Government Shutdowns and Backlog Increasing

President Donald Trump has refused to sign government funding legislation that does not include $5 billion for a wall between Mexico and the U.S. This resulted in a government shutdown, which in turn has resulted in the closure of a number of immigration courts handling immigration cases.

Apart from immigration courts, many other services have been disrupted by the government shutdown. Food inspections and airport securities are some of the other services that have been affected by the shutdown. Around 380,000 federal government employees, which includes approximately 400 immigration judges are now furloughed. They will not be receiving their paychecks during the shutdown.

Furloughed immigration judges can only hear cases for immigrants held in detention centers, which are deemed most urgent. They cannot hear the other cases. More than 40,000 immigration hearings have been postponed due to the shutdown, as of January 11, 2019. According to the data from Syracuse University, more than 100,000 cases might have to be rescheduled if the shutdown continues.

There are already more than 800,000 open cases. The shutdown has now resulted in adding thousands of new cases to the backlog. Hearings for those cases were scheduled years ago. Many of the immigrants who were supposed to appear for hearings will now have to wait for years to appear for a hearing. Even if the courts reopen tomorrow, immigration judges can only start hearing new cases scheduled for tomorrow as they have their calendars booked in advance. They will have to reschedule cases that were supposed to be heard during the shutdown.

This does not only burden the court but also the immigrants who have been waiting for years for a hearing. Likewise, immigrants applying for asylum, those trying to renew their work permit or get a driver’s license will face delays.

According to Amiena Khan, an immigration judge, immigration judges face a heavy backlog with the current caseload. Khan said, “It is extremely frustrating. There is a tremendous amount of irony to all of this. As the government is shut down for this process to ensure greater border security, look at what it’s doing to our system as a whole.”

A dispute over the border-wall funding resulted in the government shutdown. The shutdown has resulted in a massive backlog in the U.S. court system. With several immigration cases pending, the shutdown has put the status of many immigrants in limbo because the courts are yet to decide whether they can stay in the U.S. or if they will be deported.