Fox News Host Criticized for Saying Asylum Seekers Mostly Don't Show for Court

Ainsley Earhardt of Fox and friends - Getty-H 2018
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Advocates spoke out after 'Fox & Friends' host Ainsley Earhardt said incorrectly on Friday that "as many as just 2 percent" of immigrants show up for their court date.

Immigration advocates are calling out Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt for saying incorrectly on Friday that "as many as just 2 percent" of asylum-seeking immigrants show up for their court hearings after entering the U.S.

According to Justice Department data, in Fiscal Year 2017, 89 percent of asylum seekers and 72 percent of all immigrants showed up for their scheduled hearings. In Fiscal Year 2016, 91 percent of asylum seekers and 74 percent of all immigrants showed up.

"96 percent of [family member] asylum applicants had attended all their immigration court hearings," according to a report released by the American Immigration Council in August.

Earhardt repeated the mistake in the show's 8 a.m. hour, citing a guest. "You're supposed to show up for a court hearing but the majority of them are not," she said. "We had one guest on that said only 2 percent show up to stand in front of this judge. They cut off those ankle bracelets and they're in America and they're undocumented."

She first made the mistake on the show's Oct. 25 edition, saying of asylum seekers that "only 2 percent are showing up for court." The claim was parroted a day earlier by a guest, Art del Cueto, president of the National Border Patrol Council Local 2544 union. After his remark, Earhardt said to her co-host Brian Kilmeade, "Less than 2 percent actually show up for their court hearing."

"This is the type of reckless rhetoric we’ve come to expect from the president and his allies," UnidosUS senior policy advisor Carlos Guevara said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter on Friday. "It is designed to divide us as a country and take our focus away from the real issues of importance to most Americans, like the assault on our health care, stagnant wages, and the tax giveaway to the rich."

"There's no basis for that number," Laurence Benenson, assistant director for immigration policy and advocacy at the National Immigration Forum, said in an interview. "I have not seen anything supporting numbers that low. That seems like a wildly off-the-mark number. It's definitely a majority that show up. In many cases, when people don't show up it's because they're not provided proper information."

In a statement to THR, Democratic congressman and immigration advocate Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez said: "If you follow the debate, especially in the Trump era, you know the immigration debate is often a fact-free zone. False statements about immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees are the building blocks of the anti-immigration movement in this country which now grips the White House, Fox News, Breitbart News and the dark right conspiracy web."

While she didn't call Earhardt out by name, one of Earhardt's colleagues later corrected the misstatement, which was spread by President Trump in a press conference on Thursday.

"He's lying about the percentage of asylum seekers that show up," liberal contributor Jessica Tarlov said on Outnumbered on Friday afternoon. "Asylum seekers, last year, the DOJ said 89 percent of them showed up for their court date. The president has said 2, 3 percent actually show up. The year before that, 91 percent showed up for their court date."

A Fox News spokesperson did not respond to a question about whether Earhardt's factual error would be corrected.

Former New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston expressed his disapproval of Earhardt's remarks by polling his followers on Twitter. "Justice Dept. reports more than 90% of asylum seekers keep their court dates," he wrote. "But @foxandfriends host @ainsleyearhardt said only 2% show up. Is Earhardt a liar or willfully ignorant? You decide."

Fox News and Fox Business Network host Neil Cavuto made a similar but less specific comment on his Friday afternoon show. "We process these [asylum requests] through our court system, give them a court date to come back and see a judge," he said. "They skip town, never do. They're in the country, end of story."