due to COVID-19 is simply not possible for three reasons; internal reporting delays tied to the database’s inability to give a “reason” code, a decline in accuracy for entries in the field, and third, TRAC states the case management system has “built-in” limitations that make it difficult to determine whether or not a hearing took place.

Immigration court case completions dropped by nearly 15,000 cases in March, from 41,793 cases completed in February, and further dropped in April, from 26,699 cases completed in March, to just 6,460 cases completed in April, according to the report.

In calculating the estimate, TRAC looks at different groups of immigrants in different points in their respective hearing processes.

The first group — people at the end of the hearing process — are those who had their hearing canceled after a judge was unable to decide their case, the report stated.

TRAC estimates that more than 85,000 immigrants are part of this group as of the end of May.

Additionally, TRAC states the people in this group will now have to “wait many months, if not years, before they have their day in court when their cases finally get resolved,” the document stated.

The second group looked at by TRAC are the new cases, estimated to be 88,000 cases, these cases were impacted by the partial shutdown because they have to wait longer before their initial hearing is scheduled — and not because their hearings were canceled like the first group.

In the third group, TRAC looked at those who are not at the beginning or at the end of their respective cases; but instead somewhere in the middle of the court’s backlog when the partial shutdown was put in place.

According to data TRAC received from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the immigration courts had canceled nearly 220,000 hearings by the end of April due to the government shutdown related to COVID-19.

“With hearing cancellations continuing throughout May, hearing cancellations recorded due to the shutdown have undoubtedly grown,” TRAC report stated. “A conservative estimate would be that cumulatively at least 280,000 — or more than a quarter million cases — have already been canceled through the end of May, although not all cancellations have been recorded yet.”

As discussed above, 85,000 out of the 280,000 hearing cancellations were for final hearings and were in the first group, leaving the remainder in this third group. These roughly 195,000 individuals will face months or years of delay before the immigrant’s next hearing can be scheduled, with more hearings needed even after the next one to fully resolve each immigrant’s case.

Nearly 40% of these cancellations were for the initial hearing, and nearly 90% of cancellations were for initial and reset hearings, according to the report.

Finally, the report further states that an estimated 500,000 immigrants have yet to be directly affected because their next hearing was scheduled after the end of May.

“For this particular group, however, they will need to schedule further hearings after the one now scheduled. These subsequent hearings will also be delayed because of the increasingly clogged schedules of immigration judges,” the TRAC report stated.