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Immigrant children read at an aid center after being released from U.S. government detention in McAllen, Texas. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and ICE, dealing with a surge of asylum seekers, have been releasing recently arrived families, pending immigration court dates, despite continued official

Immigration courts at a standstill during government shutdown


John Moore | Getty Images

Immigrant children read at an aid center after being released from U.S. government detention in McAllen, Texas. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and ICE, dealing with a surge of asylum seekers, have been releasing recently arrived families, pending immigration court dates, despite continued official ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policies.

The prolonged government shutdown in some respects is having the opposite effect President Donald Trump intended when he refused to compromise with Congress over his demand for $5 billion in border wall funding.

With the shutdown is on its 14th day, with no resolution in sight, almost all of the immigration court hearings that were scheduled for the past two weeks will need to be rescheduled for a later date.

For asylum seekers and others hoping to stay in the states, that means the already lengthy process of receiving a decision from a court system that is burdened with an historic backlog of cases will be extended.

Far from the president’s rallying cry of “securing our border,” delaying court hearings puts additional strain on the immigration system, while allowing those who would have been deported to stay in the country for possibly years longer as they await new court dates.

The shutdown “could not have come at a worse time due to this unprecedented backlog,” said Jeremy McKinney, North Carolina immigration lawyer and executive committee member at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Since the Justice Department’s funding ran out on Dec. 22, all of the approximately 400 immigration judges, who adjudicate a backlog of over 800,000 pending cases, have been furloughed.

While court hearings will proceed for immigrants held in detention centers, all other hearings scheduled during the shutdown will be rescheduled, the Executive Office for Immigration Review said in a statement.

The statement did not specify a time-frame for new court dates. When requesting comment for this story, an automated message from the Justice Department said that inquiries “may not be returned until funding is restored.”

The average wait time for immigration court hearings is 718 days, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Courts in San Antonio and Chicago have the longest waits at more than 1,500 days, or over 4 years.



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