EOIR under the Justice Department in Need of E-Filing System for Immigration Courts
Published: June 08, 2017
Among various reasons, the GAO found that a lack of an e-filing system at the EOIR is one of the causes for the backlog in immigration courts.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) is facing a backlog in its immigration court cases at the Department of Justice. In a recent report, the GAO found that the backlog has more than doubled from FY 2006 through FY 2015. For instance, the backlog of cases at the beginning of FY 2006 was 212,000 cases, however, at the beginning of FY 2015 there was a backlog of 437,000 cases with an average pending time of 404 days. While the new caseload has increased 44% in this time frame, another reason for the backlog is a decline in the completion of cases per year. More specifically, a decline of 31% of cases were completed from FY 2006 to FY 2015.
Among various reasons for the backlog, the government watchdog found that the hiring and ramping up of immigration judges averaged 742 or more days as well as increased continuances from judges that temporarily adjourn a case for a different date and time. EOIR also stated that the number of relief applications filed, changes to the types of applications and more time-consuming, difficult cases involving different parties have also attributed to the slowed completion rate.
What could be part of the solution for these issues? Technology utilization.
In 2001, EOIR identified a need for a comprehensive electronic filing (e-filing) system for the electronic transfer of documents and other information to immigration courts. The system would help improve the timeliness in the adjudication process, increase resources and staff hours, decrease the risk of losing documents and smooth the communication between courts and outside stakeholders in the cases.
Nonetheless, as of February 2017, the GAO found that EOIR still does not have such a system – with a tumultuous past to blame. Primarily due to lack of oversight and management for the implementing the system, the initial plan for the e-filing system only reached establishing a case management database in 2002 before changing to an alternative concept and system known as eWorld in 2005. Since then, components of eWorld such as a case management system and digital audio recording systems in all courts has been implemented, however, nothing has been established for the e-filing component.
Currently, EOIR is still relying on various outdated systems and multiple platforms. Most recently, EOIR initiated a comprehensive e-filing project in 2016 called the EOIR Courts and Appeals Systems (ECAS). According to the report, ECAS is “to be a web-based system that tracks, displays, and manages immigration-related records; routes immigration-related documents for the appropriate approvals and decisions; provides improved access to select immigration data; allows for electronic filing and payment; delivers statistics and reports for enhanced court management; and allows for the intergovernmental secure transfer of data.”
Increased management and oversight for ECAS still looks to be an issue within EOIR. Still, in April 2016 EOIR did contract with a vendor to determine the COTS technologies available for ECAS. Government officials anticipate that the process of identifying the solution, gaining approval from leadership and requesting proposals from vendors to implement the solution will be completed by October 2017 with a contract awarded by January 2018.
The FY 2018 budget request for Justice cites a $500M budget for EOIR, $79M of which is additional funding over FY 2017 levels due to presidential administration priorities. Now is the time for vendors that can satisfy the e-filing system requirement to reach out to the government with their capabilities. It is not yet clear how much of the requested budget amount might translate to the courts’ IT investments but the agency’s heightened push for enforcement of immigration law and desire of a larger staffed and more efficient EOIR will likely drive the push for an e-filing system in the coming months!