In four states Illinois, Florida, Texas, Virginiaattorneys reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sent their clients, who are accused of being in the country illegally, an official Notice to Appear (NTA) in court on Jan. 31. Hundreds showed up, only to learn it was a fake court date.
A Supreme Court ruling last summer, Pereira v. Sessions, mandated that all NTAs include actual dates instead of “to be determined” (TBD), which had been done in the past.
After the ruling, the government didn’t prepare a way to ensure real court dates, so ICE just started sending out random dates.
For example, on Oct. 31, hundreds of immigrants showed up to wait in long lines for nothing.
In December, the Executive Office of Immigration Review issued a rare policy memo telling ICE agents and DHS that courts would reject NTA’s with fake dates.
But that didn’t stop the Jan. 31 fake court date. And, for people who don’t have legal representation, they didn’t know not to show up.
“They feel like someone is screwing with them or playing a terrible joke,” Matthew Kriezelman, a Chicago immigration lawyer, told CBS News. “It’s really confusing for a lot of people, especially ones that are unrepresented.”
A hotline, 800-898-7180, has been set up for people who were given notices to appear to verify their dates, but only attorneys know to call it.
Immigrants who can’t afford lawyers for deportation cases are not assigned public defenders. They have to seek out a public interest law group, an advocacy organization or even a law school clinic to get representation.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association has issued a practice alert titled, DHS Issuing NTAs with Fake Times and Dates.
Kevin Raica, a Chicago-based attorney who is also part of the local chapter of American Immigration Lawyers Association, said they are worried about those who are not represented not knowing how to contact the court.
For example, many who received NTAs traveled from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana to Chicago on Thursday, facing, life-threatening temperatures. But with a threat of deportation, some may have made the trip, anyway.
The Chicago immigration court was actually closed due to the cold said Gail Montenegro, spokeswoman for the court.