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EOIR’s Strategic Context

Current Operating Environment

EOIR’s operating environment has experienced significant change throughout the past five years, and EOIR’s pending caseload grows with each fiscal year. Since FY 2006, the agency’s pending caseload has increased from roughly 170,000 cases to approximately 2.46 million at the end of FY 2023. With the volume of pending cases increasing each year, the wait times for adjudication lengthen, and EOIR’s pending caseload becomes a growing ‘backlog.’ 

That backlog is the product of four primary factors: the volume of cases currently pending, the volume of cases newly filed by DHS, the number of IJs onboard to adjudicate cases, and the space available on each judge’s docket. With the exception of the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, case referrals from DHS have continuously risen, increasing from approximately 228,000 in FY 2016 to almost 1.2 million in FY 2023. The persistent rise in new filings from DHS have vastly outpaced the agency’s ability to complete cases.

Separate from the disparity between DHS’ new filings and EOIR’s completions, EOIR also suffered operational setbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic years of FY 2020 through FY 2022, including declining case completions due to health closures and scheduling complications and delays in agency efforts to transition to electronic records and the efficiencies they represent.  While the challenges of the pandemic were overcome by adaptive measures taken during those years, the pandemic’s impact on the pending caseload is still being felt.

To address the backlog, as well as meet changing immigration demography and operational needs, EOIR has made concerted efforts to ameliorate its growing caseload and has implemented a number of operational changes in response. EOIR has created new case dockets and initiatives, adjusted its adjournment codes, enhanced its IJ hiring, and renewed its focus on internet-based hearing technologies.

As an illustration of initiatives taken, EOIR and DHS promulgated regulations for “Procedures for Credible Fear Screening and Consideration of Asylum, Withholding of Removal, and CAT Protection Claims by Asylum Officers” (sometimes referred to as ‘the Asylum Officer Rule’ or ‘Asylum Processing Rule’). DHS and DOJ published this rule to ensure that those noncitizens who are eligible for asylum but subject to expedited removal are granted relief quickly, while those noncitizens who are not eligible are promptly ordered removed. Because of the backlog, the process for hearing and deciding asylum cases in removal proceedings takes years to resolve. By establishing a new process for a review of asylum claims that is both efficient and thorough, the Asylum Officer Rule can substantially shorten adjudication times and incrementally alleviate the backlog at large.

EOIR has also continued to improve its hiring processes to onboard immigration judges more quickly, and EOIR recently identified bottlenecks and bureaucratic obstacles and revamped its hiring process to eliminate them. As a result of procedural modifications, EOIR has reduced the time it takes to hire new IJs from a previous average of two years from application to onboarding to an average of six months, thus allowing EOIR to more promptly satisfy its adjudicatory and human capital needs. The agency’s streamlining efforts also enabled EOIR, by the close of FY 2023, to fill all 734 appropriated IJ positions, thus creating the largest judge corps in the agency’s history. Moreover, the improvements made in the process have not only reduced the time to hire, but they have also added consistency and transparency in the hiring process.

With respect to case management, EOIR has made relatively minor changes that have significant institutional impacts. For example, EOIR uses adjournment, call-up, and case identification codes for electronically tracking case information and relies on these codes both to memorialize the current status of a given case and to provide data for overall docket management. The immigration judge is responsible for making a clear record of the reason(s) for any adjournment or call-up date, and because these codes are so vital to our caseflow, EOIR continually reviews its adjournment, call-up, and case identification codes and will update or modify those codes as circumstances warrant. To illustrate, EOIR has introduced codes to better track docket management-related adjournments of hearings in immigration court (i.e., when a hearing date is advanced, postponed, or moved off calendar by EOIR). Through this tracking, EOIR has been able to more efficiently utilize IJ dockets, increasing adjudicatory efficiency (the number of cases that can be addressed in a finite time period).

EOIR is also continuing to modernize and digitize its critical information systems and has implemented several operational changes to increase use of automated and virtual systems, thus increasing operational efficiencies wherever possible. The benefits of electronic filing, electronic records of proceedings, and case management system are undisputed and were first identified by EOIR as early as 2001. A fully electronic system will improve case scheduling and adjudication efficiency, reduce time spent on administrative tasks related to paper files, and free additional space to be used for additional staff or court expansion. EOIR’s components, especially OIT, have worked tirelessly in recent years to make the implementation of such a system a reality for EOIR. The EOIR Court and Appeals System (ECAS) centralized case management, allows for expanded e-filing, and digitizes paper-based elements of the adjudicatory systems. ECAS is part of an information technology modernization effort at EOIR and is an agency-wide effort including OOD, OIT, OCIJ, OP, OGC and the BIA. Significantly, ECAS has been deployed to all of the immigration courts nationwide and the BIA. It allows DHS and respondent’s representatives to file, view, or download record of proceedings documents online, 24/7. It also allows EOIR to electronically store and transfer records securely, reliably, and quickly; and records can be easily searched and managed electronically. At the BIA, attorneys and representatives can file electronically (for electronically maintained cases)​.

Table 1 and Figure 2 below illustrate the effect of new case filings on the backlog. Specifically, it shows how the volume of new cases filed by DHS drastically increased in FYs 2022 and 2023, far outpacing the agency’s ability to complete cases and leading to an ever-increasing backlog despite EOIR’s historic number of case completions in FYs 2022 and 2023. Table 1 shows:

  1. The number of new Notices to Appear (NTAs or Forms I-862) and Notices of Referral to Immigration Judge (NORs or Forms I-863), the charging documents received from the DHS, also known as initial receipts.
  2. The number of total case completions consists of both initial case completions and subsequent case completions. Initial case completions refer to initial decisions of Removal, Deportation, and Exclusion case-types only, while subsequent case completions occur after a Motion to Re-calendar, Motion to Reopen, or an Appeal Remand reverts a case to pending status and an IJ renders a subsequent decision.
  3. The number of pending cases at the end of each fiscal year through FY 2023.

Table 1. Initial Court Receipts, Completions, and Pending Cases for FY 2018 through FY 2023


Initial Receipts (I-862 & I-863) (#)

Total Completions [1 (#)

Pending Cases (End of FY) (#)

Proportion of Case Completions (%)































Source: CASE Data files


Figure 2. Immigration Court Receipts, Completions, and Pending Cases FY 2018 through 2023

Note that in Table 1 and Figure 2, productivity declined or was stagnant for two consecutive fiscal years prior to FY 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beginning in FY 2022, productivity significantly increased, culminating in EOIR completing the most immigration court cases in the agency’s history in FY 2023. EOIR exceeded 1,197,000 new NTAs and over 523,000 total case completions in FY 2023, representing a 69.23% increase in new NTAs and a 66.49% increase in case completions over FY 2022.

Although these developments – i.e., increased productivity, improved hiring, and the development of ECAS – are encouraging and have addressed many longstanding operational challenges, EOIR nonetheless continues to face an overarching challenge without a clear solution: a burgeoning caseload that is driven largely by factors outside of EOIR’s control – specifically, the aforementioned sheer volume of new cases being initiated by DHS. For instance, the last two fiscal years have seen the largest numbers of annual new case filings in the history of EOIR, including the two highest single-year totals in the agency’s history – over 700,000 new immigration court cases filed in FY 2022 and over 1,197,000 new cases filed in FY 2023. A reality that the agency faces is that, despite our consecutive record highs in immigration judge hiring and case completions, recent DHS input far outpaces EOIR output.

Additional information regarding EOIR’s current operating environment can be found in Appendix B: Current Operating Environment.


[1] Total completions are the sum of initial case completions and subsequent case completions.