The recent government shutdown threw an untold number of individuals into a state of uncertainty regarding their previously-scheduled immigration court dates. Despite the reopening, many are still dealing with constant confusion and chaos. On a recent Thursday, immigrants across Louisiana and the rest of the country showed up for what they thought were legitimately scheduled court dates only to discover something extremely upsetting upon their arrival — their immigration court dates never existed in the first place.
Officials with ICE allegedly issued thousands of court summons for Jan. 31, 2019. When issuing the Notice to Appear documents, officials told immigrants that if they did not appear on the specified date they would risk being permanently removed from the United States. It is not clear what reasons these officials gave when serving the documents.
Fearing deportation, immigrants across the U.S. took time off work, spent money on travel and stood in long lines for hours in tightly packed courthouses for nonexistent court dates. One out-of-state woman had to leave at 3:30 a.m. and spend $100 on travel just to make it to her hearing, which never existed in the first place. Records indicate that not only was she not scheduled for a hearing, but her case still had not even been put into the system. In some areas, people traveled upwards of eight hours just to make it to the court house.
This chaos stemmed from a ruling that ICE officials could no longer issue Notice to Appear Documents without a date. The ruling was intended to prevent the agency from using these documents to affect some immigrants’ eligibility to gain legal status. No longer able to issue these documents without a date and without access to the court’s scheduling system, ICE apparently slapped on the fake date and went on with the practice.
Receiving any type of court document can be concerning for those who are going through the immigration process. This is particularly the case when immigrants are threatened with deportation if they do not comply. For this reason, some people choose to work closely with Louisiana attorneys who are experienced in immigration law and can uphold their rights during these periods of confusion.