Friday, September 20, 2019

DHS issuing dummy dates for immigration court

Immigrants are being issued notices to appear (NTA) in immigration court containing "dummy dates." These dates can be for weekends, holidays, dates that do not exist (e.g. November 31) or dates and times outside normal business hours. What they have in common is a lack of connection to the immigration court docket. Instead the dates are arbitrarily selected by ICE in order to comply with the requirement that an NTA must contain a court date, articulated in Pereira v. Sessions.

Until Pereira, it was common practice for ICE to issue NTAs with the date marked TBD. That is because there was no system in place to coordinate between ICE and the immigration courts, which are operated by the EOIR within the US Department of Justice. There still isn't, and a DOJ spokesperson said in a statement that progress on a mechanism to coordinate was slowed by the government shut down. Rather than wait for a solution that would enable ICE to issue a true hearing date, ICE supplied a dummy date. Doing so allowed them to commence the court process sooner and cut off immigrants' eligibility for cancellation of removal, a form of legal relief that can be granted to immigrants who have 10 years of continuous residence in the US. 

Though some reports of this practice are calling them fake notices, they are not. While the dates on the notices are false, the notices themselves are not. If immigrants do not show up they risk being ordered deported in abstentia. So the immigrants show up in order to satisfy the requirement, taking time-stamped photographs or finding other proof that they tried, even if their case will not be heard. The result is an added layer of chaos in the already overwhelmed immigration court system, with hundreds filling lobbies and lines winding around courthouses in Dallas, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, and Atlanta. 

Another impact of this troubling practice is the inconvenience to immigrants' lives. Some travel considerable distances and take time from work or childcare to appear in court, only to find their presence is not needed… and that they will need to return on another to-be-determined date.

UPDATE: Immigrants and their attorneys can call 1-800-898-7180 to check on the status of the immigration case before showing up to immigration court. They will be asked to enter their A-number during the call. A video demonstrating how to check appears here. 


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