TRAC Immigration Study Charts Effects of Border Surge on Immigration Courts

Unless you’ve spent the last several weeks completely cut off from all forms of mass media, you’ve probably seen plenty of news coverage about the recent spike in unaccompanied minors crossing our southwestern border. It would be hard to miss, especially given the blaring, sensationalistic tone of many of the news reports. What’s been largely overlooked is the effect of this surge on Immigration Courts.

That said, the Transactional Records Clearing House immigration project (TRAC Immigration), a government watchdog based at Syracuse University, recently released a statistical compendium that deals with precisely this issue, with figures that are current through June 30, 2014. [See New Data on Unaccompanied Children in Immigration Court, TRAC Immigration, 15.Jul.2014.]

According to TRAC Immigration, from fiscal year (FY) 2005 through the third quarter of FY14, 101,850 juvenile cases were filed in federal Immigration Courts, to adjudicate the fates of unaccompanied children who were apprehended by DHS, from countries other than Mexico, which is counted separately. The report notes, “because the DHS has the authority to screen and immediately deport unaccompanied Mexican children without any formal hearing, only a small proportion of children from Mexico are referred to the Immigration Court by DHS. For this reason unaccompanied children who are immediately deported by DHS are not part of the court data examined here.”

Roughly half of these 100,000+ juvenile cases were filed in the past few years, TRAC reports – 11,411 in FY12; 21,351 in FY13; and 19,671 as of June 30, 2014 – a major demographic surge, by any standards, though not quite as catastrophic as some have made it out to be. To put this in a different perspective, consider: juvenile cases comprise 11 percent of the entire pending-case workload in U.S. Immigration Courts.

TRAC Immigration also looked at how often these children appear in court without legal representation, and what effect this tends to have on the outcomes. They note that “the odds of prevailing in court are much better for an individual who has the assistance of a lawyer,” and though the government always has legal representation in court, “it is under no obligation to provide legal counsel to the indigent – even if they are children – in Immigration Court proceedings.” Because there simply aren’t enough legal clinics and pro bono attorneys to help in each and every case, TRAC found that “children were not represented about half of the time (48%) they appeared in Immigration Court.”

When an unaccompanied child was represented in Immigration Court, “in almost half (47%) of the cases,” TRAC determined, the court allowed the child to remain in the United States. In 28 percent of these cases, the child was removed, and slightly less often (26%) the child was granted a voluntary departure order, which “avoids many of the more severe legal consequences of a removal order.”

Without an attorney present, about one in ten children were allowed to remain in the United States. The rest were deported, either by removal order (77%) or voluntary departure order (13%).

On the TRAC Immigration WebSite, a wealth of statistical detail is provided to back up these findings, and to provide a far more nuanced and finely shaded picture of how our nation’s immigration authorities have been handling unaccompanied minors, once they are apprehended. It’s a fascinating study, and bears reading at some length.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.