New “Rocket Docket” Process For Immigration Hearings Compromises Justice, Advocates Say

The Biden administration on Friday unveiled a new process for speeding up immigration hearings, but some advocates say this “rocket docket” approach may do more harm than good.

“The first impression (of Friday’s announcement) is definitely disappointment,” said Linda Rivas, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy in El Paso. “Disappointment that the (Biden) administration seems to have a need to expedite cases at the expense of due process.”

El Paso is among the 10 cities with immigration courts that will handle these cases, according to the announcement by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. In order to qualify for this expedited process, families must be apprehended “between ports of entry on or after Friday, May 28, 2021, placed in removal proceedings, and enrolled in Alternatives to Detention (ATD),” the announcement said.

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in the announcement that the new process is needed to improve the fairness and efficiency of deciding cases.

“Families who have recently arrived should not languish in a multi-year backlog; today’s announcement is an important step for both justice and border security,” Mayorkas said.

The backlog in U.S. immigration courts increased dramatically during the Trump administration, leaving nearly 1.3 million pending deportation cases at the start of 2021, according to Transactional Resource Access Clearinghouse data. As of the end of December 2020, more than 17,000 cases were backlogged in El Paso immigration courts, with an average wait time for a hearing of 715 days, and a maximum wait of 3,738 days. Friday’s announcement said the dedicated docket process would generally render a decision within 300 days.

Rivas said it’s important to consider Friday’s announcement within the context of the Trump administration’s legacy, and the anti-asylum policies that remain in place under the Biden administration.

“What the Trump administration did was essentially try to obliterate asylum, and do away with asylum protections for so many,” Rivas said.

By René Kladzyk for EL PASO MATTERS
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