Houston, TX (Law Firm Newswire) March 21, 2019 - The government shutdown affected many areas of government, including the shuttering of immigration courts. Roughly 400 immigration judges were furloughed. The 35-day shutdown threw the status of thousands of immigrants into limbo because the courts had yet to decide whether they can stay in the country or be deported.
As a result of the judges being furloughed, there are over 80,000 cases to be rescheduled to attempt to alleviate the backlog, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Furloughed immigration judges are only able to hear cases for immigrants held in detention centers. In other words, they are only able to hear those cases that are deemed to be the most urgent. They cannot hear other cases, which does not help the system backlog.
There are about 385 judges across the United States, including about 15 in the Houston, Texas area, attempting to handle an ever-increasing caseload. An average immigration judge could oversee more than 2,000 cases.
There were approximately over 827,000 open cases prior to the shutdown, including over 51,000 in Houston, and as a result of the shutdown, there are now thousands of new cases adding to the backlog. Hearings scheduled during the shutdown were set on the docket years ago and now hundreds of immigrants that were to appear are facing years of waiting for their turn to come around again.
“It’s not just immigrants [in detention centers] that have been waiting for a hearing,” said respected Huston immigration attorney, Annie Banerjee, “the shutdown has affected those attempting to renew work permits, get a driver’s license or apply for asylum.” The delays, once thought to be tediously long, are now worse. “Texas had the third-most postponed hearings in the United States behind California and New York.”
The irony of a shutdown to ensure border security is not lost on the judges who now face staggering backlogs to keep up with and maintain the caseloads they face. Judges have now been rescheduling cases, some even to 2023. “The system, once confusing, complex and slow, is now even slower,” added Banerjee. “Recovery from the shutdown is going to take a long time. Should there be another one, the system is likely to sustain another major hit.”
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