The Department of Homeland Security is Flooding the Immigration Courts with Record Numbers of New Deportation Cases

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Cleveland Immigration Court

In FY 2019, more than 650,000 new removal proceedings were filed with immigration courts. The astonishing number of new cases in FY 2019 was the highest year on record by far, nearly doubling the number of new cases in FY 2018 (355,102), which was itself the highest year on record at that time. The third highest number of new removal cases was in 286,046 in FY 2005 during the Bush administration.

In another article, I recently suggested that new removal cases can be better than deportation numbers at indicating the current administration’s enforcement priorities. This is, of course, only part of the story. There are many data points that tell better, or at least different, versions of what’s going on with the immigration system at the moment. And one thing I should have emphasized is that the Department of Homeland Security has been using various techniques (e.g. expedited removal and stipulated orders of removal) that allow them to deport immigrants without going through the courts. This means that lower numbers of NTAs, when it happens, may be driven by alternatives to removal proceedings, not necessarily a decline in aggressive enforcement. Regardless, my main point was to encourage writers and researchers to pay more attention to NTAs.

Data from TRAC’s “New Deportation Proceedings” tool.

Today, I wanted to illustrate this point with data from TRAC’s “New Deportation Proceedings” tool. As the graph shows, new removal proceedings have tended to fluctuate between 180,000 and 280,000 for the past two decades from the beginning of the Bush administration to the end of the Obama administration. But as I wrote inReading Donald Trump: A Parallax View of the Campaign and Early Presidency, ICE’s data in 2017 suggests that they were aggressively going after easy targets that would have previously fallen under low-priority discretionary schemes to drive up enforcement numbers. And for sure, that’s what seems to be at work here: new removal proceedings are skyrocketing. And at a time when the immigration court backlog is larger than it has ever been, with more than 1.2 million cases pending before the courts.

No matter who takes the oath of office on January 20, 2021, the immigration court system will face a larger backlog than ever with more new cases flooding the courts every day.

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