FAIR Fact-Check: Do 95 Percent of Illegal Aliens Show Up for Their Court Dates?



The Biden administration is re-instituting the Obama-era “catch and release” immigration policy, which requires that most apprehended illegal aliens be released into the country pending their court proceedings. While this seems like an open invitation for illegal aliens to disappear into the country, mass-immigration advocates claim that most migrants willingly show up to their immigration hearings. However, the origin of these statistics is highly suspect, and merits fact-checking.

The most common claim made by those defending catch and release is that more than 95 percent of asylum applicants will show up to their court proceedings. This claim is typically used to suggest that the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which required that asylum applicants remain in a safe country outside of the United States until their court hearing takes place, were unnecessary.

Another common claim is that greater than 85 percent of all illegal aliens attend their court proceedings. This claim is commonly deployed in defense of “catch and release,” suggesting that it doesn’t lead to more illegal aliens disappearing into the country.

It appears that both of these claims come from the same source: a 2018 study by the American Immigration Council (AIC). The AIC is a radical open-borders organization that aggressively campaigns for eliminating essentially all measures that combat illegal immigration. Therefore, any figures from this organization should be examined with skepticism, and for good reason – these two figures are wrong.

The first problem with this report is that the AIC researchers don’t fully explain where they derived these figures, only noting that they used a “sample” of data from the TRAC Immigration Program at Syracuse University.

It is also unclear what constitutes “appearing for court proceedings” in their report. As noted by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a majority (62 percent) of the cases covered in this report had not yet reached a conclusion. This means that the data is either assumptive or based on only partial proceedings. So, if a migrant appears at their initial hearing, but then never shows up again, they could be counted as “appearing at their court proceedings.” It also appears that they are counting appearances by an attorney alone (while the migrant themself is absent) in their statistics.

Most importantly, the study results do not line up with hard data released by the federal government. According to a fact sheet released by the Department of Justice in December of 2020, “Forty-nine percent (49%) of all non-detained or MPP removal cases completed in FY 2020 resulted in an in-absentia order of removal due to an alien’s failure to attend a scheduled immigration court hearing.” This means that approximately half of all illegal aliens don’t attend their final court hearing. This statistic alone debunks the claims made by the AIC.

It’s clear that both of these claims are false. They certainly do not support the notion that catch and release policies will not lead to more illegal aliens disappearing into the country. Furthermore, even if a migrant appears at most of their court hearings, an appearance at court does not ensure that a migrant who is ordered removed actually leaves the country, especially if they agree to a voluntary departure.

About Author

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Spencer joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2015. He conducts research, and writes content for FAIR’s publications and website. He brings previous experience in state politics, gubernatorial and district campaigns, and D.C. political non-profits. Spencer holds a B.A. in Government from the University of Texas at Austin.

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