ICE agents told hundreds of immigrants to show up to court on Thursday or risk being deported. But lawyers say many of those hearings won’t happen because the dates ICE provided are fake.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association issued a “practice alert” on Tuesday evening, warning members “the next upcoming date on NTAs that appears to be fake is this Thursday.”
On Wednesday evening, the Executive Office of Immigration Review, the body that oversees all the, instructed all attorneys with a January 31 NTA “to confirm the time and date of any hearing.”
“There will be another episode of mass confusion in the immigration courts [Thursday] as a result of the DHS’s decision to issue Notice to Appear with fake immigration court dates,” Brian Casson, a Virginia-based immigration attorney, said in an email to CBS News.
In a statement Thursday morning, an ICE spokesperson said the agency was working with the Department of Justice “regarding the proper issuance of Notices to Appear.” The spokesperson said the government shutdown “delayed” that process, “resulting in an expected overflow of individuals appearing for immigration proceedings today/January 31.”
The fake notices stem from a Supreme Court ruling last summer. Prior to the decision, ICE officials used to send immigrants NTAs with date listed as “TBD” – or “to be determined.” The immigration court would issue the migrant an official hearing notice later, said Casson.
One effect of this: The NTAs could block an immigrant’s eligibility for “cancellation of removal,” a legal residency status granted to some undocumented immigrants after 10 uninterrupted years of living in the U.S. A NTA, even without a hearing date, would interrupt the 10-year “clock,” said Jeremy McKinney, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based immigration attorney, in a telephone interview with CBS News.
A Supreme Court ruling last summer — Pereira v. Sessions — banned the practice, requiring all appearance notices to use actual dates.
However, systems weren’t in place for ICE to see the court’s schedule, so ICE issued fake dates instead. Immigrants were instructed to appear on weekends, midnight, and dates that just didn’t exist, like Sept. 31, multiple attorneys told CBS News.
On October 31, hundreds of immigrants received phony NTAs. They showed up to court for non-existent hearings to find “extraordinarily long lines,” according the recent alert from the immigration lawyers’ organization.
“It was complete dysfunction and confusion,” said McKinney.
The problem became so pervasive that on Dec. 21, the Executive Office of Immigration Review issued a rare policy memo telling ICE agents and DHS that courts would “reject any NTA in which the date or time of the scheduled hearing is facially incorrect.”
Failure to show up to an immigration hearing can result in immediate removal proceeding, making immigrants especially wary when they hear they don’t need to come into court.
“An example of the ICE agency acting completely arbitrarily, and creating chaos in the immigration courts. People drove hundreds of miles for these fake hearing dates.”