The Executive Office for Immigration Review ("EOIR") recently announced a new way to check case status on-line. The system provides information about cases that are (or were) pending before the Immigration Courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals. According to the EOIR press release--

The automated case information application allows users to receive the most recent information about a case after inputting a unique alien registration number. Available information includes next scheduled hearings, decision information at the immigration court and Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) levels, and court and BIA contact information. Immigration courts’ operating statuses are also included.

The new portal can be found here. By entering your Alien number, you can view your case information in English or Spanish. This new system is similar to the old EOIR telephone hotline (which still works--you can call 800-898-7180 to obtain information about your case). The online system provides similar information to the hotline, but in written format.

Overall, I like this online system better than the telephone hotline. It is more convenient and faster to use. It also includes some helpful information that the hotline does not provide, such as better court contact information and news about court closures (at the bottom of the portal home page). That said--and I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth--I do have a few quibbles with this shiny new toy (shocking, I know).

First, and maybe most significantly, when you enter your Alien number and go to the page with information about your case, you will see your full name displayed at the top. This makes me nervous. Maybe I am old fashioned, but I don't like seeing my asylum-seeker clients' names displayed for all the world to see (not to mention their A-numbers and information about their cases). I worry that information like this should not be so publicly available.

To be fair, you can't access this information without the person's A-number, and when you call the EOIR hotline, you can obtain essentially the same information already. It's just that having this information available in written format somehow seems less secure. Also, because the online portal is so much faster than the telephone hotline, it's not difficult to enter one A-number after another and get information about lots of random people. This is particularly easy since A-numbers are assign sequentially. So if you know one person's number, you can change it slightly and find other (random) people's names and numbers. Whether this information could be used for nefarious purposes, I do not know, but given the human capacity for mischief, I imagine it is a possibility.

Perhaps a partial solution here is to provide less information about the alien--maybe just the person's initials. Whether that would provide much protection against bad actors, I am not sure, but it seems safer than displaying the full name. Another possibility would be to require users to enter their Alien number and their name in order to access the system. This would at least make it more difficult to gain access to random people's information.

A second quibble is that the portal does not distinguish between removal, Withholding of Removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture ("CAT"). In each case, the decision information will indicate that the person has been denied relief (in contrast, where a person has been granted asylum or a Green Card, the system will indicate that the Immigration Judge "granted the application"). This is the same information that is provided through the telephone system. Having talked to some government techies, I know it is not always possible to obtain more specific information from existing databases, but it would be helpful to know whether a person has been denied all relief or has been granted Withholding or CAT.

A third issue is that the online system does not provide any information about the Asylum Clock. This is surprising, since the telephone hotline does give information about the clock. For some asylum applicants, it is possible to get clock information from USCIS by entering the asylum receipt number (not the Alien number) here. But given this fancy new online system, it's too bad that clock data is not included as part of the package.

Finally, and this is perhaps an unfair criticism, it seems to me that EOIR could do a lot more with this website. For example, it could include contact information for the relevant DHS office (you can find that separately here). It could indicate whether biometrics are current. Each individual Immigration Court has its own webpage (which you can access here) with information about office hours, staff, parking, and more. It would be nice if the portal provided a link to the relevant court's webpage. Maybe it could also include links to local pro bono resources and to the Immigration Court Practice Manual. And if we're really ambitious, it could include information about how to submit a complaint against an adjudicator, other court personnel or an attorney. Dare to dream.

One last point--the new portal is only useful if people know that it exists. Instead of all the mumbo jumbo on the Notice to Appear and the Immigration Court scheduling order, why not include a prominent (and I mean **PROMINENT**) link to the new online system? This new system is not bad (despite my kvetching) and it would be great if more people learn about it.

These days, anything resembling a positive development in immigration world should be celebrated. EOIR's online portal is a helpful tool for immigrants and their advocates. I hope EOIR will continue to upgrade this system to make it more secure and more useful for us all.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: