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Immigration

DHS Secretary: 90 Percent of Recent Asylum-Seekers Skipped Their Hearings

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C., May 23, 2019. (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan testified Tuesday that 90 percent of asylum-seekers tracked under a recently instituted program skipped the hearings in which their cases were to be adjudicated.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, McAleenan explained that his department is hampered in its efforts to deter illegal immigration by U.S. laws that allow asylum-seekers to remain on U.S. soil under their own recognizance for months or even years while awaiting a hearing that the vast majority of them simply skip.

“Out of those 7,000 cases, 90 received final orders of removal in absentia, 90 percent,” McAleenan told Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), referring to the results of a recent DHS pilot program that tracks family units applying for asylum.

“90 percent did not show up?” Graham asked.

“Correct. That is a recent sample from families crossing the border,” McAleenan replied.

McAleenan, who was appointed following Kirstjen Nielsen’s departure in April, went on to claim that the Flores consent decree, which prohibits the federal detention of minors for longer than 21 days, is largely responsible for the introduction into the country of tens of thousands of undocumented migrants who would otherwise be held in detention facilities while their claims were being adjudicated.

“Currently, due to a single district-court order, we cannot obtain effective immigration-enforcement results for the families arriving at our border — they cannot be held for longer than 21 days and do not receive rulings from immigration courts for years,” he said.

Echoing the sentiments of numerous administration officials and congressional Republicans, McAleenan referred to the crush of asylum-seekers arriving at the southern border as a “full-blown emergency.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently announced the apprehension of a record 144,000 migrants in May, and McAleenan further reported Tuesday that 60,000 migrant children have been apprehended in the last 40 days alone.

According to McAleenan, this spike in minors is primarily the result of the Flores consent decree, which incentivizes adult migrants to travel with children so they will be released into the country while awaiting the immigration court’s decision with respect to their asylum claims.

“Unless you’re a single adult, it is very unlikely you’ll be repatriated,” he said.

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