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).
- 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.