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

Maglio Building Centre sold to RONA

The stores in Nelson and Trail will remain open

Nelson singing teacher leads Bigby Place in song

“It was a lovely afternoon with them,” says Kathleen Neudorf

NELSON BUSINESS BUZZ: Baby, you’ve come a long way

Judy Banfield has sold Mountain Baby, and other business news from Bob Hall

The Hillties throwing launch party for new single

The Nelson band will debut “Moving On” on March 2

National Energy Board approves Trans Mountain pipeline again

Next step includes cabinet voting on the controversial expansion

Sledder dies near Fernie

Fernie Search and Rescue was tasked by the RCMP to respond to a sledder in medical distress

Girl heard saying ‘Help my Dad’ in suspicious radio message on Vancouver Island

Police asking for help following mysterious signals from somewhere between Comox and Sayward

Reports of rashes prompt closure of all Harrison Hot Springs pools

Public pool available after Fraser Health shut down all five mineral pools until further notice

No treatment for highly infectious measles, says doctor

10 cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver as of Friday

Two more measles cases confirmed in Vancouver

It brings the number of total cases within the city connected to the outbreak to ten

B.C. Special Olympics officially underway in Vernon

Athlete’s Oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Vancouver Aquarium wants your help to name a baby killer whale

The public helped name Springer’s first calf, Spirit, and is being asked to help with the second

Guards protest firing of fellow officers charged with assault at B.C. prison

Corrections officers demonstrated in Maple Ridge on Friday afternoon

Most Read