Awaiting an Immigration Court (EOIR) Hearing? Expect Delays and Rescheduling Due to Child Migrant Crisis

The Justice Department is re-prioritizing cases to deal with influx of unaccompanied minors

If you are currently in removal (deportation) proceedings or know someone who is, your likely wait for a hearing date -- which was already around 578 days, based on national averages reported by Hector Becerra of the L.A. Times -- just may have gotten longer.

The reason shouldn't surprise anyone who has read the news lately. An unprecedented influx of young would-be immigrants to the U.S. from El Salvador, Guatemala, and other areas south of the U.S. border has put a strain on the U.S. immigration court system, which is trying to balance humanitarian and enforcement priorities.

In response, the Department of Justice announced on July 8, 2014 that it would reprioritize the U.S. Immigration Court (EOIR)'s handling of various types of cases. Here's a summary of the portions of the announcement relevant to anyone awaiting an immigration court hearing:

  • The top priority cases will include unaccompanied children who recently crossed the southwest border; families who recently crossed the border and are being held in detention; families who recently crossed the border but have received some sort of alternative to detention; and other noncitizens in detention.
  • The government will move some of its immigration judges temporarily to areas of the greatest numbers of these high-priority cases, and allow some hearings to be done via video teleconference.
  • The Department of Justice will appoint some temporary immigration judges (uh oh, let's hope they get up to speed on this complex area of law quickly)

A crisis like this creates risks for everyone in the system, as files get reshuffled and delays stretch longer. The most important thing for anyone awaiting a hearing is to make sure to advise the court of any changes in your address, and keep track of your case status, to make sure you don't miss out on a rescheduling. Failure to appear at an immigration hearing almost always causes the judge to issue an order of removal.