Immigration Courts across the U.S. have been randomly rescheduling and advancing cases without regard to attorney availability or whether we have the capacity to complete our cases. The very predictable result of this fiasco is that lawyers are stressed and overworked, our ability to adequately prepare cases has been reduced, and--worst of all--asylum seekers are being deprived of their right to a fair hearing. Besides these obvious consequences, the policy of reshuffling court cases is having other insidious effects that are less visible, but no less damaging. Here, I want to talk about some of the ongoing collateral damage caused by EOIR's decision to toss aside due process of law in favor of reducing the Immigration Court backlog.

As an initial matter, it's important to acknowledge that the Immigration Court backlog is huge. There are currently more than 2 million pending cases, which is more than at any time in the history of the Immigration Court system. To address this situation, EOIR (the Executive Office for Immigration Review - the office that oversees our nation's Immigration Courts) has been working with DHS (the prosecutor) to dismiss low-priority cases, where the non-citizen does not have criminal issues or pose a national security threat. Also, the U.S. government has been doing its best to turn away asylum seekers at the Southern border, which has perhaps slowed the growth of the backlog, but has also (probably) violated our obligations under U.S. and international law.

In addition, EOIR has been hiring new Immigration Judges ("IJs") at a break neck pace. In the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of IJs nationwide, though some parts of the country have received more judges than others. In those localities with lots of new IJs, EOIR has been advancing thousands of cases. The goal is to complete cases and reduce the backlog. Why EOIR has failed to coordinate its new schedule with stakeholders, such as respondents and immigration attorneys, I do not know.

What I do know is that EOIR's efforts have created great hardships for attorneys and respondents (respondents are the non-citizens in Immigration Court). Also, I expect that this whole rescheduling debacle will have long-term effects on the Immigration Courts, as well as on the immigration bar.

The most obvious effect is that lawyers and respondents simply do not have enough time to properly prepare their cases. When a hearing was set for 2025 and then suddenly advanced to a date a few months in the future, it may not be enough time to gather evidence and prepare the case. Also, this is not occurring in a vacuum. Lawyers (like me) are seeing dozens of cases advanced without warning, and so we have to manage all of those, plus our regular case load. So the most immediate consequence of EOIR's policy is that asylum seekers and other respondents often do not have an opportunity to present their best case.

Perhaps less obviously, lawyers are being forced to turn work away. We can only competently handle so many matters, and when we are being assaulted day-by-day with newly rescheduled cases, we cannot predict our ability to take on a new case. In my office, we have been saying "no" more and more frequently to potential clients. Of course, this also affects existing clients who need additional work. Want to expedite your asylum case? Need a travel document to see a sick relative? I can't give you a time frame for when we can complete the work, because I do not know what EOIR will throw at me tomorrow.

One option for lawyers is to raise prices. We have not yet done that in my office, but it is under consideration. What we have done is increase the amount of the down payment we require. Why? Because as soon as we enter our name as the lawyer, we take on certain obligations. And since cases now often move very quickly, we need to be sure we get paid. If not, we go out of business. The problem is that many people cannot afford a large down payment or cannot pay the total fee over a shortened (and unpredictable) period of time. The result is that fewer non-citizens will be able to hire lawyers.

Well, there is one caveat--crummy lawyers will continue to take more and more cases, rake in more and more money, and do very little to help their clients. Such lawyers are not concerned about the quality of their work or doing a good job for their clients. They simply want to make money. EOIR's policy will certainly benefit them, as responsible attorneys will be forced to turn away business, those without scruples will be waiting to take up the slack.

Finally, since EOIR is increasing attorney stress and burnout to untenable levels, I expect we will see lawyers start to leave the profession. I have talked to many colleagues who are ready to go. Some are suffering physical and mental health difficulties due to the impossible work load. Most immigration lawyers are very committed to their clients and have a sense of mission, but it is extremely difficult to work in an environment where you cannot control your own schedule, you cannot do your best for your clients, you cannot fulfill your obligations to your family and friends, and where you are regularly abused and treated with contempt. Long before EOIR started re-arranging our schedules, burnout among immigration lawyers was a serious problem. Today, that problem is exponentially worse, thanks to EOIR's utter disrespect for the immigration bar. I have little doubt that the long term effect will be to drive good attorneys away from the profession.

For me, the saddest part of this whole mess is that it did not have to be this way. EOIR could have worked with attorneys to advance cases in an orderly manner and to ensure that respondents and their lawyers were protected. But that is not what happened. Instead, EOIR has betrayed its stated mission, "to adjudicate immigration cases by fairly, expeditiously, and uniformly interpreting and administering the Nation's immigration laws." Respondents, their attorneys, and the immigration system are all worse off because of it.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: