September 10, 2020
Hon. Robert Vinikoor (Ret.)
The U.S. Immigration Court is an administrative court operated by the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) Executive Office for Immigration Review (“EOIR”) under the authority of the Attorney General of the United States. There are currently 58 courts throughout the United States and more than 350 judges. The judges are responsible for conducting removal proceedings commenced by the issuance of a Notice to Appear (“NTA”) by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”). The judges are also responsible for adjudicating asylum claims for immigrants, among other responsibilities.
Proceedings commence when the NTA is served by the DHS on the immigration court. There are currently more than one million cases pending before the immigration court.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns in March 2020 initially caused EOIR to postpone all non-detained hearings. Beginning in mid-June 2020, EOIR began reopening some immigration courts. The Chicago immigration court has reopened but currently only 4 of the 10 assigned judges to the non-detained docket are hearing “individual” merits hearings. Master Calendar hearings, at which dozens of people wait in a courtroom together to review their immigration charges and seek relief, have not restarted.
According to TRAC, a nonpartisan, nonprofit data research center at Syracuse University, the partial shutdown of the Immigration Court in the wake of COVID-19 has already impacted hundreds of thousands of immigrants awaiting their day in court. TRAC reports that from April 2020 to July 2020 the number of monthly case completions fells from over 40,000 to around 6,000. However, for this same time period, the number of new Notices to Appear issued by DHS and received by the Immigration Court totaled 111,752. According to TRAC, 347,450 foreign nationals served with a Notice to Appear were still waiting for their initial Master Calendar hearing.
Steps to take to assure that the Immigration Court delays do not affect your eligibility to seek timely relief.
Contacting an immigration attorney to discuss your case and how Immigration Court delays may affect your eligibility to apply for certain forms of relief is always a good first step. For example, a request for asylum generally must be filed within one year of arrival in the United States. However, if you have not been scheduled for a Master Calendar hearing or your Notice to Appear has not been received by the Immigration Court, you should get advise on how to file your application and where. If you have an A-number (A#), an easy first step would be to call the 800 number of EOIR at 1-800-898-7180 to determine the next date your case is scheduled for court. It is equally important that if your case has been delayed, that the relief you are seeking will not be directly affected by the postponement of the individual merit hearing. While EOIR has proposed having Judges adjudicate cases on the submitted evidence without taking testimony, this is not advisable in most cases. An attorney can advise you whether your case might be one that can be decided without testimony. Finally, if your case has been postponed, and you feel that there are exceptional circumstances warranting an immediate decision, you can contact the Immigration Court directly that has jurisdiction over your case and see if the assigned Judge would consider moving your case forward.
To help with any of these issues, get in touch with Minsky, McCormick and Hallagan, P.C. and we can answer your questions and help determine the proper course of action in your case.