“Rocket Docket” for Newly Arrived Children Creates Massive Delays in Immigration Courts

The children are no longer at the Border, they are in the courts.
The children are no longer at the Border, they are in the courts.

The Immigration Courts were notified in January that, in order to schedule quick court action on the cases of newly arrived children from Central America, many other cases are being pushed back to Nov. 29, 2019, the day after Thanksgiving. These Black Friday cases will be on hold for nearly five years.

When President Barack Obama bowed to Congressional pressure over the summer to do something to speed up the deportation of the children, he prioritized these new cases over most cases that were already pending before the courts. Instead of moving cases along more quickly, the move has created a new bottleneck in an already fragile system.

The Immigration Courts are not independent courts. They function as an arm of the Justice Department, created the so-called Rocket Docket to speed up the children’s removal proceedings. Instead of going through the normal process where their cases were placed on the court calendar along with all other types of cases, the children were placed on a special calendar, and judges were prevented from going ahead with their normal caseloads.

Scheduling the children for quick court dates has been counterproductive in moving their cases along. Because the children are scheduled so fast they don’t have time to find a lawyer and the courts have to adjourn the cases anyway for months to give them the opportunity to seek representation.

Lauren Alder Reid, spokeswoman for the Executive Office for the Immigration Court system, told the Wall Street Journal that the new delays in scheduling cases not involving the children was entirely predictable. “This is exactly what we said was going to happen,” she said.

While Congress and the President offered many expressions of concern over the summer about the influx of children, they did not authorize money to hire new judges. Without greater resources, the system crashed.

The Rocket Docket should be ended. It has created confusion and delay in the Immigration Courts. People who are not newly arrived children awaiting their day in court will now have to put their lives on hold for nearly five years.

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