U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has launched a new operation to send court documents to unauthorized migrants who were not processed for deportation after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border this year.
The documents include “notices to appear,” which instruct migrants to attend court hearings before U.S. immigration judges who will determine if they can remain in the country or will be deported. It will apply to migrants, many of them families with children, who were released into the U.S. after being apprehended at the border by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The operation aims expedite deportation proceedings for unauthorized migrants, according to ICE. The agency did not detail when the program began.
“By mailing out these charging documents, ICE is initiating removal proceedings in a timely way,” ICE said in a statement to CNBC on Thursday.
Some immigration advocates have criticized the program, saying they worried it could lead to deportations if migrants do not receive the court documents.
The new operation comes as Biden’s approval ratings have fallen, in part because of the way his administration has handled immigration and the border. In particular, the president has faced backlash for ramping up deportations to address the highest number of migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in two decades.
Typically, notices to appear go to migrants who are not immediately placed in expedited removal proceedings or expelled under a Trump-era public health law known as Title 42, according to Jessica Bolter, an associate policy analyst at Migration Policy Institute.
Both expedited removal and Title 42 allow the U.S. to deport migrants who have crossed the border without proper documentation.
In March, U.S. immigration officials were unable to issue many notices to appear due to a sharp increase in migration apprehensions at the border, which caused “capacity issues,” Bolter added.
Instead, unauthorized migrants were provided “notices to report,” or instructions to show up to their nearest ICE office within 60 days. Unlike a notice to appear, a notice to report takes a shorter amount of time to issue and does not place migrants in deportation proceedings within the U.S. immigration court system.
“With the influx of migration, ICE was looking for a solution that would allow them to process migrants more quickly, so being able to save time by issuing notices to report rather than formal court notices seems to be one of the solutions they landed on,” Bolter said.
CBP said Border Patrol made more than 1.7 millions apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border during fiscal year 2021.
As of September, CBP had released over 107,000 migrants with notices to report rather than formal notices to appear in court, according to the Associated Press. About 28% of those migrants did not report to ICE within the 60-day time period.
Under the new operation, ICE will be able to issue more notices to appear and ensure that migrants comply with them.
“Action will be taken against those that do not appear consistent with the law and Department priorities,” ICE said in the statement.
Some immigration advocates expressed concerns with ICE’s new operation.
Danilo Zak, policy and advocacy manager at the National Immigration Forum, said court documents in some cases may be mailed to addresses where the intended recipients do not live.
“It’s not always clear that the addresses that migrants provide to Border Patrol, or CBP, upon arrival at the border are where they still live,” Zak said. “Down the line, several months or a year down the road, they could move to a completely different address and won’t even receive the ‘notice to appear’ in court.”
Sending notices to appear to incorrect or outdated addresses could lead immigration judges to order the deportation of migrants who miss their court dates because they were never aware of them in the first place, Zak added.
“There needs to be a lot of leeway in place to make sure that ICE knows where exactly these folks are before they send these documents,” he said.
Zak also noted that U.S. immigration courts still face delays. The courts had a backlog of 1.4 million pending cases in fiscal year 2021, according to researchers at Syracuse University.
He called on U.S. immigration officials to develop a more “orderly process” at the border where migrants are more aware of the legal process ahead of them and have greater access to legal counsel that can help them navigate through the “complicated immigration court system.”
“The new operation is likely to make processing migrants more efficient but it is definitely not the ideal solution for people who arrive at the border, hoping to apply for asylum and go through their immigration court cases,” Zak said.