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GAO Tracks Progress, Challenges in Management of Immigration Courts and Alternatives to Detention

In June 2017, the Government Accountability Office reported that the Executive Office for Immigration Review’s (EOIR) immigration court case backlog — cases pending from previous years still open at the start of a new fiscal year — more than doubled from fiscal years 2006 through 2015, primarily due to declining cases completed per year.

GAO also reported in June 2017 that EOIR could take several actions to address management challenges related to hiring, workforce planning, and technology utilization, among other things. For example, EOIR did not have efficient practices for hiring immigration judges. EOIR data showed that on average from February 2014 through August 2016, EOIR took more than 21 months to hire a judge. GAO also found that EOIR was not aware of the factors most affecting the length of its hiring process. The agency recommended that EOIR assess its hiring process to identify efficiency opportunities.

As of January 2018, GAO found, EOIR had made progress in increasing its number of judges but remained below its fiscal year 2017 authorized level. To better ensure that it accurately and completely identifies opportunities for efficiency, EOIR needs to assess its hiring process.

In November 2014, GAO reported that the number of aliens who participated in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program increased from 32,065 in fiscal year 2011 to 40,864 in fiscal year 2013. GAO also found that the average daily cost of the program—$10.55—was significantly less than the average daily cost of detention—$158—in fiscal year 2013. Additionally, ICE established two performance measures to assess the ATD program’s effectiveness, but limitations in data collection hindered ICE’s ability to assess program performance. GAO recommended that ICE collect and report on additional court appearance data to improve ATD program performance assessment, and ICE implemented the recommendation.

The Department of Justice’s EOIR is responsible for conducting immigration court proceedings, appellate reviews, and administrative hearings to fairly, expeditiously, and uniformly administer and interpret U.S. immigration laws. The Department of Homeland Security’s ICE manages the U.S. immigration detention system, which houses foreign nationals, including families, whose immigration cases are pending or who have been ordered removed from the country.

GAO previously made recommendations to EOIR to improve its hiring process, among other things, and to ICE to improve ATD performance assessment. EOIR and ICE generally agreed and implemented or reported actions planned to address the recommendations.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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