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Steve Blow’s Immigration Column Is Extremely Sloppy

If it seems like we are constantly taking Morning News Metro columnist Steve Blow to task over this or that, that’s not an unfair assessment. In our defense, he needs to be taken to task quite a bit more than we actually have the time or energy for. I almost let his latest column — he believes our immigration courts aren’t equipped to handle the current situation — slip by with just a bit of gentle needling in Leading Off this morning. But then I read Bill Holston’s note in the comments, and then I read what Dallas Observer editor Joe Tone said a few more comments down, and then I read Blow’s piece again.

It is the worst kind of bad: dangerous. Someone might actually believe it.

If you didn’t read it and don’t have the time to do so now, I’ll walk you through it. After a bit of throat clearing about the “immigration mess” in general, he gets to what he calls “the biggest culprit” that has led to these kids crossing the border:

Perhaps you saw the news story. Twenty minors from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala were ordered to appear in federal immigration court Tuesday for initial deportation hearings.

Two showed up.

And those other 18? Well, I’m sure they’re settling nicely into life in their new country.

This is literally Blow’s only evidence for a pretty broad proclamation: “But what is absolutely true is that U.S. immigration courts are so understaffed and underfunded that kids can easily melt into society and never face deportation.”

Oh, really? Do you have a quote to support that? You don’t, huh? OK, cool cool cool. Hey, do you happen to have an un-sourced statistic that undercuts your point? You do! Fantastic! Let’s hear it:

Granted, this was a higher no-show rate than usual. Overall, about half of juveniles don’t show up for immigration court hearings.

I don’t need Blow to spend a lot of time backing up that statement. I don’t even need one sentence. I need two words — “according to” — followed by a reputable source. Stick a comma on either side and he can put it in the sentence he already typed.

But I don’t think he can do that because I do not think it is true. It’s not a guess. In the first comment left by Holston — the executive director of the Human Rights Initiative, by the way — he pointed to a study published this month by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). You might not have time to wade through all that. Others already have done so. Here are the relevant findings:

Children have been designated in absentia only 18.4 percent of the time. Thus, in 82.6 percent of cases, the child has either appeared in court or insufficient evidence exists for removal or relief, so far.

Similar rates exist for children released to U.S. family. In 79.5 percent of cases in which a child was released or never detained, and in a parent or guardian’s custody, the child has not been designated in absentia.

Although many recent cases are still pending, even in closed cases, children were designated in absentia only 31.2 percent of the time. 68.8 percent of children appeared in court.

I don’t see a number in there that indicates “about half don’t show up for immigration hearings.” And then there is this:

The data shows that Guatemalan children, at least, really do skip out on court hearings slightly more often than other children. But children from Honduras and particularly El Salvador are slightly more likely to show up for court hearings than children from other countries. … The Department of Homeland Security, which published the map of where children are arriving from, concluded that Guatemalan children “are probably seeking economic opportunities in the US. Salvadoran and Honduran children, on the other hand, come from extremely violent regions,” which is probably what’s driving them to the US.

But, no, no, let’s trust the guy who read a news story. Who didn’t go to court to see for himself. Who read a story and extrapolated his way to this: “That’s the real-world experience that emboldens Central American families to spend their life savings sending children northward.” Joe Tone did send someone to court to see for himself. And?

“We had a reporter there this morning — mostly unrepresented cases, almost all of them there, and all of them given time to go find a lawyer,” Tone wrote.

How hard is it to write that column? You see a news story that piques your interest. You go to court to see what’s up. You find a source that gives you the rundown on the immigration court system and can give you the pulse of the situation. Call someone who is working with some of these kids. Or just maybe even do a routine Google search. That Vox story I quote from was on the first page of results. It’s not rocket science. It’s not even 7th-grade science.

In a sort of genius move, Blow finished by hiding behind this forcefield: “Let’s all take a deep breath, quit playing the blame game and find the prudent solution to this immigration hiccup — taking good care of the kids in the meantime.”