Nearly 600,000 migrants who have crossed into the United States since 2021 have been released without being given a court date or even being charged, according to NBC News.
A departure from previous protocol, the practice developed as a necessary response to the overwhelming numbers of asylum seekers at the southern border. Previous administrations required migrants be given charging documents and a court date by Customs and Border Protection after being detained.
Lawyers for migrants across the country say the lack of charging documents has left many in legal limbo without a court date to determine if they can legally stay in the U.S.
Unable to work and not knowing that their one-year eligibility deadline to apply for asylum is passing them by, many migrants live on the fringes of society.
"A lot of the people who are here, they really urgently want to seek asylum," Karlyn Kurichety, legal director of migrant advocacy group Al Otro Lado, told NBC. "They want their case heard as soon as possible. They don't want to be in limbo.
Much of the bipartisan criticism of President Joe Biden's border policy has centered on migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, with less attention paid to how the administration processes them after they make it across.
Towards the end of March 2021, as undocumented arrivals at the southern border began to soar, Border Protection agents began releasing migrants with a "Notice to Report," which instructs them to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, instead of a "Notice to Appear," which tells them when to appear in court to determine their status.
When that process didn't seem to be working, with reports of migrants not showing up at ICE offices at all, the agency began a new program in July 2021, known as Parole Plus Alternatives to Detention or Parole Plus ATD, a Government Accountability Office report shows.
The new program allowed migrants to be released without charging documents while the government kept tabs on their whereabouts using ankle monitors, by checking in on an app or by phone.
More than 800,000 migrants were released on Notices to Report between late March 2021 and late January 2023, according to NBC, with only about 214,000 of them eventually being issued charging documents with court dates. Roughly 588,000 of them did not know where or when to report for their asylum hearings.
Immigration attorney Jeremy McKinney said he was astonished the first time one of his clients showed him a "Notice to Report" document rather than a "Notice to Appear" charging document.
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," McKinney told NBC. "It just leads to more confusion amongst the population that are the ones fleeing persecution and torture. You're putting them into this confusing spiral where they don't actually have court for several years and they're missing out on the opportunity to apply for asylum."
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