McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The American Bar Association has launched a nationwide campaign to enlist pro bono lawyers to help asylum-seekers who are being fast-tracked through deportation proceedings in a “Dedicated Docket” program in which, Border Report has learned, over 70,000 migrants have been placed.

As of Dec. 31, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have placed 72,289 asylum-seekers into the Dedicated Docket fast-track immigration proceedings, according to new data provided to Border Report by Transactional Access Records Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University, which tracks all U.S. immigration cases.

The Dedicated Docket fast-track program is operating in immigration courts in 11 U.S. cities. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

The TRAC report, to be released in upcoming days, found that only a small percentage of migrants placed in the Dedicated Docket is actually getting legal counsel.

Austin Kocher, a TRAC researcher, told Border Report on Wednesday: “In a forthcoming report, we show that even though the administration has acknowledged the importance of legal representation, only 15% of all cases have representation, so far. Lack of legal representation makes it harder for immigrants to apply for asylum or get a positive outcome.”

On Wednesday, the ABA announced its Pro Bono Matters for Families Facing Deportation program to solicit lawyers to help migrants get free legal advice. The organization is looking for lawyers to help migrants who are placed in the Dedicated Docket fast-track immigration proceedings in these 11 cities:

  • Boston,
  • Denver
  • Detroit
  • El Paso
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • Newark
  • New York City
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle

The Biden administration started the Dedicated Docket program last May as a way to help clear the backlogged cases of asylum-seekers.

Immigration judges must issue case decisions within 300 days of a migrant’s initial hearing for those who have been placed in the fast-track program in the 11 cities.

Nevertheless, case backlogs now are approaching 1.6 million, TRAC reports.

(Graphic by TRAC)

Legal advocates say without quick legal counsel, these migrants could be quickly deported and stand no chance in gaining asylum into the United States.

In August, over 11,000 new cases were added to the docket, and that prompted TRAC to issue a report expressing concerns about the program.

The report “Immigration Court Struggling to Manage Its Expanding Dedicated Docket of Asylum-Seeking Families,” found that “alongside the growing number of asylum-seekers assigned to the new Dedicated Docket, new questions emerge about whether these cases will be completed fairly and within the promised timeline, whether Immigration Judges will be able to manage large Dedicated Docket caseloads, and whether the Court is reliably tracking these cases as promised.”

“The need for pro bono lawyers right now is huge,” ABA President Reginald Turner said in a statement.

“The ABA believes that all families facing deportation deserve meaningful access to legal counsel. Given the violence that many asylum-seekers and immigrants face in their home countries, this is often literally a matter of life and death.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at