Rocket Dockets: Recent Changes at the Immigration Court

The surge of unaccompanied minors and families with children entering the U.S. has caused changes in immigration court proceedings. President Obama has called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to work on a united government response. FEMA was put in charge of handling humanitarian efforts while DHS was in charge of removal proceedings.      

President Obama has specifically asked that DHS work quickly and increase enforcement of immigration law. The Executive Office of Immigration Review has re-prioritized deportation hearings for recent migrants. The expedited hearings are nicknamed “rocket dockets” because of their quick pace.

Though the number of unaccompanied children caught at the border dropped in July for the first time this year, rocket docket cases have continued on an expedited basis.  These cases are moving quickly, but it is important that during these expedited hearings the courts provide fair and child-centric procedural protections.

In San Francisco, the immigration court has made a number of child-friendly improvements to court hearings.  Judges have made available donated toys, books, and coloring books. They have also encouraged parents to enroll children in school, sometimes even waiving the presence of children in court so that the kids do not miss school to attend future hearings.  More importantly, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has approved much-needed funding to provide critical legal services to juveniles before the immigration court.