Between the Trump administration's ramped up immigration enforcement efforts, legally contested executive orders, and the recent government shutdown, immigration court proceedings have been tumultuous, to say the least. But the one thing you think the government could get right is everyone's court date.
That was very clearly not the case on Thursday, as courts in several states were flooded with thousands of immigrants and their lawyers, waiting for hearings that didn't exist. So what the heck happened?
Prior to last June, immigration officials were in the habit of putting "TBD" on notices to appear in court. The Supreme Court ruled that practice unconstitutional, and the Department of Homeland Security responded by adding in dates at random, many of them fake. In some cases, the court was not aware of the person's scheduled appearance or had no record of the hearing in their system. In other cases, the time to appear was listed outside the operating hours of the court. And, in some rare instances, the dates legitimately did not exist, like September 31.
"It's quite troublesome," Laura Lynch, senior policy counsel at the American Immigration Lawyers Association told Mother Jones. "Immigrants are traveling hundreds of miles to show up for a scheduled court date because no one wants to face the severe consequence of being ordered deported because they were absent ... It's disruptive for these individuals' lives. What's really concerning is the anxiety of not knowing what this means for their case."
The Dating Game
"It's obviously a logistical mess," added former president of the National Association of Immigration Judges Dana Leigh Marks. "It's very unfortunate that this occurred in the week we're coming back to face the chaos that was created by the shutdown."
So how can you figure out if your immigration court date is fake? First, make sure the date is real, that it is a weekday (Monday to Friday), and that the time of the hearing is a time the court would normally be open. You may also be able to call the court ahead of time to confirm your hearing.
And for more help, contact a local immigration attorney who will be familiar with the court and its hearing practices.