Trump administration officials have repeatedly argued against releasing adult asylum seekers from detention on the ground that they’re unlikely to show up in court. “The absentia rates in immigration court are sky high,” Thomas Homan, former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told a House hearing July 12. But as a new report from the American Immigration Council shows, the administration is using the wrong measure. In fact, over the past decade, 1.97 million cases have been filed in immigration court for aliens not held in ICE detention. In 1.8 million of those cases, at least one scheduled court hearing has occurred. Among those, nearly 1.5 million showed up to every hearing—an appearance rate of 83%.
Asylum-seeking families are even likelier to appear in court. Of families released from detention from 2001-16, 86% attended every scheduled court hearing. Among families that had lawyers, 97% appeared in court. That makes sense—the only way for them to get the legal protection they need is to show up in court to argue for it.
The government, however, does not report immigrants’ appearance rate. Instead it reports a related figure called the “in absentia rate”—the percentage of “completed” cases closed each year because the person missed court.