EOIR Prioritization of "Family Unit" Cases

Tracking family unit cases, myattorneyusa.com



On November 16, 2018, the Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), James McHenry, published a memorandum titled “Tracking and Expedition of 'Family Unit' Cases” [see OOD PM 19-04]. In the memorandum, Director McHenry discussed procedures for tracking “family unit” cases and ensuring that they are adjudicated in a timely manner. In this post, we will examine the memorandum.

Discussing the Memorandum

In January 2018, the EOIR set forth its most recent case adjudication priorities in a memorandum titled “Case Priorities and Immigration Court Performance Measures” [PDF version] [see article]. In accordance with the January 2018 memorandum, the EOIR began tracking all immigration cases labeled as “family unit” at the following ten immigration court locations:

Atlanta Immigration Court
Baltimore Immigration Court
Chicago Immigration Court
Houston Immigration Court
Los Angeles Immigration Court
Miami Immigration Court
New Orleans Immigration Court
New York City Immigration Court
San Francisco Immigration Court

In a footnote, Director McHenry explained that 'family unit' is an apprehension classification used by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In most cases, the EOIR “does not generally differentiate 'family unit' cases from other cases unless they are identified as such by DHS.” However, “[n]on-status 'family unit cases fall within existing priority categories in the Memorandum…”

The EOIR has been docketing family unit cases at the ten specified immigration courts “in an expeditious manner with the expectation that they will be completed within one year or less…” However, here it is important to note that the January 2018 memorandum only applied prospectively, meaning that “the tracking and expeditious consideration of 'family unit' cases in [the above] ten locations should not require widespread rescheduling of existing cases prior to established hearing dates”

Director McHenry noted that between 2014 and 2017, the EOIR prioritized the adjudication of cases involving aliens with children released on alternatives to detention (those cases are generally classified by DHS as “family unit” cases). The EOIR found that this effort “coincided with some of the lowest levels of case competition productivity in EOIR's history,” rendering it relatively unsuccessful. It was for that reason that the EOIR removed these cases from its priority designations in January 2017.

While granting that EOIR's prior effort to prioritize “family unit” cases “was not fully successful,” Director McHenry concluded that a modified prioritization effort “appears viable.” Thus, the EOIR resumed tracking “family unit” cases with “a more targeted and dedicated approach, consistent with EOIR's established priorities and supported by its unequivocal commitment to the timely completion of cases…”

Director McHenry made clear that the tracking of “family unit” cases in no way reduces or diminishes the emphasis that the DHS has on the timely adjudication of other cases.


The new EOIR memorandum outlines its effort to ensure the timely adjudication of family unit cases within one year. It may lead to new family unit cases being scheduled more quickly than they would have been under previous policies.

Every case is unique, and it is important to consult with an experienced immigration attorney for case-specific guidance in immigration proceedings. You may read about related issues in our website's growing sections on asylum and refugee protection [see category] and removal and deportation defense [see category].