New wave of ‘fake dates’ reported in immigration courts

(CNN) – Immigrants showed up at courts across the United States on Thursday for hearings they’d been told were scheduled but that didn’t exist.Official paperwork they’d been given by immigration authorities wasn’t accurate.Immigration lawyers first told CNN last year that they’d been observing a wave of “fake dates” pop up, describing it as an illustration of how dysfunctional the system had become and how chaotic the Trump administration’s approach to immigration enforcement can be.

nside a packed waiting room at the Arlington Immigration Court on Thursday, confused immigrants clutching paperwork asked lawyers for help. Some said they’d driven hours to get to court and had awakened at 3:30 a.m. to arrive on time.”I’m left with a question mark. I’m wondering, ‘Why?’ ” said Bigail Alfaro, 39, who’s seeking asylum with her two children. “I’m afraid and nervous.”

As she prepared to head into court for a scheduled hearing, immigration attorney Eileen Blessinger found herself fielding questions and asking court officials to stamp paperwork to provide proof that immigrants had shown up.

“What happened?” one woman asked her.”You don’t have court, because they made a mistake,” Blessinger said.At an immigration court in Atlanta, a crowd of around 40 people were turned away, almost one by one, by a Spanish-speaking court employee telling people with notices that their hearings had been “postponed.”

Among those showing up for court were parents with small children, some dressed only with hooded sweatshirts and covering themselves with blankets, with the temperature in Atlanta in the mid-20s.”They told us they would send us another citation by mail,” said a man named Jose who asked to be identified only by his first name. “But who knows when? And the hard part is they don’t let us know with enough time, enough time to prepare ourselves.”

It isn’t yet clear how many people were affected nationwide on Thursday. The American Immigration Lawyers Association says it’s tracking the issue.The Executive Office for Immigration Review, the division of the Justice Department that runs the nation’s immigration courts, said in a statement that the office “was unable to proceed with hearings for some respondents who believed they had hearings scheduled.” The office indicated a combination of factors had resulted in the confusion, including some weather-related court closures and the recently ended partial government shutdown.

By Catherine E. Shoichet, Angela Barajas and Priscilla Alvarez for CNN

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