‘No Dark Courtrooms’ – EOIR
It is now common knowledge that there is a staggering backlog in the Immigration Courts. As of now, there are over 850,000 cases pending in the Immigration Courts nationwide with trials scheduled in 2022. Although many have demanded more immigration judges be hired to combat the massive backlog, Congress has routinely denied the requests, deeming it too costly.
On March 29, 2019, the Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) James McHenry came up with what his agency believes to be the solution to reduce the caseload: a Policy Memorendum (PM) called “No dark courtrooms”. Even though he had previously used this phrase in his November 2017 speech, this PM is going to take effect on May 1, 2019.
A dark courtroom is an “immigration courtroom that is not being utilized during blocks of available time”. This clearly means that these dark courtrooms greatly contribute to the increasing backlog. Moreover, immigration cases fail to be resolved timely incidentally compromising due process.
It must be said that between FY 2010 and FY 2016 the immigration judge hiring was very poor. Furthermore, since June 2017, more than 100 immigration courtrooms were not being used nationwide on Fridays. In a nutshell, this PM ““directs OCIJ managers to ensure, to the maximum extent practicable, that all blocks of immigration court time are being utilized for scheduling cases.” As a result, “there should not be a dark courtroom during a court’s normal operating hours unless there is absolutely no immigration judge available, including by VTC.”
Thus, immigration judges who have small dockets will be re-assigned cases from those who have bigger dockets in order to make sure that cases are adjudicated on time and consistently.
This PM does not however prevent immigration judges from using administrative time, even though the EOIR is well aware that some courtrooms may not be used at the same time as the IJ use their administrative time.