DOJ immigration databases in the dark

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The Justice Department division that decides immigration cases has been left without access to some of its databases, temporarily hobbling its ability to handle cases electronically.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has suffered a hardware failure that is blocking the agency from performing some functions related to its computer systems, according to a notice on the office's website.

EOIR spokeswoman Lauren Alder Reid told FCW that the office "has suffered some system issues that affect databases," but that removal hearings are continuing backed by paper files.

"The Board of Immigration Appeals is continuing to process cases each day, but is prioritizing its caseload to compensate for reliance on manual processes," the notice states, adding that some cases could be postponed while officials resolve the issue.

The glitches affect a number of applications that require access to case databases, including EOIR's case information hotline and its e-registration functions.

Reports in New York City newspapers characterized the situation as a "meltdown" involving five servers in Falls Church, Va., that are part of the network that supports 52 immigration courts nationwide. The articles say the situation has caused significant delays or postponements of hearings in New York's immigration court and added that the system might not be repaired for some time.

Sources familiar with the situation discounted the reports' technical characterization, saying the issue was more of an access problem than a server problem.

Reid and the EOIR notice said IT managers are working on repairs to the system, but neither provided a specific date on when that work might be completed.

"This isn't a long-term problem," said Reid, adding that the solution won't require an extensive overhaul. She declined to provide further details, citing security concerns.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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Reader comments

Wed, Apr 23, 2014

Look, this is an example of government at it's worst. Someone, preferrably Congress, needs to ask the right how many tax dollars have been spent on IT within this agency over the last 10 years to create a system this agency knows spews bad data?? Then, how much to keep it propped up until now--with no replication process in place, should something like what has happened occur. The system, which when "working" isn't really working, was built in house by people who have no clue what the courts actually do or need from an electronic filing system--and they don't care. They are truly the tail wagging the dog. The U.S. Courts have had electronic filing in place for close to 20 years--but these folks didn't want to do what was already done across town and working. No, they needed to build their own and make it much more complicated for users--court staff and external attorney filers--than was EVER necessary. I'm not sure what system the EOIR system was modeled after--if any--but do not believe it was modeled after any reliable, currently working electronic filing system used in the Federal Judiciary (which might have been a smart place to start). Smoke and mirrors and a LOT of money wasted and, unfortunately, that will most likely continue. Once it's fixed...and it will ultimately be fixed...these people will find a way to promote those responsible and/or justify new positions for people who will remain clueless about the actual administration of immigration cases or the needs of the people the system is supposed to serve.

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