Tens of thousands of illegal immigrant women and children streamed across the U.S. border last year seeking asylum and protected status, claiming a “credible fear” of going home to the violence in Central America. President Obama addressed the crisis through increased border enforcement, more detention beds, more immigration judges and pressure on political leaders in their home countries.
But a year later, new data obtained exclusively by Fox News shows the policy isn’t stopping the influx. Not only are illegal immigrant women and children continuing to cross the border in large numbers, but the majority charged with crimes aren’t even showing up for court.
“That strategy is obviously a complete failure because such a high percentage of these people who were not detained have simply melted into the larger illegal population and have no fear of immigration enforcement,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies.
Statistics released by the Department of Justice Executive Office of Immigration Review show 84 percent of those adults with children who were allowed to remain free pending trial absconded, and fewer than 4 percent deported themselves voluntarily.
The data set, requested by Fox News, underscores the dilemma facing immigration officials. While the ACLU and more than 100 lawmakers on Capitol Hill want to close federal detention centers, which they consider inhumane and unacceptable on legal and moral grounds, releasing the women and children to relatives and charities virtually guarantees they will fall off the federal government’s radar.
“Now that we see that 85 percent of the people who were not detained before their immigration hearings do not show up for these hearings, that illustrates the need for detention,” Vaughan said.
But others disagree. After the ACLU sued, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction immediately halting the administration’s policy of locking up asylum-seeking mothers and children. It cited a Department of Homeland Security survey of women and children in family detention. More than 70 percent claimed a credible fear of staying in their home country. The judge rejected the administration’s argument that detention was necessary to prevent a mass influx of new immigrants.
“Many of these women and children are being terrorized in their own countries and that’s the reason they are leaving,” said Belen Robles, a trustee at El Paso Community College in Texas, speaking at the annual conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “Once they get here, they need to be treated as human beings and not incarcerated or put in shelters.”
The data set from the Department of Justice looks at all women and children detained from Central America beginning July 18, 2014, when Obama declared the immigrants to be an enforcement priority and ordered the courts to treat them on a priority basis.
Since then, ICE detained 83,385 adults and children, and immigration courts completed 24,842 cases. Of those, more than 64 percent, or 16,136, didn’t show up for court, and fewer than 4 percent, or 908, agreed to leave voluntarily.
Among adults with children not detained, 25,000 have had their initial appearance; 13,000 are still in the system, and 12,000 have had their cases completed. Of the cases completed, 10,000 failed to appear.
But compare the number of removals for women and children who were detained against those who were not. Among those families who were allowed to remain free after their initial appearance in court, 84 percent never showed up again for their case. They remain free, scattered in cities across America. By contrast, almost all of those detained did show up before a judge.
“These figures are very strong evidence that the Border Patrol was right all along, that these people were coming because they knew they would be allowed to stay, that they were not planning to make some kind of plea for humanitarian status such as asylum,” said Vaughan.
Nevertheless, immigrant advocates are trying to close down federal government detention centers and some 130 House Democrats and 33 senators called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop family detention altogether. Additionally, a federal judge in California ruled that detaining immigrant children violates an existing settlement stipulating that migrant children must be released to foster care, relatives or — if they must be held — in the least restrictive environment possible.
“They deserve asylum. They are human beings and they deserve to be treated that way,” said Victor Lopez, the mayor of Orange Cove, Calif., a small town in the Central Valley. “They should be free, and if they want to be citizens of this country, they will appear in court.”
Yet, despite “credible fear” claims of violence back home, immigration judges reject that argument 92 percent of the time for adults with children. Illegal immigrants have a better chance of staying in the U.S. by running away than showing up in court.
— 103 cities, towns and counties in 33 states have sanctuary policies that protect illegal immigrants from deportation.
— Most cities and states refuse to honor “immigration detainers” — meaning they will no longer hold criminal aliens for deportation for 48 hours for pick-up by federal authorities.
— Total deportations to date (117,181) are the lowest in four years and 25 percent fewer than at the same time last year.
— Of those who are deported, 98 percent are either convicted of a felony or multiple misdemeanors, or re-entered the U.S. illegally multiple times.
— Worksite enforcement is virtually non-existent. So far this fiscal year, ICE conducted just 181 workplace audits and brought charges against just 27 employers, down from 3,127 audits in 2013 and 179 arrests. Employer fines are also down by more than 50 percent.
— Only eight states require employers to use E-Verify, the federal database used to determine legal status.
— 10 states issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, and last week, for the first time, the administration required employers accept these licenses for employment verification, in violation of the Real ID Act.
William La Jeunesse joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in March 1998 and currently serves as a Los Angeles-based correspondent.