The federal government shutdown impacts citizens, businesses, and state and local governments in many ways. Federal workers are furloughed or working without pay, national parks are unattended and deteriorating, food safety inspections have been suspended, and many government services are offline.
At first glance, a delay in immigration hearings may seem like a relatively small problem. But, the impact on both individuals and the system is significant.
Immigration Court Backlogs
Most immigration courts around the country were already backlogged when the government shutdown dramatically pared back their ability to process immigration cases. As of mid-January, tens of thousands of immigration hearings had already been delayed during the shutdown. That number is expected to top 100,000 if the shutdown continues through the end of the month.
Data gathered by CBS News suggests that Ohio courts will see a 15% increase in their immigration backlogs if the shutdown continues until March. That’s a significant increase that could take years to work through, but Ohio fares better than many other states. Some face potential increases of 30% or more in just 6-8 weeks.
The Impact of Immigration Hearing Delays on Individuals
While immigration courts continue to process those in detention, the shutdown leaves many others in limbo.
Asylum-seekers can’t get hearings, those with pending green card applications are on hold indefinitely, and many others are unable to clear obstacles that prevent them from working, obtaining driver’s licenses, or traveling internationally.
Most of us will begin to see relief almost immediately when the shutdown ends: government benefits will begin to flow again, federal employees will go back to work (or start receiving paychecks, if they’ve been working without pay, and government services will go back online. For those facing immigration hearing delays, however, the consequences may be much more serious.
It would be reasonable to expect that those delayed immigration hearings would be scheduled as quickly as possible after the courts get back up to speed, but that’s not how the immigration docket works. Rather, those cases will be bumped to the end of the line—a line that is currently about three years long. That means immigrants and applicants who may already have waited years to get a hearing date will be pushed back to 2022.
Immigration Courts are Operating with a Skeleton Staff
The toll on immigrants facing hearing delays is significant, but they aren’t the only ones affected by the stripping down of the immigration court system during the shutdown.
While courts are moving forward with a limited “detention docket,” they aren’t operating as usual.
The administrative staff has been stripped down, meaning that immigration judges have less support, more to manage, and less time available to hear cases and render decisions.
An Experienced Local Immigration Lawyer Can Help
The uncertainty created by the closure and scaling back of immigration courts during the shutdown and the impact of the backlog can be confusing and frightening.
An experienced immigration attorney can help you understand the impact of the delays on your case and can advise you as to how you can best protect yourself and your family during and after this period of uncertainty.
The information presented in this post is not legal advice and does not form a lawyer/client relationship. Laws and circumstances can differ and change.
Please contact us for a personal review of your situation