The Problem With Assuming Why Undocumented Immigrants in the U.S. Are Missing Their Court Dates
by Lucy Wickings | Spring 2019
In this article, I explore the often contradictory statistics regarding undocumented immigrants and whether or not the majority show up for their court dates regarding their citizenship cases. While the numbers range from a rate of 43% failure to appear in court, or 25%, or even that 100% in fact do show up, there are extraneous reasons for why undocumented immigrants miss their court dates. It is not simply because they are trying to spend a few more years on the run, evading judges and immigration officials. It is also important to note that the drastic difference in the numbers from different sources sheds light on a few of the many of the issues with immigration law and reports about it.
1. Metcalf, M. (2019). Aliens Who Disappear Before Trial. [online] CIS.org. Available at: [Accessed 20 Mar. 2019].
3. Kruzel, J. (2019). Majority of undocumented immigrants show up for court. [online] @politifact. Available at: [Accessed 21 Mar. 2019].
The statistics send a clear message: immigrants awaiting trial for their asylum cases are failing to appear in court. Since 1996, more than a third of non-detained immigrants in the United States missed their court date, and in 2017 almost half of those with a scheduled court date failed to appear. Rates of FTA, or failure to appear in court, for immigration courts are high and have increased in recent years.
These troubling numbers are often the subject of discussion during debates about immigration law. According to Jennifer Earl, a contributor for Fox News just last year, requests for asylum were “overwhelm[ing] the U.S. immigration system.” It is true that the rate of asylum claims has increased dramatically in recent years: a 1,700% increase in the past 10 years, according to John Kruzel. The reality is that, for the many factors that have created this increase in claims, the immigration system is not “overwhelmed”; it is serving its purpose. At its core, the point of the U.S. immigration system is not to deter immigrants, but to try to ensure that there is a system in place to protect not only current citizens but also potential future citizens.
Many factors are responsible for these statistics, including people from various viewpoints manipulating the numbers. Those who are for tougher immigration laws contend that there are high rates of no-shows; those fighting for the rights of immigrants as people claim the opposite. In fact, it is extremely easy to manipulate statistics for immigrants who are, or are not, in detention at the time of their court date.
For example, to get the statistic that 43% of undocumented immigrants failed to appear for court in 2017 and, therefore, 57% did show up, one must disregard the immigrants who were in detention at the time of their court date. The reason this group must be disregarded is because all of the people in this statistic showed up for court. On the other hand, to get the statistic that in fact 100% of immigrants showed up for their court date, one must consider only asylum seekers, which is not the circumstance of every immigrant. And for a more accurate middle-ground statistic, that 60-75% of immigrants show up for their court dates, one must include all immigrants who had a court date considering their current, undocumented residency in the United States.
Additionally, the Center for Immigration Studies argues that we should “imagine a nation with nearly a million criminal fugitives on the loose” when thinking of immigrants with outstanding final orders of removal who have not been deported. The final order of removal is granted to those who miss their court date, and only granted to a fraction of those who appear and have their case heard properly. The CIS also boasts a mission of “low-immigration, pro-immigrant” on its website. The problem with this sensationalism, or perhaps more accurately one of the problems, is that it radically changes the reality of the situation. The 950,000 people in question (which, yes, is a large number of people) is not simply referring to those who committed crimes that most readers would imagine to be violent. The 950,000 refers to those who have missed their court date and assumes that they are simply “roaming the streets.”
At the end of the day, admittedly, there are endless reasons for the discrepancies in these statistics. Why does the number drastically change when only asylum seekers are considered? It could be argued that this is because this group is attempting to “legally” reside in the U.S. by seeking asylum status; however, this argument makes less sense when considering that only 16% of those who apply for asylum are granted this status. Perhaps the amount of “defensive” applicants, or those who apply for asylum after having already entered the U.S., typically show up for court dates and are sometimes applying for the status as a plea in court. Either way, discounting certain groups of people in statistics meant to generalize entire groups in order to justify anti-immigration sentiments is clearly wrong.
It is oftentimes difficult to put extreme statistics into perspective, and it is certainly much easier to generalize the motivations of groups of people instead of questioning the structures which inhibit them. It is true that immigration courts have the highest FTA rates of any other court system in the U.S. It is also true that immigration needs deep-rooted reform in order to fix the issues which have affected these laws for decades. The main issue is that U.S. government administrations from all over the political spectrum have failed to properly address the issue. And it is not only an issue of internal protection but the protection of the integrity of deserving immigrants as well. Most important to note, though, is that if there were a simple solution, one would only hope that it would have been enacted by now.
 Metcalf, M. (2019). Aliens Who Disappear Before Trial. [online] CIS.org. Available at: [Accessed 20 Mar. 2019].
 Earl, J. (2019). Asylum requests overwhelm US immigration system: A look at the numbers. [online] Fox News. Available at: [Accessed 23 Mar. 2019].
 Kruzel, J. (2019). Majority of undocumented immigrants show up for court. [online] @politifact. Available at: [Accessed 21 Mar. 2019].
 See Footnote 1
 Homeland Security (2019). U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Award of the Family Case Management Program Contract (Redacted). [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Mar. 2019].
 See Footnote 2
 Vaughan, J., Arthur, A. and Cadman, D. (2019). A One-Sided Study on Detention of Illegal-Immigrant Families. [online] CIS.org. Available at: [Accessed 20 Mar. 2019].
 See Footnote 7
2. Earl, J. (2019). Asylum requests overwhelm US immigration system: A look at the numbers. [online] Fox News. Available at: [Accessed 23 Mar. 2019].
4. See Footnote 1
5. Homeland Security (2019). U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Award of the Family Case Management Program Contract (Redacted). [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Mar. 2019].
6. See Footnote 2
7. Vaughan, J., Arthur, A. and Cadman, D. (2019). A One-Sided Study on Detention of Illegal-Immigrant Families. [online] CIS.org. Available at: [Accessed 20 Mar. 2019].
8. See Footnote 7