Nearly 1 million of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States have been ordered to leave the country but remain, many hiding in plain view as they take advantage of an overwhelmed federal system, according to new documents.

In the latest demonstration that the U.S. legal and police system appears unable to enforce immigration laws, documents show that about 900,000 undocumented immigrants, including 170,000 criminals, have been ordered deported "in absentia," meaning a judge kicked them out without them even knowing it.

In the case of the recent surge of unaccompanied minors, huge numbers have been ordered deported, but likely remain behind because they didn't show up for deportation hearings and were shown the door in absentia.

Border Patrol checking the U.S.-Mexico border. AP Photo

Documents from the "Executive Office for Immigration Review," provided to Secrets, show the trend. From July 2014 to May 2015, for example, immigration judges "removed" 6,248 juveniles, but 5,453 were in absentia. During the same period, judges reviewing the cases of adult immigrants with children removed 11,516, 10,436 in absentia.

A critic of the system, Jessica M. Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, said since most of the removal orders are never carried out, the result is a "kangaroo court."

Typically, for example, even those immigrants who are in court to receive their removal orders are not immediately removed. Instead, they are often told to report in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement — but often vanish.

Vaughan said, "Judge Judy would never stand for that, why should our immigration judges? People don't understand that in addition to public safety reasons, the detention system is needed to ensure the integrity of the system. Immigration is a different kind of law – for the most part, the government has to have custody of the person to enforce it, because people just don't comply on their own. That's a result of our otherwise open lifestyle."

She also noted in a recent blog post that virtually all of the illegals who crossed over Mexico-U.S. border last year have disappeared into the United States. And it was Vaughan who revealed the 900,000 number.

And it appears it will get worse, according to congressional officials reviewing a new decision by the Homeland Security department to loosen up detention policies.

Under the new rules, once an undocumented alien establishes some claim to remaining in the United States, they will be released from detention centers. According to a DHS release, "In short, once a family has established eligibility for asylum or other relief under our laws, long-term detention is an inefficient use of our resources and should be discontinued."

Also, DHS said they will be offering to release those who "state a claim" for asylum. Some 90 percent of people who say they have a fear of returning home are typically approved, yet just 2 percent are ever granted asylum by a judge.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at