- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Most immigrant families who are living illegally in the U.S. are showing up for their initial hearings in immigration court, according to a report Tuesday that challenges the impression left by Trump administration officials that as many as 90% have skipped out on deportations.

Migrants who manage to secure lawyers almost always show, with a 99.9% rate of attendance at their initial hearings and a 99% rate for follow-up proceedings.

Those without lawyers are less diligent — but even then, they have an 82% rate of attendance at initial hearings and a 76% rate for all proceedings, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which tracks Justice Department records.

The rate for Central Americans, who make up most of the illegal immigrant families who crossed the border illegally, was in general lower than for other countries, but was still better than 3 out of 4.

TRAC said its numbers undercut claims that most asylum-seeking families are ditching out on their cases and being ordered deported in absentia.

That appears to be aimed at acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin K. McAleenan, who last week testified to Congress that 90% of families in a recent pilot program didn’t show.

“Of over 7,000 families that we put through a process to try to get court results more quickly, 90% of them did not show up for their hearings,” Mr. McAleenan told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment Tuesday on TRAC’s numbers, which come from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which is part of the Justice Department. EOIR oversees the immigration courts.

The cases EOIR was studying don’t exactly match up with those TRAC reviewed.

TRAC said it looked at more than 65,000 migrants flagged as family cases by the immigration courts since September. All of them had cleared an initial asylum check and were looking to argue their deportation cases to a judge.

“TRAC found that with rare exception virtually every family attended their court hearings when they had representation,” the researchers said. “Appearance rates at the initial hearing were 99.9%. This is in contrast to appearance rates for unrepresented families of 81.6%.”

By contrast, EOIR’s numbers dealt only with migrants in a special pilot program. Under that program, newly arriving families were moved to the front of the court case line, with judges holding hearings within weeks or months, rather than the years it normally would take.

As of the end of April, EOIR recorded 8,008 cases completed. Of those, 7,724 were ordered deported — with 6,764 of those rulings happening after the immigrants were no-shows.

Whether migrants show for their court cases is only part of the issue.

Mr. McAleenan said last week that keeping immigrants in custody is the key to being able to deport them.

Even in cases in which migrants do show for their hearings, he said a judge “often” won’t issue a decision until weeks later. If the judge orders a deportation, the migrants generally won’t show up for that removal, he said.

“We are seeing that,” he told the committee. “And that requires ICE to go into a community to effectuate that order of removal.”

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