President Donald Trump has often claimed that the only way to ensure that migrants show up for their court hearings rather than vanish into the US is to keep them in detention or else make sure that they never step foot on American soil in the first place.
But the president’s theory doesn’t hold up: About 99 percent of asylum seekers who were not detained or who were previously released from immigration custody showed up for their hearings over the last year, according to new data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, a think tank that tracks data in the immigration courts.
Studies from previous years have also disproven the idea that most migrants will choose to live in the US without authorization rather than see their immigration cases through. But it’s nevertheless central to Trump’s immigration policies, including those that aim to keep migrants in Mexico rather than letting them walk free in the US.
The latest data from TRAC shows that nearly every asylum seeker showed up for their court hearings over the course of 2019. That’s even though the vast majority of asylum seekers — about 4 in 5 — were not detained at all or had been released from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody before their court date. (The numbers don’t account for migrants in immigration proceedings who claimed other kinds of relief from deportation.)
Migrants can end up in immigration court in one of two ways: turning themselves in to immigration agents or getting caught while trying to cross the border without authorization. In both cases, officials will initiate deportation proceedings against them and give them a date to appear in court, where they can ask a judge for asylum and other protections that would allow them to remain in the US with legal status, or else be ordered deported.
On average, immigrants with currently pending cases have been waiting almost two years for their court hearings, and cases take even longer to complete. Under previous administrations, a migrant who came into contact with immigration agents would have typically been released from custody into the US during that waiting period, unless they were found to be likely to flee or a risk to public safety.
By Nicole Narea for V O X
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