Today, hundreds of immigrants across the country showed up in court and were told they had the wrong date. The papers they’d been given by American immigration officers were wrong. And this isn’t the first time this has happened.
Last year, CNN reported that over a hundred immigrants waited in line for immigration court dates that turned out to be incorrect. Lawyers said it was a demonstration of the broken immigration system.
It seems that not much has changed since then. CNN writes that the same thing happened again today in courtrooms across the country. Some immigrants who appeared had driven many hours or waken up in the middle of the night to be on time for their nonexistent hearings.
“I’m left with a question mark. I’m wondering, ‘Why?’ “ said Bigail Alfaro, 39, who’s seeking asylum with her two children. “I’m afraid and nervous.”
As she prepared to head into court for a scheduled hearing, immigration attorney Eileen Blessinger found herself fielding questions and asking court officials to stamp paperwork to provide proof that immigrants had shown up.
“What happened?” one woman asked her.
“You don’t have court, because they made a mistake,” Blessinger said.
As anyone who has even touched the U.S. immigration system well knows, navigating the Byzantine rules, scrounging up money to pay for the fees, and keeping track of dates and deadlines is a challenge for anyone, not to mention asylum seekers who speak English as a second language or not at all. A wrong court date could have dire consequences for people who are already struggling to survive.
CNN reports that in freezing Atlanta, at least 40 people were turned away.
Among those showing up for court were parents with small children, some dressed only with hooded sweatshirts and covering themselves with blankets, with the temperature in Atlanta in the mid-20s.
“They told us they would send us another citation by mail,” said a man named Jose who asked to be identified only by his first name. “But who knows when? And the hard part is they don’t let us know with enough time, enough time to prepare ourselves.”
The Executive Office for Immigration Review says that the mistakes were the result of multiple factors, including offices closed due to the extreme cold, and effects from the government shutdown.
“In some cases, the cases had been rescheduled to another date, but the lapse in appropriations prevented the immigration courts from issuing new hearing notices far enough in advance of the prior hearing date. In other cases, EOIR did not receive the Notice to Appear in a timely manner,” the office said in a statement.
Immigration attorneys have spoken out about the unnecessary stress and strain these mistakes put on immigrants.
Before last June, immigration authorities weren’t required to list a date on a charging documents—a Supreme Court decision changed that. But since then, it seems that many of these dates have been blatantly incorrect. Some dates listed are impossible, like September 31st, and others are for times the court isn’t open, like midnight.
The EOIR said in its statement that it “does not expect any further recurrence of this type of situation.”
The backlog of immigration court cases grew significantly during the government shutdown when it’s estimated that 42,000 immigration court dates were cancelled. As of earlier this month, the Trump administration instituted a new policy that would force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their court cases are processed, something that even the Border Patrol union admits could lead to more illegal immigration. There are currently 800,000 cases pending with the Department of Justice, so for many asylum seekers, this process will take years.