A January 31 memorandum from the Department of Justice’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) has rescinded parts of the Obama administration’s controversial “Rocket Docket” policy, essentially deprioritizing immigration removal hearings that involve unaccompanied minors who have a potential sponsor or adults with children who are “released on alternatives to detention.”
The memo —written by MaryBeth Keller, the federal government’s Chief Immigration Judge— was addressed to all United States immigration courts. On Wednesday afternoon, a copy of the memo was posted to a listserve of immigration attorneys who are handling current cases, and the copy is currently being shared online by attorneys. The memo also stated that the federal government’s case hearing priorities now focused on detained adults without children, detained adults with children and minors who do not have sponsors.
When Latino USA contacted the Department of Justice for confirmation that the memo was real and that it was sent to immigration courts, the EOIR emailed a link to the memo.
“I commend the Trump administration from ending one of the darkest, irrational and unjust immigration policies of the Obama administration,” immigration attorney Bryan Johnson told Latino USA. “It is a good day when the government stops prioritizing the deportation of children over everyone else.”
Johnson represents more than 400 immigration cases, including those of unaccompanied minors with sponsors and those of adults with children.
According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), “a total of 38,601 cases on the court’s ‘rocket docket’ involving ‘adults with children’ (AWC) have been decided by immigration judges since July of 2014.” It also tracked detailed data about cases with unaccompanied children.
In 2014, President Obama wrote a letter to Congress about his administration’s efforts to address the migrant crisis from Central America. Part of that letter included a push to employ a “surge of resources” to ensure that “cases are processed fairly and as quickly as possible, ensuring the protection of asylum seekers and refugees while enabling the prompt removal of individuals who do not qualify for asylum or other forms of relief from removal.”
Here is a 2014 report about the “Rocket Docket” policy:
The four-page memo from Keller is posted below (PDF is here):
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “alternatives to detention (ATD)” include “release on recognizance, community support, or bond, as well as formal monitoring programs. The ACLU describe ATD methods as “effective, more humane, and far less costly than institutional detention.”
Furthermore, despite the DOJ memo, Trump’s January 27 immigration order still paused a government program to help with Central American who are seeking refugee status. That program is separate from the immigration removal hearing priorities the DOJ addressed in the January 31 memo.
UPDATE, FEBRUARY 3, 2017: A day after this Latino USA article was published, The New York Times published their story about the DOJ memo and also included comment from a DOJ spokesperson:
Lauren Alder, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the arm of the Justice Department that oversees the immigration courts, said the new policy reflected “the present state of the immigration system,” adding that changes in court practices “should not be interpreted as long-term solutions to fix the broken system, but are short-term solutions to manage the growing caseload.”
In addition, on February 3, the DOJ has published more detailed information about the January 31 memo. Here is an excerpt:
DHS and EOIR have begun a monthly reconciliation program in order to ensure that individuals coded under the priority code adults with children/alternatives to detention (AWC/ATD) are actively enrolled in a DHS alternatives to detention program. Following this reconciliation, which will be completed on March 1, 2016, all cases that retain the AWC/ATD code will remain a priority and EOIR will resume the release of statistics regarding this group on that date. Cases involving respondents in the DHS-identified category of adults with children whom DHS is detaining will continue to be a priority irrespective of their detention status.
You can read the entire February 3 memo here.