Executive Office For Immigration Review:

Caseload Performance Reporting Needs Improvement

GAO-06-771: Published: Aug 11, 2006. Publicly Released: Sep 12, 2006.

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Within the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge (OCIJ) is responsible for managing the 53 immigration courts located throughout the United States where over 200 immigration judges adjudicate individual cases involving alleged immigration law violations. This report addresses: (1) in recent years, what has been the trend in immigration courts' caseload; (2) how does OCIJ assign and manage the immigration court caseload; and (3) how does EOIR/OCIJ evaluate the immigration courts' performance? To address these issues, GAO interviewed EOIR officials; reviewed information on caseload trends, caseload management, and court evaluations; and analyzed caseload data, case completion goal data, and OCIJ court evaluation reports.

From fiscal years 2000 to 2005, despite an increase in the number of immigration judges, the number of new cases filed in immigration courts outpaced cases completed. During this period, while the number of on-board judges increased about 3 percent, the courts' caseload climbed about 39 percent from about 381,000 cases to about 531,000 cases. The number of completed cases increased about 37 percent while newly filed cases grew about 44 percent. EOIR attributes this growth in part to enhanced border enforcement activities. The courts reduced the number of proceedings awaiting adjudication for more than 4 years, but did not meet their goal to complete all proceedings more than 3 years old by December 31, 2005. OCIJ relies primarily on an automated system to assign cases to immigration judges within a court. To balance the judges' caseload, OCIJ considers the number of newly filed cases and cases awaiting adjudication from prior years, historical data, and the type and complexity of cases. To manage its growing caseload, OCIJ, among other means, details judges from their assigned court to a court in need of assistance and uses available technology such as video conferencing. According to OCIJ, if it recognizes a pattern of sustained need, it recommends that EOIR establish a court in a new location. EOIR evaluates the performance of the immigration courts based on the immigration courts' success in meeting case completion goals. GAO's review of EOIR's quarterly reports on these goals identified a recurring inconsistency between reports as well as other inconsistencies. EOIR explained that these inconsistencies were due to a variety of factors, including the exemption of different categories of cases from the goals in different quarters, delays in data entry, and programming errors in the calculation of the data. Because EOIR has changed its criteria for cases covered by these goals and only maintained the queries for its current reporting process, GAO could not replicate past case completion reports to determine their accuracy. The inconsistencies indicate that EOIR should maintain appropriate documentation to demonstrate the reports' accuracy.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) evaluates the performance of the immigration courts based on the immigration courts' success in meeting case completion goals. EOIR reports this information in its internal quarterly case completion goal reports. However, we found a recurring inconsistency between reports as well as other inconsistencies. For example, the number of cases awaiting adjudication at the end of a quarter was not the same as the number of cases awaiting adjudication at the beginning of the following quarter. Although EOIR provided several reasons for the inconsistency, we could not replicate the past reports to determine the accuracy of the case completion goal data. EOIR did not maintain the individual queries used to run the prior quarterly reports; it only maintained the current set of queries. The inconsistencies indicated that EOIR should maintain appropriate documentation to demonstrate the reports' accuracy. We recommended that the Director of EOIR maintain appropriate documentation to demonstrate the accuracy of the case completion goal reports. In response, in a memo dated September 28, 2006, EOIR instituted a policy requiring documentation behind the quarterly reports be maintained so that prior reports could readily be rerun, as the need arises. When changes to the compilation criteria behind the reports occur (e.g., adding new categories of exemptions), the old reporting format would be maintained as well as the new reporting format. EOIR also compiled a chronology of the changes made to the case completion goals that would be updated as changes are made to the criteria in the reporting of the case completion data. In addition, in February 2007, EOIR issued additional standard operating procedures for generating the case completion goals. As such, EOIR should have documentation that shows how the case completion goal reports were developed and that demonstrates the accuracy of the reported data.

    Recommendation: To more accurately and consistently reflect the immigration courts' progress in the timely adjudication of immigration cases, the Director of EOIR should maintain appropriate documentation to demonstrate the accuracy of case completion goal reports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Executive Office for Immigration Review

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) evaluates the performance of the immigration courts based on the immigration courts' success in meeting case completion goals. EOIR reports this information in its quarterly case completion goal reports. We found that in developing the reports, EOIR decided to exclude from the measurement certain categories of cases that, due to extenuating circumstances, were not expected to be completed within the established timeframes. As a result the number of cases covered by the quarterly reports was less than the total court caseload. Additionally, depending on what cases are excluded from the case completion goals, the makeup of the cases included in the reports can change from one quarter to the next. These facts were not clearly reflected in the reports themselves. We recommended that the Director of EOIR clearly state what cases are being counted in the reports. In response, in a memo dated September 28, 2006, EOIR instituted a policy that its Office of Planning, Analysis, and Technology would review the format of the reports and revise them as necessary to ensure their clarity. The reports would be footnoted as appropriate to define the cases that are being tabulated therein. In its first quarter 2007 case completion goal report EOIR included information on which types of cases were included and stated that the case completion goals were related to the percentage of the cases actually completed excluding exempted cases. As a result, EOIR would enable users of the data, including members of its management, to better understand exactly what is being measured and the data's implication for the immigration courts' efficiency.

    Recommendation: To more accurately and consistently reflect the immigration courts' progress in the timely adjudication of immigration cases, the Director of EOIR should clearly state what cases are being counted in the reports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Executive Office for Immigration Review

 

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