Syracuse researchers say DOJ’s juvenile immigration case data is ‘totally unreliable,’ won’t track it anymore

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Federal agency 'lost' 50,000 asylum applications, group says

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with a comment from EOIR.]

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The nation’s premier research organization on tracking immigration cases says it will no longer be able to track juvenile migrant cases due to insufficient and “erroneous” information by the Department of Justice, Border Report has learned.

Transactional Research Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University has decided information provided by the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), the DOJ agency that oversees U.S. immigration cases, is inaccurate and not reliable and won’t be used going forward in public reports, TRAC Co-Director Susan Long told Border Report on Monday.

The announcement comes just as the “Remain in Mexico” program is being re-implemented and court watchers are eager to track cases of asylum-seekers who are being sent back south across the border to Mexico to wait out their case proceedings.

“We have a major research project tracking what’s going on in immigration courts and we have been increasingly concerned with the quality of EOIR — which is the agency within the Justice Department which manages the immigration courts – with the quality of their data and we have uncovered a number of problems,” Long said via Zoom from her office in Syracuse, New York.

TRAC immigration data can be found on its website. (TRAC Graphic)

A report on the TRAC website states immigration court’s data on migrants who are facing deportation “is too faulty to be trusted.” It cites incorrect dates of birth input for migrant youth, as well as incorrect court locations. It also states that 50% of juvenile migrants who were under 18 at the time that they were issued a Notice to Appear by the Department of Homeland Security during their request for asylum “were not included in the juvenile history file.”

Long, who is a professor of statistics, said her organization began to notice inconsistencies after the Department of Justice changed its reporting tool in 2017.

“The end result was this new system, which has proven to be just totally unreliable,” she said.

That has led TRAC researchers to announce that they will no longer track this class of migrants, which she said is a loss of public data on a particularly vulnerable group of asylum-seekers.

“This is a class of individuals where the public is particularly and rightfully concerned that they be treated properly in the court system,” Long said.

More importantly, she says this material “isn’t reliable,” and yet it is used by the court system to track cases.

“If the immigration courts itself can’t keep track of these cases properly how can it ensure that the proper procedures are being carried out?” she said.

Families of migrants are taken into custody on April 6, 2021, in La Joya, Texas, by U.S. Border Patrol agents. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photos)

Data on juveniles, especially those who come as unaccompanied minors without documents, is especially hard to gather.

Once migrant minors are placed under the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the information on them is virtually inaccessible to reporters, due to their age.

Unaccompanied youth are put under the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) division of HHS.

A November memo by HHS states migrant youth under ORR will be placed in the “least restrictive setting” possible and they will be given schooling, medical and mental health services and paired with family, if able. The memo also states that ORR is responsible for the Unaccompanied Children (UC) Program including: “Collecting, analyzing, and reporting statistical information on UC.”

TRAC receives batches of data dumps directly from the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Long said TRAC issued two letters, in September and October, to EOIR officials expressing their concerns, but she says they have not received a response.

TRAC also is reporting that EOIR has “apparently lost 50,000 additional pending asylum applications,” which Long said resulted in an apparent reduction in the number of backlogged cases in U.S. immigration courts.

“This has led it to falsely report that its asylum backlog had been reduced this past year when in fact it had markedly grown,” TRAC said in a report.

The Department of Justice told Border Report they will investigate the allegations that their data is faulty.

“EOIR recognizes the importance of its data to the public. EOIR therefore welcomes its stakeholders’ input about the quality and transparency of its data, including the input we recently received regarding the tracking of juveniles in removal proceedings. EOIR will look into these concerns as part of its continuous review of its data input and reporting, and will make any necessary changes to its systems and reports to improve and enhance the reporting of its data to the public,” a spokesperson said in an email.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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