Tens of thousands of migrants who crossed the border illegally in the past year are in limbo after the U.S. government failed to file paperwork in court, leaving them with no immigration case to fight and ambiguous legal status in the U.S., the Wall Street Journal reports. Migrants released into the U.S. after crossing the border from Mexico typically have an initial court date set several weeks later, the first step to seeking asylum or other protections in the U.S. and the start of a legal process that can take years to complete. The brief first hearing often ends with the judge setting a second hearing weeks or months later, giving migrants time to find a lawyer.
About 47,000 of the nearly 284,500 cases completed in U.S. immigration courts between the start of the federal fiscal year in October and June were dismissed because a document known as a Notice To Appear, or an NTA, wasn’t filed, according the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. Between fiscal 2013 and 2020, fewer than 12,000 of about 1.6 million cases lacked government paperwork, according to TRAC. Last fiscal year, about 15,000 of 144,751 cases did. Unlike typical criminal cases such as a traffic violation, in which charges are dismissed if the government fails to do its part, immigration court cases can be filed at any time, leaving migrants in limbo. Immigration judges and lawyers say such delays, deemed “failure to prosecute” by Justice Department judges hearing the cases, are also undermining efforts by the Biden administration to reduce a backlog of cases that is approaching 2 million.