Last year’s government shutdown has affected many different areas, including the field of immigration. Over 37,000 immigration hearings have been delayed by months or even years leaving many immigrants feeling anxious. About 70% of immigration hearings were put on hold. Unfortunately, many of these hearings have been delayed to later this year and some will be pushed well in to 2015.
The shutdown has had both a positive and negative effect on illegal immigrants waiting for their cases to be heard. Those who have strong cases for citizenship have to deal with uncertainty and an even longer wait. However, those with weaker cases who are likely to be deported have the opportunity to stay a little longer.
Many of the immigrants affected had already waited for years to be assigned a hearing date from the already slow and backlogged immigration courts. According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, 360,000 immigration cases have been pending for about 573 days, on average.
While courts are now up and running, immigrants who hoped to have their cases resolved by Oct. 2013 have now had to put their travel and work plans on hold. This situation is particularly difficult for those who left families in dangerous situations back home and have to wait to bring their relatives to the U.S. until their cases get resolved.
Immigration judges can grant relief or asylum, as well as deport someone for breaking US immigration law. Judges are worried about how the system will be able to handle these cases on top of everything else, but they are aware that the backlog would have been an issue regardless of the shutdown. Immigrants in Louisiana who are waiting for their hearings are doing their best to be patient as they get one step closer to citizenship.
Source: News on 6, “AP Exclusive: Shutdown hurt 37,000 cases,” Amy Taxin, Feb. 23, 2014