fTHE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

‘Catch-up for years’ as backlogged U.S. immigration courts open

The U.S. government shut down is causing backlog at the nation’s immigration courts

The nation’s immigration courts were severely backlogged even before the government shutdown. Now it could take years just to deal with the delays caused by the five-week impasse, attorneys say.

With the shutdown finally over, the courts reopened Monday morning to immigrants seeking asylum or otherwise trying to stave off deportation, and hearings were held for the first time since late December. Court clerks scrambled to deal with boxes and boxes of legal filings that arrived after the doors opened.

Over 86,000 immigration court hearings were cancelled during the standoff, the biggest number in California, followed by Texas and New York, according to an estimate from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. It estimates the courts have more than 800,000 pending cases overall.

The shutdown over President Donald Trump’s demand for funding for a border wall to keep out migrants has only added to the delays in the system, where cases can already take years to be resolved, said Jennifer Williams, deputy attorney in charge of the immigration law unit at Legal Aid in New York City.

“They’re going to be playing catch-up for years,” she said.

The shutdown did not affect hearings for immigrants being held in immigration detention. It also had no bearing on applications for green cards and U.S. citizenship, which are handled by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and are funded by filing fees.

The cancellations were bad news for the many asylum applicants who have been waiting years to win approval so that they can bring loved ones to this country. It could be years before they are given new court dates, immigration attorneys said.

But for those with weak asylum cases, the cancelled hearings could be a good thing, enabling them to keep on living in the U.S. and fend off deportation for now.

A spokeswoman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the part of the Justice Department that oversees the immigration courts, could not immediately say how many hearings were delayed or when they would be rescheduled.

READ MORE: Shutdown projected to cause $3B permanent hit to U.S. economy

Judge Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said: “What is clear is that the cases that were set for trial during shutdown will likely ultimately end up at the end of the line when a new date is picked.”

Getting back to work didn’t come without problems in courts around the country.

In San Antonio, a long-scheduled asylum hearing for a teenager from El Salvador was cancelled because no Spanish-language interpreter was available, said Guillermo Hernandez, the teen’s attorney. The hearing was rescheduled for late April.

“It’s a little bit frustrating because we’re trying to bring these cases to a resolution and move forward, and now we have to fight another day,” Hernandez said.

At an immigration court in San Francisco, attorneys and paralegals carrying large bags, small suitcases or boxes stacked on a dolly waited in line to file documents that in some cases had piled up during the shutdown.

Attorney Sara Izadpanah said six of her clients missed court hearings because of the shutdown and she missed several deadlines to file court documents.

“What happened is pretty serious for a lot of our clients because it could be two or three years before they can get a new court hearing, and by then immigrations law could change,” Izadphana said.

READ MORE: Workers to get paid ‘in the coming days’

Judge Ila C. Deiss walked into the San Francisco courtroom, where about 15 people waited, and announced that there was no Spanish interpreter present but that a bilingual clerk would be able to help if needed.

One of the cases on the docket was that of a Nepalese woman seeking asylum. The judge set the woman’s final hearing for July 2.

The woman’s attorney, Gopal Shah, said they had to scramble to be in court Monday.

“We were not sure a hearing was going to happen today, but we showed up anyway,” Shah said. “She was lucky her case was heard and a court hearing was set for July because judges already have full calendars.”

Deepti Hajela And Olga R. Rodriguez, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Mount Arrowsmith skaters bring Beatlemania to Port Alberni

Biennial winter carnival showcases Port Alberni skaters

Portal Players Looking for love onstage in Port Alberni

Newcomers bring fun Norm Foster play to life for short run

Alberni boys win 20th consecutive Island Wrestling Championships

Alberni District Secondary School boys finished with 69 points

Juno-nominated Indigenous hip-hop duo to play in Port Alberni

Snotty Nose Rez Kids will be at the Kingsway Pub on Saturday, Feb. 23

Coldest Night of the Year event brings attention to plight of the homeless

Port Alberni teams prepare to walk one of three routes and raise funds too

VIDEO: Canada’s flag turns 54 today

The maple leaf design by George Stanley made its first appearance Feb. 15, 1965

B.C. athlete takes home gold in freestyle aerials at Canada Games

Brayden Kuroda won the event with a combined score of 121.65.

Cabinet likely to extend deadline to reconsider Trans Mountain pipeline

New round of consultations with Indigenous communities is coming

B.C. government provides $75,000 towards salmon study

Study looks at abundance and health of Pacific salmon in Gulf of Alaska

Murdered and missing honoured at Stolen Sisters Memorial March in B.C.

‘We come together to make change within the systems in our society’

UBC researchers develop inexpensive tool to test drinking water

The tricoder can test for biological contamination in real-time

Disgraced ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner released from prison

He was convicted of having illicit online contact with a 15-year-old North Carolina girl in 2017

B.C. communities push back against climate change damages campaign

Activists copying California case that was tossed out of court

Most Read