On May 28, 2021, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced a “dedicated docket” program to “more expeditiously and fairly” make decisions in the immigration cases of certain families who are apprehended after making an illegal entry between ports of entry along the Southwest Border. These families are placed in removal proceedings and then released into the interior of the country under the “Alternatives to Detention” (ATD) program.

The ATD program uses varying degrees of supervision and monitoring options to ensure that undocumented aliens will appear for their removal proceedings. This may include global positioning system (GPS) tracking devices, telephonic reporting, or a smartphone app (SmartLINK) that uses facial recognition to confirm identity for scheduled check-ins. Case management also may include office or home visits.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) will establish a dedicated docket in 10 cities with established communities of legal service providers and available judges: Denver, Detroit, El Paso, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle.

The judges who handle these cases will try to issue their decisions within 300 days, but the length of the wait for a master calendar hearing remains to be seen. The average wait for a hearing on the regular docket, which has a 1.4 million-case backlog, is 1,172 days. The regular docket wait is likely to increase — because judges are dividing their time between the dedicated docket and the regular docket.

EOIR claims that the families whose cases are placed on the dedicated docket will be provided with a number of services, including possible referral services to facilitate legal representation. Each city with a dedicated docket has an established pro bono network.

The announcement concludes that, “While the goal of this process is to decide cases expeditiously, fairness will not be compromised.”

I expected Biden’s supporters to welcome this development — but they don’t.


Many questions exist regarding the criteria being used to select the families assigned to the dedicated docket, but TRAC Immigration has been able to obtain statistics on how many have been selected.

As of Aug. 31, 2021, a total of 16,713 individuals comprising approximately 6,000 families had been assigned to the program.



Published originally on The Hill.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an Executive Branch Immigration Law Expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years. Follow him at https://nolanrappaport.blogspot.com