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Warren Fiske
By Warren Fiske November 13, 2018

Rep. Rob Wittman says 85 percent of immigrants skip their court hearings

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, says the United States’ process for screening migrants at the Mexican border and granting asylum is "broken."  

Under laws, migrants who enter the U.S. can prolong their stay by contesting deportation orders or requesting asylum. They are often assigned court dates for the disposition of their cases and released in the United States.

Most of them go on the lam, Wittman contends. "As you know, 85 percent of them don’t show up for a scheduled court hearing or schedule a court hearing," he said during a Nov. 2 radio interview on the John Fredericks Show from Portsmouth.

Wittman’s statement comes as thousands of Central Americans are moving in caravans through Mexico with hopes of getting asylum in the United States. President Donald Trump has deployed 5,600 troops to the U.S.-Mexican border and ordered that asylum be denied to migrants who do not enter through official border crossings.

We wondered if Wittman is right that 85 percent of immigrants don’t show up for their court dates.

Data kept by Department of Justice refutes his claim.

Twenty-eight percent of migrants released in the U.S. didn’t show up for their hearings during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2017, according to the latest DOJ records. Of the 149,436 immigrants that were released in the U.S. during that time, 41,384 were no-shows.

Over a five-year period through the end of September 2017, the records show 23 percent of undocumented migrants released in the U.S. didn’t show up to legal hearings. Of the 665,930 immigrants who were released,151,492 were no-shows.

Not all of these people sought asylum. Some were unaccompanied children who came to the border, and others were migrants seeking to join family members already in the U.S. And many of the no-shows were people who were detained at the border and then released in the U.S. because three weeks later because severely strained immigration courts couldn't get to their cases.

Those seeking asylums - also called asylees - have been the most cooperative group; 11 percent of them didn’t go to their hearings in fiscal 2017. DOJ records show that 43,013 people seeking asylum had court hearings scheduled in 2017, and 4,776 didn’t show up,

Over a five-year period, 10.1 percent of asylees were no-shows. There were 130,092 hearings scheduled, and 13,130 people didn’t come.

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Not everyone accepts the DOJ figures. The Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that favors stricter immigration laws, says the federal government is undercounting the no-shows and, in a 2017 study, contended that 37 percent of immigrants during the previous 20 years missed their court dates.

We called Wittman’s office and asked where he got his 85 percent figure. The next day, he appeared again on The John Fredericks Show and retracted his claim, offering the center’s figure in its place.

Wittman said he got the 85 percent statistic in 2014 from Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., also cited Goodlatte in 2014 as the source of his statement that 90 percent of immigrants who cross the border don’t attend their court hearings. PolitiFact rated that claim False.

Goodlatte’s office has cited an article in Newsmax, a conservative online publication, as the source of the four-year-old "anecdotal" statement. The article referred to an anonymous "senior Los Angeles County Sheriff’s detective who routinely deals with illegal immigrants" and said "a massive number — 80 to 90 percent" don’t show up for deportation hearings.

Despite its debunking, the high figures are frequently cited. Trump, during Oct. 31 remarks at the White House, said "a level like 3 percent" of immigrants show up for their trials.

Our ruling

Wittman said "85 percent" of immigrants in the U.S. don’t show up for their court hearings. 

The actual percentage is far lower. DOJ statistics show 28 percent of migrants didn’t keep their court dates in 2017 and 11 percent of asylees didn’t show up. Even a think tank that says DOJ undercounts the no-shows comes nowhere close to the 85 percent figure.

Wittman deserves credit for acknowledging his mistake - the day after we contacted him - on the same radio show that he made the statement.

But his original claim of 85 percent has been circulating for years and we rate it False.



Our Sources

Rep. Rob Wittman, radio comments on The John Fredericks Show, Nov. 2, 2018 (7:05 mark on tape).

PolitiFact, "Sen. Jeff Flake says 90 percent of immigrants given court dates fail to show up," July 10, 2014.

The Washington Post, "Trump administration tightens immigration asylum rules as caravans continue to push for U.S. border," Nov. 8, 2018.

The New York Times, "Trump suspends some asylum rights, calling illegal immigration ‘a crisis,’" Nov. 8, 2018.

Department of Justice, Statistics Yearbook, Fiscal Year 2017, pages 33-34, accessed Nov. 9, 2018.

PolitiFact, Majority of undocumented immigrants show up for court, June 19, 2018.

Email from Kathleen Gayle, communications director for Wittman, Nov. 9, 2018.

Wittman, comments on The John Fredericks Show,  Nov. 9, 2018.

Center for Immigration Studies, "Courting Disaster," March 19, 2017.

Newsmax, "Flood of illegal immigrants coming to a neighborhood near you," July 1, 2014.

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump says Obama has let 300,000 criminal aliens go back into U.S. communities," Sept. 16, 2016.


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