The Executive Office for Immigration Review would not speculate on the events that might prohibit someone from appearing in immigration court. Attorneys have told America Tonight that many children don’t speak the language and may be unaware of their own court cases, but the large percentage of absent children could indicate that many are falling through the cracks, joining the ranks of America’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
So far in 2014, judges have ruled in 5,328 cases involving children from the same three Central American countries, which represented 87 percent of the total juvenile immigration cases, an uptick from last year. Of those, 49 percent weren't present in court.
Under a 2008 law, all unaccompanied minors from Central America must go through deportation proceedings, a process that can take years. This isn’t true for child migrants from Mexico, who made up the bulk of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. until the past year or so, when Central American children started flooding in by the tens of thousands. So while Mexico is still the second most common origin country of unaccompanied minors, it is a distant fourth when it comes to juvenile immigration rulings. So far this fiscal year, child migrants from Mexico did not show up to court 27 percent of the time, the data shows.
Some of the immigration decisions for these migrant children could be in their favor, according to Kate Sheehey, deputy counsel for the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs at EOIR. For example, some children could qualify for asylum or special immigrant juvenile status, which puts them on a path to citizenship.
This year, 57,000 unaccompanied minors have already entered the United States illegally — double what it was in the same period last year. As we explore in an in-depth report airing July 15, the U.S. immigration system is already overwhelmed by the sheer volume of these cases, and these new numbers add weight to experts’ claims that it’s also deeply broken.