Immigration court backlog grows under government shutdown

on Jan2
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The government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s ask for border wall funding is likely increasing the immigration court backlog.

While cases for people in detention centers are going ahead as scheduled, those for people on the non-detained docket will be reset for new dates after the government is funded again. That means many hearings are being postponed in a system that is already clogged by more than 800,000 pending cases, according to the latest data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse out of Syracuse University.

San Diego’s non-detained docket has well over 4,000 cases pending.

While case loads during the shutdown so far have been lighter because of the holidays, many more cases will be impacted if the closure continues into next week, according to Houston-based attorney Ruby Powers.

“That’s when it’s going to get really bad,” Powers said.

Because attorneys don’t know when the shutdown will end or how cases will be prioritized for rescheduling, there’s a lot of uncertainty for clients with upcoming court dates, Powers said.

Some of the hearings that will need to be rescheduled are from the “master calendar.” Those hearings are used to provide people in proceedings with information, submit paperwork and schedule other hearings, known as “merits hearings,” which are more like trials.

While it can be frustrating to have either rescheduled because the already-existing backlog will likely push the new dates months or years into the future, rescheduling merits hearings can be especially difficult for clients, Powers said.

“They’ve been waiting. They’re so stressed out. Their whole life depends on this hearing date,” Powers said. “They want to get it over with so they can try to move on with their lives and you can just feel that stress and uncertainty.”

If hearing dates get pushed years into the future, it can affect a person’s eligibility to stay in the U.S. Evidence can grow old, or country conditions can change. Fingerprints pulled as part of a background check might need to be rerun.

Sometimes the person is asking for permission to stay through a program that allows people to remain in the country if their absence will cause extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen child. If that child turns 18 before the case finishes, the immigrant will likely lose the ability to stay.

Immigration courts will send notices of the date changes to those whose cases are affected, according to a statement from the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

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