As many of the unaccompanied minors who crossed the U.S-Mexico border earlier this summer navigate the immigration court system, recent government numbers confirm that the vast majority are showing up for their immigration hearings. Data released by the U.S. Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) shows that between July 18 and the end of September, 85 percent of the 10,041 minors who began immigration case showed up to their first hearing in court.

EOIR did not state how many of these children had attorneys.  But if the government appointed counsel for children, as the American Immigration Council and other organizations are arguing for, it is likely even more children would appear in court. A report released by the Council this summer found that since 2005, 94.7 percent of children represented by lawyers appeared for their court proceedings, with the rate each year consistently 89 percent or higher. And in nearly 80 percent of cases where children were released to a parent or guardian’s custody (or never detained), the children showed up to their immigration court hearings.

As cases move through the immigration court system, and more data emerges, myths are dispelled, contrary to the predictions of some politicians. For example, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said he heard from House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), that “90 percent” of children fail to show. Goodlatte’s office said the number was anecdotal evidence, from a local “Los Angeles County sheriff’s detective.” EOIR’s actual numbers directly contrast this rhetoric.

And last week, data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was leaked stating that 70 percent of migrant families encountered at the border since May and subsequently released “haven’t reported” to an immigration office. Yet the ICE numbers do not mean that the individuals have absconded or failed to appear at court, a context that some media outlets failed to provide. Immigration offices are separate from court appearances, and independent reports have documented ICE’s confusing instructions to supervisees.

Ultimately, this data seriously undermines the rationales for detention of children, when alternatives are available. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees has stated that detention is never in a child’s best interest for immigration violations alone. Studies show that detention scars children’s physical and psychological development, exacerbates trauma and damages the family structure. A man stated when picking up an immigrant child from detention that he’d “never seen a more blank stare from a 10-year-old.” The American Psychological Association and 160 organizations nationwide agree: “Family detention is wrong.”

The new government data is overwhelming evidence to the conclusion that non-citizen children do show up for their court appointments and that their attendance cannot be used as a rationale for increasing detention beds across the nation.

Photo by Joe Gratz.

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