In the pantheon of Trump administration lies, the over-criminalization of undocumented immigrants has been among the most pernicious and politically useful. To have Donald Trump and his cronies tell it, most immigrants are gang members or drug smugglers at worst and criminally dishonest at best, always looking to cheat the system.
It's that latter charge that's become the basis for the administration's efforts to skirt legal protections for migrant families and children. It has argued that migrants shouldn’t be allowed an asylum "loophole" because many lie about their past. And the administration claims immigrants don't deserve a fair hearing in immigration court because they have no interest in having their cases heard.
But a new analysis of attendance rates in nearly 47,000 recent family immigration cases challenges the Trump administration's narrative. The report shows that most immigrants do, in fact, show up for their day in court. In Miami, about 75 percent of recently released migrant families made it to all of their hearings — that's just a hair shy of the national appearance rate of more than 80 percent, according to a report released earlier this week by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
The report, which analyzed every family unit since they began being tracked in September 2018, shows that adding an immigration attorney into the mix made migrant families even likelier to show up. In Miami, which had the second highest volume of family cases, some 97 percent of families with legal help attended all of their hearings. Nationwide, 99 percent of represented families did.
"The report confirms what we’ve seen [here in Miami]," says Thomas Kennedy, political director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. "Immigrants, oftentimes fleeing terrible conditions, come here wanting to do the right thing and follow the legal process. All they want is a fair shot."
These figures fly in the face of recent testimony by Acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan in which he told Congress that 90 percent of families recently seeking asylum failed to show up to their court dates. McAleenan did not provide a source for the figure but did ask lawmakers to tighten asylum laws and provide more funding to DHS.
According to Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst for the American Immigration Council, McAleenan was cherrypicking figures from the Executive Office for Immigration Review’s family docket and did not include in his estimate cases that were still pending.
DHS has taken a fact—as of early April, 90% of the <20% of cases on the Family Unit docket *which have reached an initial conclusion* ended because the family missed court—and distorted that to falsely claim that 90% of *families* missed court.— Aaron Reichlin-Melnick (@ReichlinMelnick) June 19, 2019
As TRAC shows, it’s actually <20%.
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Trump himself has also exaggerated the number of migrants who don't show up for hearings.
"They go into our country, and then you announce, 'These are the laws,' then you say, 'Come back in three years for your trial,'" Trump told a crowd in a January speech. "Tell me what percentage of people come back. Would you say 100 percent? No, you're a little off. How about 2 percent? And those people you almost don’t want 'cause they cannot be very smart."
The idea that immigrants are looking to take advantage of the U.S. immigration system undergirds many Trump administration policies, including the new Migration Protection Protocols, which require some asylum seekers to remain in Mexico — often in unsafe environments — while they wait for their court hearings.
The total number of undocumented immigrants entering the States is higher than it's been in more than a decade though still far below the record highs seen in the early 2000s. Unlike previous waves of migration, the current spike preponderantly comprises families and unaccompanied children.