One of the smartest steps President Donald Trump has taken to get our illegal immigration problem under control was ending the Obama administration's policy known as "catch and release."
Border Patrol agents have long sarcastically called it the "catch and run" policy. Why?
Because aliens who have been caught and then released under the stipulation they show up for a scheduled hearing frequently fail to appear in court. That's the finding of a new report produced by former federal immigration court judge Mark H. Metcalf and published by the Center for Immigration Studies.
In fact, no courts have higher failure-to-appear rates by defendants than U.S. immigration courts, the report found.
Why should this concern us?
These illegal aliens are ignoring immigration court orders to appear without fear of repercussion, leaving them free to run and disappear into the interior of the country. Chances are, they won't be found again, incarcerated or deported. In fact, over the past 20 years, 37 percent of all illegal aliens released pending trial never showed up for court.
According to Metcalf, of the almost 2.5 million aliens released from detention, 918,098 failed to appear in court. Nearly 46,000 aliens disappeared each year rather than appear in court when they were supposed to.
Aliens are more likely to be ordered deported for their failure to appear than through actual court decisions on the merits of their supposed claimed right to remain in the U.S. Even in cases where aliens are ordered deported because they never showed up for court, those deportation orders are widely ignored both by those immigrants and by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division within the Department of Homeland Security that is charged with enforcing them.
Metcalf found that almost a million deportation orders issued by federal immigration judges - 953,506 to be exact - have not been enforced by ICE. That is a 58 percent increase since 2002. Bottom line, immigrants who are here illegally believe that they can stay here illegally even when they have been ordered removed. Why? Because the federal government has in the past chosen to ignore these orders.
Even worse, Metcalf says, the Department of Justice has been manipulating the statistics it reports to Congress to cover up the staggeringly high failure-to-appear rate. When DOJ reported statistical data on the percentage of illegal immigrants who failed to appear in court, they made the number look misleadingly smaller by including detained aliens in the total number. Obviously, aliens being held by ICE are going to be brought to court. They don't have the ability to ignore court orders to appear.
Among the aliens who disappeared and never showed up for court are more than 3,000 aliens from countries that the State Department says are involved in terrorism or have activist terrorist organizations. That includes aliens from Iran, Sudan and Syria, all of whose governments are classified as state sponsors of terrorism. In fact, Metcalf found, a troubling 11 percent of asylum applicants from those three state sponsors of terrorism absconded before their court proceedings. We have no idea where they are inside the country or what they are doing.
This problem illustrates a significant double standard in our legal system. There is no other court in America that lets defendants ignore orders to appear. In fact, federal law provides severe penalties for failing to show up to a federal district court. Only in immigration courts can non-citizens disappear and potentially not face the kinds of consequences that a citizen would face for failing to appear in federal district court.
When illegal immigrants ignore our courts and ICE doesn't enforce the law, it destroys the integrity of our legal system and encourages continued illegal immigration. The Trump administration is right to try and prevent illegal aliens from exploiting the loopholes in our immigration court system.
This piece originally appeared in The Sacramento Bee