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Researchers debunk Trump administration claim that immigrants don’t show for court hearings

U.S Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Kevin McAleenan testifies before a House Homeland Security Subcommittee in 2018. Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Immigration court data from Sept. 2018 to May 2019 shows most migrant families attend their immigration hearings, according to an analysis by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

The data refutes testimony from CBP Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, who shared at a Congressional hearing on June 11 that 90 percent of migrant families don’t show up to court hearings.

That figure is based on 7,000 cases of migrant family members who recently crossed the border and participated in an expedited docket pilot program, McAleenan said. The pilot program launched at the end of 2018 and sought to adjudicate immigration cases within a year.

“In our experience, the majority of people aren’t showing up for their hearings,” McAleenan said.

But data recorded over the past nine months show otherwise.

The TRAC analysis is based on 46,743 cases flagged in immigration court as family cases and that had held one or more hearings from Sept. 2018 through the end of May.

About 86 percent of families showed up for the initial hearing, and 81 percent attended all hearings, the analysis shows. The attendance numbers are close to 100 percent for families with a lawyer. According to TRAC, almost all families who had a lawyer attended their initial and subsequent hearings.

Of the 46,743 cases, only 21 percent were navigating the immigration proceedings represented by a lawyer.

Unlike criminal proceedings, people in immigration courts are not provided an attorney if they can’t afford one. When migrants seeking asylum have an attorney, their success rate is five times higher than those who go through the process without representation, according to a separate TRAC analysis.

Immigration courts are administered by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Laura Gomez is a reporter for the Arizona Mirror, where this story first appeared.

One Comment


  1. Kim Veldt

    June 26, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    TRAC’s report addresses hearings attended by detainees and how many of those who were released and SUBSEQUENTLY ATTENDED their hearings. It does not address what percentage of aliens failed to attend that hearing at all, and it certainly doesn’t refute DHS’s statistics citation regarding the “rocket docket”.

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