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July 31, 2015

Myth vs. Fact: Immigrant Families’ Appearance Rates in Immigration Court

In the past year, thousands of Central American families have crossed the Southern border seeking protection; many of these families have been held in immigration detention facilities. In the wake of the increase at the border, many questions have come up regarding immigrant families and court appearance rates.

In recent months, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the agency within the U.S. Department of Justice that adjudicates immigration removal cases, released data showing that the vast majority of families do in fact show up for court dates. This data, however, has been misconstrued—some have even claimed that 85 percent of mothers are not appearing for their hearings.

In fact, the data actually shows that the majority of families do appear. Appearance rates can be brought even higher by addressing deficiencies in the provision of information and through provision of counsel. Ninety-eight percent of families who are represented by counsel show up for their hearings. In individual cases determined to need additional support, alternative measures, which are much more cost effective and humane than detention, achieve very high compliance rates.

There are many other misconceptions around appearance rates, including:

MYTH

The overwhelming majority—about 85 percent—of immigrant families have not shown up to their immigration court hearings this year.

FACT

The majority of immigrant families—at least 60 percent or higher—appear for their immigration court hearings. For immigrant families who have legal counsel, 98 percent are in compliance with their obligations to appear for court hearings.

EOIR’s preliminary statistics indicate that at least 60 percent of families that have been apprehended at the border since the summer of 2014 have attended their hearings.1 The number may actually be higher as some cases from a prior period were inadvertently included in the data pool. Unfortunately, some commentators have reported that 84 or 85 percent of families fail to appear. This is clearly not accurate. These commentators arrived at their conclusion by dividing the number of removal orders issued in absentia by the total number of case completions up to a certain date, rather than comparing that number to the total number of individuals who have been scheduled for an immigration court hearing. The majority of the cases initiated last summer are still pending, and the data actually shows that the majority of those individuals—at least 60 percent—are complying with their obligations to appear in court. Based on conclusions from the research, that appearance rate could improve by addressing the deficiencies in information provided to mothers upon release from custody, and through the provision of counsel, as explained below.

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