Analyzing Asylum Court Appearances: Falling Off The TRAC Again

By Dan Cadman on January 13, 2020

My colleague Art Arthur has written about the most recent statistics issued by the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), speaking in detail about what's right, wrong, missing, and susceptible to confusion in the way they have been presented.

In a second posting, Arthur directly addressed a recent report by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) covering a year's worth of asylum cases heard by EOIR's cadre of immigration judges, focusing on this statement in the report: "In fact, among non-detained asylum seekers, 99 out of 100 (98.7%) attended all their court hearings."

I want to bring that into sharp relief because it typifies all that is wrong with superficial assessments of immigration data. Such analyses are not for the faint of heart, and are best left to subject-matter experts who understand the four corners and limitations of such data. While, as I've said many times, I respect TRAC for its dogged pursuit of data in even the most opaque of administrations (I have the Obama White House in mind when I say this), they are not well poised to produce incisive analyses, a fact compounded by an anti-enforcement bias.

There's no need to repeat Arthur's observations, which substantially vitiate the validity of the statistic that TRAC cites.

But I have one additional comment worth making: As I have noted on various occasions — for instance, when discussing the fallacy of using "alternatives to detention" as a cure-all substitute for detaining aliens in removal proceedings when appropriate (see here and here) — it is not attendance at court hearings that is the acid test. It makes sense that an alien will show up at court as long as there is a scintilla of a chance that he or she will be granted the relief (in this case, asylum) that is being sought.

The acid test is this: When an immigration judge denies the request for relief and orders that person deported, and he or she is not in detention, will he or she appear at the designated time and place for removal? Because, if not, then showing up for your court process means nothing. Instead, if that alien chooses to flee, he or she will join the approximately one million other aliens already loose on the streets who are fugitives from the removal system.

When an alien flees rather than comply with the order of the court, the whole "due process" effort has become a wheel-spinning exercise; it should be self-evident to all concerned therefore that the "99 out of 100" figure (even if it were valid) is of no worth.