Asylum ‘Rocket Dockets’ Confront Some Speed Bumps



Attempting to catch up with a growing backlog of some 900,000 cases, immigration courts in 10 U.S. cities are giving priority to hearing asylum claims.

But what the so-called “rocket dockets” gain in speed, they lack in efficiency: More than 80 percent of orders for removal involve individuals who failed to appear in court. 

“Using ‘rocket dockets’ to accelerate proceedings only heightens the breakdowns that are a recurring feature of the system on its best day,” a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) study concludes. “[The] system is overburdened. Court notices are often sent to incorrect addresses. Reports of clerical errors abound.”

Even amid the high rate of deportation orders, MPI points out that rulings in absentia expose “a complicated, confusing, and often faulty court process.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not said how many of the 17,000 recent “rocket docket” orders have resulted in actual removals. Whatever the number, it pales in comparison to the volume of migrants streaming across America’s southern border every month (144,000 in May).

Instead of extending a cat-and-mouse game into the U.S. interior, MPI proposes that asylum processing be conducted at the border by allowing asylum officers from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to fully adjudicate cases. Currently, these officers conduct only the preliminary “credible-fear” interview of arriving asylum seekers.

“If asylum officers were permitted to see cases through, the final determination could be made within months, not years and in a non-adversarial, less resource-intensive setting,” MPI asserts.

That’s all well and good. But even under the most optimistic timelines, such cases typically take more than 20 days to resolve — and 20 days is the limit that the Flores Settlement Agreement sets for detaining asylum-seeking families (the fastest growing cohort of asylum seekers).

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., offers four steps toward easing this conundrum. His Secure and Protect Act of 2019 would:

  • Bar new asylum applications from residents of the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) from being filed at the U.S.-Mexico border. Instead, processing centers would be set up in those countries and Mexico. 
  • Revise Flores by designating 100 as the maximum number of days families could stay together in the U.S. while making asylum claims. 
  • Add 500 immigration judges to reduce the backlog of cases. 
  • Permit U.S. border agents to return unaccompanied minors from Central America to their country of origin after screening, similar to the current process for children who come from Mexico and Canada.

Adjusting the Flores standard to allow longer detention of illegal aliens and reforming U.S. asylum laws could yield a 90 percent reduction in migrant flows, DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan estimates.

After passing the Senate Judiciary Committee, Graham’s bill is headed to the full Senate for a vote. For Democrats, who opposed it in committee, the measure is another test of the party’s seriousness about upholding the rule of law and fixing the humanitarian mess at the border. Increasing the time limit on family detention would also necessitate the creation of additional detention space, something Democrats have adamantly fought.

As Graham put it: “We need to ask who is in control here? Us or the human smugglers?”

As for those “rocket dockets,” court orders for removal of migrants don’t count for anything when the scofflaws are gone with the wind.  

About Author

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Bob Dane, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)'s Executive Director, has been with FAIR since 2006. His deep belief is that immigration is the most transformational determinant of where we are heading as a nation and that our policies must be reformed in the public interest. Over many years on thousands of radio, TV and print interviews, Bob has made the case that unless immigration is regulated and sensibly reduced, it will be difficult for America to reduce unemployment, increase wages, improve health care and education and heighten national security. Prior to joining FAIR, Bob spent twenty years in network radio, marketing and communications after an earlier career in policy and budgeting within the Reagan Administration. Bob has a degree from George Mason University in Public Administration and Management.

4 Comments

  1. avatar

    The Trump Derangement Syndrome

    Made common sense legislation on illegal alien OVERPOPULATION a joke. I have no solution. The UK did a study on the young adults….89% were hopeless derelicts for a decent future and its a perfect storm for “likely” more MASS killings by American youth in America too, IMO. I agree with the UK opinion.

    The illegal alien open borders is adding to the general psychosis problem in America…and neither party will admit rents and home prices are way too high and wages with unregulated OVERPOPULATION are simultaneously depressed way too low for any solution. We simply ignore homelessness and MASS killings [Obama had 32 MASS killings on his watch too] in the name of the real estate Baal god….IMO.

    The two “chronic” psychosis problems go hand in hand.

  2. avatar

    It’s going to be hard to get any such proposals through the present Congress because of the Democratic House. Because any attempts to control the border are portrayed as bigoted and racist.

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