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50,000 Records Went Missing From Illegal Immigrant Data To Produce False Impression Backlog Was Shrinking

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A nonpartisan academic clearinghouse for government statistics has removed data on what happens to minors who cross the border illegally because it has determined the data is “too faulty to be trusted” and says the Biden administration has ignored its warnings about flaws.

The disappearance of 50,000 asylum files allowed the Biden administration to “falsely report that its asylum backlog had been reduced this past year when in fact it had markedly grown,” the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which is affiliated with Syracuse University, said Thursday.

This and other problems with the data mean that Americans cannot know how — or if — the Biden administration is dealing with the unprecedented deluge of illegal immigrants.

“TRAC has concluded that these flaws, as detailed below, are so serious that the resulting statistics based on these data are not an accurate or reliable indicator of the quantity or characteristics of juvenile cases currently being handled by the Immigration Court,” it said. “The public should be increasingly troubled by the indifference that the Immigration Courts have shown to these issues and should push for improved transparency and accountability.”

The processing of immigrants facing deportation is administered by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), run by David Neal, who was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland. On October 15, TRAC wrote to Neal pointing out that the data was inaccurate, but the office did not respond to the letter and “subsequently published its juvenile tables… without correcting its methodology,” TRAC said.

TRAC receives a “juvenile history” file purporting to list all underage illegal immigrants. But when it cross-referenced it with a list of court cases where families were seeking asylum, it found that nearly nine out of ten children in those families were missing from the list. When it compared it with court dockets from courts that solely hear cases of unaccompanied minors, it found that 29% of the migrants who came before that court were not listed on the juvenile history file, meaning the juvenile history file is incomplete.

Even the ages on the juvenile file did not make sense. More than a third of people in the juvenile history file were actually adults “at the time their NTA was issued.”

Since by definition undocumented immigrants may have little documentation, and those who are classified as under 18 are more likely to get to stay in the country, there is a strong incentive for migrants to lie about their age. For example, in October a 24-year old Honduran named Yery Noel Medina Ulloa was charged with murder in Florida after telling U.S. border authorities in Texas that he was 17, the New York Post found.

To understand discrepancies in the juvenile classification, TRAC asked EOIR if it was using any outside datasets to confirm age, and it said it was not.

It realized that some asylum applications were going missing by comparing the files it obtained periodically from the government.  “When compared case-by-case, record-by-record, with the previous month’s data dump TRAC received, we find that records just disappear without explanation… TRAC has repeatedly reached out to the agency but has not received any satisfactory explanation,” it said.

“A number of these asylum cases continue to disappear each month,” it added, noting EOIR’s “refusal” to address the issue.

A third issue is a “misleading” way of counting immigration cases that has been in place since late 2018 and which makes the immigration backlog numbers look lower than they are, it said.

“Rather than reporting rates based on those cases where the judge decided the merits of the immigrant’s asylum claims, the agency now includes all cases where the asylum application was closed on bases apart from its merits,” it said. However, “Given immigration law’s complexity, the asylum application may be only one among several relief applications filed by the individual, and numerous other alternative grounds can be considered by the Court which allow the individual to be legally entitled to remain in the U.S. Thus, EOIR’s new asylum tabulations present a very misleading picture of whether the asylum seeker was ultimately successful in his or her bid to remain in this country.”

“Government agencies should be transparent and accountable to the American public—but this is difficult if they don’t collect reliable information on what they are actually doing. The Immigration Court’s failure to respond to or address TRAC’s findings of significant data quality issues regarding minors is particularly concerning given the highly sensitive nature of children facing deportation,” the academic group said.

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