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

Warning issued after several overdoses in Castlegar

Interior Health says the overdoses appear to be the result of cocaine contaminated with fentanyl.

Kootenay-Columbia candidates attend Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce 2019 election forum

About 120 people attended the Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce 2019 election forum on Oct. 16 at the Prince Charles Theatre.

Green and NDP candidates talk strategic voting at Nelson public meeting

Wayne Stetski and Abra Brynne traded ideas but made no concessions for this election

Annual Windermere Fire Halloween Haunted House bigger than ever

Less scares earlier; more scares later at annual haunted house

Kootenay-Columbia candidate cautious after getting threats

Trev Miller of the Animal Protection Party carries on campaigning under shadow of threats, abusive emails

Alcohol a possible factor in crash that killed 17-year-old girl near Williams Lake

A pickup truck left the road and rolled over on Highway 20 on the weekend

Rare bird spotted in Victoria draws enthusiasts from across the continent

It’s the first time a yellow-browed warbler has been reported on the mainland of North America

B.C. woman must pay $1,000 after unleashed dog bites another

Owner should never have left Bibi unattended, tribunal member wrote

Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s mural defaced in Edmonton

The eyes on the portrait were blacked out

Report suggests new BC Ferries terminal near YVR

Metro Vancouver currently has two ferry terminals at northern and southern reaches

B.C. scouting group’s tent destroyed by black bear on Thanksgiving

The Richmond-based Sea Dragon Sea Scouts were camping at Mount Seymour Provincial Park

Greta Thunberg meets with First Nations chief in Fort McMurray

Thunberg has turned her protest against climate change into a global movement

Most Read