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Nina Siulc, Noelle Smart, Vera Institute of Justice, Oct. 2020
"The use of civil immigration detention has expanded exponentially over the past few decades, with a record high of more than half a million people detained in fiscal year 2019.1 The widespread use of civil detention—at a cost to taxpayers of billions of dollars annually—is often justified by the government as being necessary to ensure that immigrants continue to appear for their court hearings. Yet there is irrefutable evidence that over the past two decades the majority of immigrants—including adults, families, and children—have shown up for immigration court hearings. In fact, those who attend court outside detention on what are known as “non-detained” dockets almost always continue to appear for their hearings when they are able to secure legal representation, calling into question the logic of confining people in costly and inhumane prison-like conditions when representation is clearly a viable alternative to ensure continued court appearances. This fact sheet reviews evidence from the Vera Institute of Justice’s (Vera’s) programs and related studies as well as government data analyzed by independent researchers to help unpack what is known about appearances in immigration court and, alternately, orders of removal in absentia, which are issued when a person does not appear in court."