Immigration Court Chaos Thanks to Shutdown

Protestors in front of 26 Federal Plaza during a 2018 march against the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policies. (Photo by Max Siegelbaum via Documented)

Far from the U.S.-Mexico border, “a new – and real – crisis is brewing in the country’s immigration courts,” writes Felipe de la Hoz in Documented. Visiting the deserted 14th floor at 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan where the immigrant courts are usually buzzing with activity, he writes that the federal government’s partial shutdown has not only effectively shut down immigration proceedings, but also that lawyers and their clients often have no notice of the delays.

The backlog of cases before the nation’s administrative immigration courts has reached over 800,000 cases nationally, according to data maintained by the TRAC project at Syracuse University. As the government shutdown becomes the longest in U.S. history, immigration courts like the ones at 26 Federal Plaza, which are part of a Justice Department section called the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), remain unable to process caseloads of thousands of hearings per day.

Based upon the number of non-detained hearings that had already been scheduled, TRAC estimates that between start of the shutdown on Dec. 22 and Jan. 11, over 5,300 hearings were canceled in New York State. If the shutdown goes on until the end of the month, the number will break 10,000. Hearings for detained immigrants have continued, but according to attorneys representing non-detained clients, hearings are being cancelled without notice and with no word as to when they might be rescheduled.

“It’s not like they sent out notices to the clients who were set to go to court, or the attorneys,” said Jodi Ziesemer, the director of the Immigrant Protection Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group.

Immigration lawyers are also concerned about time-sensitive filings they have been asked to take, and whether those will be properly recorded. And once the courts resume hearing cases, then too, lawyers worry, the chaos will continue – with possibly devastating consequences for immigrants. Write de la Hoz: “If mistakes are made in the initial days back, people could get deported.”

Go to Documented to read more about the multiple ways in which things could go wrong in the coming weeks.

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