More Than 90 Percent Of Child Migrants With Lawyers Show Up In Immigration Court

CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee/ ThinkProgress

“I think the chance of them showing up to a hearing is zero,” Sen. Lindsay Graham said earlier this month during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. Graham is one of several members of Congress who don’t believe that migrant children — 90,000 of whom are expected to be apprehended at the southern border this fiscal year — will show up to their court hearings after they are released to guardians living in the United States. But if new data culled from an eight-year period is any indication, their claims are unfounded. That’s because an analysis of 101,850 court proceedings between 2005 through June 2014 found that a vast majority of children, especially those with legal representation, show up to their hearings.

Using data compiled by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), the immigration advocacy group Immigration Policy Center (IPC) found that 92.5 percent of children with legal representation who weren’t detained or released by the end of their case, showed up at their court hearings while 27.5 percent of children without legal representation in the same situation also showed up at their court hearings. On average for these completed cases, 60.9 percent of children appeared in immigration court. In cases where children are placed with U.S. family, including undocumented members, 79.5 percent of all cases (both closed and pending) had appeared for their case. Court appearances shoot up to 95.1 percent when children placed with family members have legal representation.

Anecdotal reports from pro bono legal service providers suggest similar high appearance rates for those with lawyers. New York’s Safe Passage Project found that “out of the approximately three hundred children screened by Safe Passage, only two young people failed to appear to immigration court hearings” after they were matched with pro bono counsel.

These statistics not only refute unsubstantiated claims by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) that 90 percent of child migrants don’t show up for their immigration hearings. They also suggest another reason why these children need legal representation — to increase the likelihood that they will return for their court date. Children with lawyers are also more than four times as likely to win their cases, while only 1 in 10 children without an attorney currently win. Even children who attend “know-your-rights” workshops that teach them about the immigration court process are more likely to win their cases. Just last month, the Department of Justice announced a grant to fund Americorps fellowships for about 100 volunteer lawyers and paralegals who will represent unaccompanied immigrant children.


Between July and September 2014, about 85 percent of unaccompanied children showed up to their mandatory first court appearances called “master calendar hearings,” recent data obtained from the Executive Office for Immigration Review indicates. During that time period, 7,131 migrants out of the 10,041 cases that the immigration courts received, showed up.

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