Immigration Courts Trial Electronic Filing Program

Immigration courts around the country begin trialing an electronic filing system as part of a pilot program that’s designed to reduce paper use among federal entities. The pilot, which began in San Diego and York, Pennsylvania in July, Atlanta and Denver courts in August and then Baltimore and Charlotte, North Carolina in September, tests feasibility designed to reduce immigration courts’ ever-increasing backlog.

Officials with the Executive Office for Immigration Review. (EOIR), the Department of Justice (DOJ) agency that employs immigration judges and operates the courts, told the San Diego Tribune current court backlog accounts for more than 714,000 cases.

“Case-related documents EOIR generates at the pilot locations, such as decisions, orders, or notices, will be served only electronically on participating parties. Both parties will receive an encrypted email from EOIR with the document attached. This will constitute valid service and proper notice by EOIR during the pilot,” according to the Federal Register notice about the e-filing move.

Electronic filing, currently limited to government officials, accredited representatives and approved attorneys, expedites the document-filing process. This is opposed the paper-filing system wherein “staff walk copies of documents between immigrants and their attorneys, government attorneys and judges. Judges keep two-hole punches on their desks to place new filings in the folders that keep all of an immigrants’ case information in one place.”

For cases not involving EOIR attorneys, filings remain paper based.

Although many around the immigration courts foresee a higher degree of ease and convenience with the electronic filing system, some foresee the possibility of problems. Concerns include worries around the new system’s security along with questions as to whether hackers could compromise highly sensitive cases by exposing specific details.

According to DOJ information, the “initiative is part of an overarching information technology modernization effort at our agency.” With the move, the goal “is to phase out paper filing and processing, and to retain all records and case-related documents in electronic format. In support of the EOIR mission, it will further enable the timely and fair adjudication of immigration cases.”