Immigration officials in California celebrated a system put into place last summer that fast-tracked the cases of immigrants who missed court appointments because of undeliverable mail and resulted in significant increase in deportation orders, according to documents obtained by American Oversight and reported on by the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Chronicle reported last fall that the San Francisco Immigration Court had created a special docket for immigrants whose mail was being returned undelivered. When those people failed to show up for their court hearing, judges would then order them deported — including those who may not have known that they had court appointments — in what is called an “in absentia” removal order.
The records, which were released after American Oversight submitted a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal that in a June 2021 test run of the system, 17 of the 21 scheduled cases resulted in removal orders. “That’s great,” wrote a court administrator in response to an email from a deputy administrator about the results. In other emails, officials discussed the use of a master calendar schedule for such proceedings, with judges praising the idea and showing interest in adopting the practice.
After receiving the “green light” from Judge Daren Margolin, who was appointed by former Attorney General William Barr in 2020, a deputy court administrator set up a test run of the fast-tracked docket for June 15.
That same day, the deputy administrator reported the results of the hearing in an email to San Francisco judges. “Of the 21 cases scheduled, only 2 appeared and 2 more had to be reset due to address issues,” McDaniel wrote. “For the remaining cases [Judge Andrew Caborn] was able to do an in absentia removal order.” The number of deportation orders represented more than 80 percent of the day’s cases.
“If you are interested in conducting one or a few of these types of special masters in the August/September time frame, please let me know,” the administrator added, prompting other judges to indicate their interest.
Margolin forwarded the email to Regional Deputy Chief Immigration Judge Sheila McNulty with the message, “On a positive note.” McNulty replied, “Very positive!”
The Chronicle found that the number of immigrants given deportation orders from such proceedings increased significantly in August and September 2021. As many as 173 immigrants were ordered deported in those two months, compared with 20 in the prior seven months combined.
The documents also reveal that Trump-appointed Chief Immigration Judge Tracy Short was involved in discussions in early November about how to respond to an inquiry from the ACLU of Northern California after the Chronicle first broke the story about returned notice hearings.
For more on American Oversight’s public records requests and investigations into immigration courts, visit our immigration archives.
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