Where Are These Immigrants Ordered to be Deported? Not in Court

A former immigration judge in Miami has published a report saying that a dysfunctional immigration court system has contributed to an extraordinary increase in the number of foreign nationals who failed to show up at their hearings, then were ordered deported in absentia and may still be in the country.

Mark H. Metcalf, who served as immigration judge in Miami between 2005 and 2008, says in the report Courting Disaster, that there are almost one million immigrants with final orders of deportation who may not have left.

“American immigration courts have the highest failure to appear rates,” says Metcalf in the report released last month by the Center for Immigration Studies, an academic research group in Washington that seeks tighter immigration controls and is accused by some immigrant rights activists of being anti-immigrant.

“The point of the [report] is to show how U.S. immigration courts are not functioning right, in the interests of the United States as well as the interests of the people who appear before the courts,” Metcalf said in a telephone interview this month. “The findings are that over the last 20 years, 37 percent of all litigants who were free pending trial failed to show up for their hearings.”

The report reinforces a national concern that the American immigration system is defective, and that immigration courts are overwhelmed — with 542,000 backlogged cases today, a 300 percent increase over the 186,000 backlogged cases in 2008, he said.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts, declined to comment on Metcalf’s report.

“The Executive Office for Immigration Review does not comment on third-party reports,” an EOIR spokeswoman said in an e-mail message.

Metcalf’s findings are based on an analysis of immigration court and Department of Homeland Security statistics as well as interviews with about a dozen immigration judges across the country over the past year.

By Alfonso Chardy for Miami Herald
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