DALLAS – Santos Monroy, Raymundo Olmedo and more than a dozen other immigrants reported for Dallas court hearings on their deportation cases last Thursday only to be turned away.
They had been ordered to be in court by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But their notices to appear were greeted by court staffers who matter-of-factly called them "fake dates."
Their names weren't on judges' dockets. "We've got fake dates," a security guard said as about two dozen immigrants clustered near a court filing window.
The orders to appear are not fake, but ICE apparently never coordinated or cleared the dates with the immigration courts. It's a phenomenon that appears to be popping up around the nation, with reports of "fake dates" or "dummy dates" in Dallas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Atlanta and Miami.
Some immigrants have even been given documents ordering them to be in court at midnight, on weekends and on a date that doesn't exist: Sept. 31.
The result, immigrant advocates say, is more chaos in the heavily backlogged immigration court system, with about 750,000 cases waiting to be resolved.
The immigrants turned away in the Dallas court had been detained Aug. 28 at a raid at a trailer factory in Sumner, Texas. As is often the case, most immigrants were released while awaiting administrative hearings before a judge.
On Thursday, after they showed up without being expected by the courts, a court clerk collected their notices to appear, the charging document usually prepared by ICE, and they were told to fill out another form and were sent away with instructions to call a phone number regularly to eventually learn their real court date.
"It's a madhouse," said Dalila Reynoso, a church worker who has been helping workers and their families since the raid.
Neither ICE nor the court agency offered an explanation for the confusion.
In Chicago, Ashley Huebner, associate director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center, said she has seen "dozens and dozens" of immigrants with "dummy dates" on their notices to appear. "The immigration court system is confusing enough on a normal day," she said. But the notices present "a real different level of confusion and absurdity."