Nearly 600,000 migrants who crossed the US border since March 2021 have been released into the US without charges or a court date, according to data obtained by NBC News, with thousands even removed from the show that was supposed to track them down
The practice, born out of necessity when the number of border crossings soared past previous records, was a breaking with the protocol of previous administrations, which required immigrants to receive charging documents with a cut-off date from Customs and Border Protection shortly after they were apprehended.
The lack of charging documents has left immigrants across the country in legal limbo without a court date to determine if they can legally remain in the US, their lawyers said. Many live in the shade, unable to work and without knowing what they are going through one-year eligibility period to apply for asylum.
Immigration attorneys say that many clients walk into their offices confused and wondering what the next step in seeking legal residency should be.
“Many of the people who are here really want to ask for asylum urgently. They want their case to be heard as soon as possible. They don’t want to be in limbo,” said Karlyn Kurichety, legal director of Al Otro Lado, an immigrant advocacy organization.
Much of the criticism of Biden’s border policies from Republicans and Democrats has focused on migrants crossing the southern border, but less attention has been paid to how the administration handles migrants after they cross, a period of time in which the court system is supposed to determine whether or not they can legally remain.
In late March 2021, as the number of undocumented immigrants arriving at the southern border began to increase, CBP began releasing immigrants with what is known as a “Notice to Report,” telling them to report to an office Immigration and Customs Enforcement, instead of doing so. a “Notice to Appear,” which tells migrants when to appear in court to determine if they will be deported or granted protection to remain lawfully in the US.
But that process proved problematic, as reports surfaced that many migrants did not show up at ICE offices to receive court dates.
So ICE started a new program in July 2021, according to a Government Accountability Office report, known as Parole Plus Alternatives to Detention or Parole Plus ATD. The program allowed migrants to be released without charging papers while their whereabouts were tracked with ankle monitors., registering in an application or by phone.
Between the end of March 2021 and the end of January 2023, more than 800,000 migrants were released with Notices to Report or Parole Plus ATD. About 214,000 of them eventually received charging documents with court dates, according to data obtained by NBC News, meaning about 588,000 he did not know when or where to appear for his asylum hearings.
NBC News first reported that border agents in the Rio Grande Valley were instructed to begin releasing migrants with no cutoff date in March 2021 as border processing centers became overwhelmed and were unable to quickly process the migrants. children arriving alone, the first major border challenge of the Biden presidency.
The document instructing border agents to release immigrants without charging said the move was “intended to mitigate operational challenges, including national security risks, during significant waves of illegal migration that currently exist in the Rio Grande Valley”.
Since then, the practice has expanded to include the entire border. The Department of Homeland Security had maintained that migrants released without charging documents would soon receive hearing dates at ICE offices in the interior of the country. It was previously unknown that nearly 600,000 newly arrived immigrants remain at large in the US with no clear path to immigration proceedings.
Jeremy McKinney, an immigration attorney and president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said he was in disbelief the first time a client walked into his office with a “Notice to Report” document instead of a “Notice to Report” charging document. to appear”.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” McKinney said. He soon learned that the new documents were not a silver lining for immigrants who wanted to avoid deportation.
“It just creates more confusion among the population fleeing persecution and torture,” McKinney said. “You’re putting them in this confusing spiral where they don’t actually have a court for several years and they’re missing out on the opportunity to apply for asylum.”
McKinney also said it’s hard for migrants who haven’t been formally entered into the court process to keep ICE informed of their location if they change addresses, making it harder to see through an asylum case and more difficult for the government to control migrants who cross.
In a statement, a DHS spokesperson said: “DHS continues to safely, efficiently, and effectively process individuals at the border. Due to the increase in the number of immigrants, DHS components may facilitate the provisional release of non-citizens who are in removal proceedings pending the next steps in their immigration proceedings. People who are provisionally released from custody continue their immigration removal proceedings and have strict reporting requirements.”
99.4% show up for the first court date
Congress has only funded ICE for about half the population currently receiving ATD, and two top DHS officials said they will be forced to make cuts to the program.
The two officials told NBC News that ICE will remove the migrants from ATD, due to the expenses of the program, if it is determined that the immigrant is from a country that resists receiving migrants. This is particularly true for the Cuban migrant population in Florida, the officials said.
During a 10-day period in January, more than 25,000 migrants were removed from the ATD program, a 7% decrease, according to data obtained by NBC News.
While some of those immigrants might have been removed because they were deported or because they completed their court hearings, the Justice Department’s immigration courts have not kept up with the caseload. Since October, only 2,300 migrants in ATD have had final court hearings scheduled.
However, ICE publicly reported data shows that when migrants enroll in ATD and are given court dates, they have a 99.4% rate of showing up for their first court hearing and a 95.5% rate of showing up for their first court hearing. 7% to show up to your final hearing.
The program is much less expensive than detaining migrants and costs the government less than $1 a day per migrant, according to public figures released by ICE. But as undocumented border crossings continue to rise, and will likely rise further when Covid border restrictions are lifted, the costs could be prohibitive. At current rates and population, it costs ICE approximately $100 million to operate the ATD program annually.
Kurichety said he is also seeing many immigrants being given what appear to be Customs and Border Protection charge documents that do not actually correlate to actual court dates. Migrants falsely believe that their immigration procedures have begun when in reality there is no record of their case.
Speaking of one of her clients, Kurichety said: “She was asking and the [ICE] The officer would say, ‘Just wait for your court date, just wait for your court date.’ And that’s why he missed his one-year filing deadline. [for asylum].”