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Measuring In Absentia Removal in Immigration Court

No academic study has empirically analyzed decisions by United States immigration judges to deport noncitizens without first providing them a day in court, a procedure known as in absentia removal. Yet bold assertions by members of the current presidential administration that immigrants “never” appear in court drive central policy decisions on immigration enforcement, including growing the immigration detention system, limiting access to asylum, and building a border wall. By reviewing immigration court data from 2008 to 2018 made publicly available by the Executive Office of Immigration Review, this Article provides the first-ever independent analysis of in absentia removal orders. Contrary to claims that all immigrants abscond, our data-driven analysis reveals that 88% of all immigrants in immigration court with completed or pending removal cases over the past eleven years attended all of their court hearings. If we limit our analysis to only nondetained cases, we still find a high compliance rate: 83% of all respondents in completed or pending removal cases attended all of their hearings since 2008. Moreover, we reveal that 15% of those who were ordered deported in absentia since 2008 successfully reopened their cases and had their in absentia orders rescinded. Digging deeper, we identify three factors associated with in absentia removal: having a lawyer, applying for relief from removal (such as asylum), and court jurisdiction. These and other important findings have immediate implications for key immigration policy questions.