Government Shutdown May Delay Immigration, Asylum Cases for Years

The government may be back open, but the immigration court system is slow to crawl out of the shutdown, and judges say this only highlights how broken the process has become, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

There are currently about 800,000 immigration cases nationwide, so shifting them all back one month would be an impossibility according to Ashley Tabaddor. The head the National Association of Immigration Judges says migrants in Texas who missed a hearing because of the shutdown are out of luck

"Unless there is something really special going on, the court is likely going to have to put those cases to the back of the line," she says.

And that means a case that was expected to take two years may not take five years or longer.

While some federal agencies were able to throw a switch after the longest government shutdown in history and pick up where they left off, she says the immigration court system is different. All correspondence with the court, which goes by mail, now has to be open and processed by court staff. Judges then have to go through it and weigh arguments before a case could go to court.

She says just simply shuffling everything back one month is not an option, because these hearings are planned years in advance.

"Pull up your own calendar and imagine that every day is booked for the next three years," she says. "You can’t push a magic button and push everything back by one month."

And, she says during the shutdown, the government continued to process new immigration cases, meaning that backlog is getting longer.

At the beginning of the Trump Administration, the Department of Justice had a goal of cutting the immigration court backlog in half by 2020.

"That is what this administration is committed to, getting this done right, ensuring that we're never in this place again," a Justice Department spokesman told the Washington Post in 2017.

But the numbers from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University show that, from inauguration day to the end of July, there was a 38 percent increase in unheard immigration court cases nationwide. Ten states account for the vast majority of the backlog and, of those, Texas saw the least amount of growth at 20 percent.

At the end of July, there were 110,625 cases in Texas waiting to be heard.

But, despite the chaos, Tabaddor writes that there are some people who benefit.

"The only true winners of the shutdown are individuals who have weak immigration claims and would welcome the opportunity for additional time in the U.S., a cruel irony."

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