In the United States (U.S.), the nation is experiencing a historically-long partial government shutdown. The shutdown, forced by President Donald Trump, has stretched on into mid-January with no foreseeable end in sight. In December, the president threatened to shut down the government as he demanded billions to fund his U.S.-Mexico border wall. When Congress didn’t deliver, Trump prompted a shutdown on December 22, 2018.
As the weeks have passed, all conciliatory talks between Trump and Congressional Democrats have stalled. Each day, the nation careens towards chaos. Certain government workers face long furloughs while others, like those in TSA, must work without pay. Only essential agencies, like those responsible for law enforcement, and those that are self-funded are currently operating. And, unfortunately, immigration courts have been forced to shutter their doors, canceling and/or delaying long-awaited hearings and court dates for individuals across America.
Most importantly, if you or a loved one have experienced a delay or cancellation due to the government shutdown, you need an experienced immigration lawyer. A trustworthy and passionate attorney will defend your rights and ensure you receive fair consideration.
This article reviews the record-breaking backlogs currently faced by the U.S. immigration court system. These backlogs, already bad before Trump’s shutdown, have undeniably worsened throughout the past month. We also will list other immigration agencies and whether or not they face shutdowns or any other effects.
As Shutdown Lengthens, Backlogs Rise
Before Trump initiated a partial government shutdown, U.S. immigration courts were already experiencing a high number of case backlogs. Now, delays and cancellations due to furloughed judges and court staff have aggravated an already overburdened system. Most immigration judges have been furloughed, with the exception of those presiding over the removal proceedings of detainees. Additionally, court staff like clerks also are furloughed, meaning court document processing and filings have also stopped.
CBS News reports that last week immigration court backlogs reached a record-setting high, with over 800,000 cases pending. This has worsened exponentially over the last four weeks, with thousands of immigrants receiving cancellation notices for long-awaited court dates. The delays could mean waiting months or even years for the opportunity to receive new appointments. For some, the wait could even stretch to 2022. And, unfortunately, the case backlog will likely only grow, possibly surpassing one million.
Lives In Limbo Due To Shutdown
One asylum candidate from Central America has been waiting since early 2017 for a court date. Unfortunately, according to his Houston lawyer, that date has been “indefinitely postponed.” The young man’s court date was supposed to provide him with a social security number to allow him to work and obtain a driver’s license. Now, he may have to wait until 2021 or 2022. This asylum seeker is one of thousands falling victim to an unnecessary shutdown driven by presidential xenophobia.
The Miami Herald reported that Trump’s border wall shutdown has “sowed chaos and confusion into an already swollen immigration courts system.” Continuing, The Herald highlighted the plight of immigrants in Miami who face the crushing reality of delayed court proceedings. Unfortunately, such events affect jobs, families, lives, and futures. One immigrant, in the middle of a five-year fight for reprieve from deportation, stated: “My school is held back. my job is held back. I’m just waiting for the government to reopen so I can continue my life.”
Other Agencies To Consider
While courts obviously serve a critical role for immigrants across the nation, other agencies also serve important roles. Below, we highlight a few relevant government agencies and their current status during the shutdown. For a full list, visit the Catholic Legal Immigration Network for more information.
As a law enforcement agency, ICE continues to operate during partial government shutdowns. That is because the U.S. government considers such agencies essential for the safety of the U.S. and its inhabitants. Those detainees facing removal will also have their court proceedings continue under ICE, though court staffers aren’t receiving pay.
Customs & Border Protection (CBP)
Like ICE, CBP is “essential” as a law enforcement agency. That does not mean, though, that any employees or efforts considered “non-essential” will continue. This means that there may be significant paperwork or processing delays for certain functions of CBP.
U.S. Citizenship And Immigration Services (USCIS)
Luckily, the USCIS is self-funded via application and processing fees. Because of this, anyone who has submitted paperwork or applications to the USCIS can expect their case to move forward without delay. Unfortunately, should the government shutdown continue, it may affect the USCIS’s functions and services.
What Happens If The Shutdown Continues?
Should the shutdown continue, Americans would face consequences – for many, they would be dire. Additionally, a continued shutdown would mean that those agencies that remained open would eventually shutter their doors as well. Davis & Associates continues to monitor the developing situation and will post any updates as they become available.
Worried? Contact An Expert Immigration Attorney
While the government shutdown has undoubtedly disrupted the lives of many across the nation, there is hope. If you have questions or concerns about the current shutdown or any immigration matter, the attorneys at Davis & Associates are ready to help. We currently serve clients in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as well as across Texas.
There is no doubt that immigration court hearing delays, as well as the entire process, can be frustrating and concerning for immigrants and their families. Our expert attorneys work tirelessly to ensure that each client receives top-tier representation and counsel. Contact us today for a free initial consultation – you can discuss your questions and concerns, collaborate with a lawyer, and leave with the knowledge required to move forward.
 Ovalle, D., and Wile, R. (2019, January 12). ‘Their lives are on hold’: Miami’s immigration court grinds to a halt because of shutdown. The Miami Herald. Retrieved from https://www.miamiherald.com