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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Revamped Oak Bay Volunteer Services in need of donations, volunteers

Non-profit stares down challenge of helping seniors amid COVID-19 crisis

Sidney event marking end of the Second World War cancelled because of COVID-19

Town Crier Kenny Podmore plans to mark the occasion with a Proclamation of Peace

Excess activity damaging Saanich golf course – despite being closed

Cedar Hill Golf Course manager reminds people of the 170 parks available in Saanich

UVic Vikes new basketball coach on the fast track

At 26, Shalie Dheensaw assumed head coaching role

Sex workers face new risks during COVID-19 pandemic

‘Desperation has kicked in’ for vulnerable, undocumented workers unable to access help

VIDEO: ‘Used gloves and masks go in the garbage,’ says irked B.C. mayor

Health officials have said single-use gloves won’t do much to curb the spread of COVID-19

Unclear if Cowichan couple refusing to self-isolate will face penalty

No fines or charges have been laid to date, including Cowichan couple who won’t self isolate

POLL: Will you be able to make your rent or mortgage payment this month?

With the COVID-19 delivering a devastating blow to the global economy, and… Continue reading

COVID-19: Postponed surgeries will be done, B.C. health minister says

Contract with private surgical clinic to help clear backlog

Black Press Media ad sparks discussion about value of community newspapers

White Rock resident hopes front-page note shines light on revenue loss during COVID-19 crisis

Nanaimo man arrested after allegedly setting house fire

Firefighters arrived to find mobile home ablaze on Barnes Road in Cedar on Thursday

Businesses advised to prepare for federal, B.C. COVID-19 assistance

Canada Revenue Agency portal expected to open next week

Dogs are property, not kids, B.C. judge tells former couple

Court decision made on competing lawsuits over Zeus and Aurora — a pit bull and pit bull cross

B.C. senior gives blood for 200th time, has ‘saved’ 600 lives

There was no cutting of cake for Harvey Rempel but he’s challenging youth to start donating blood

Most Read