Government Shutdown Backlogs Immigration Cases

January 10, 2019

Philadelphia immigration attorneys report that cases are now backlogged due to the shutdown.Individuals applying for their permanent residency or green cards must often wait years for a hearing to be scheduled in front of an immigration judge who will ultimately decide their case. For individuals waiting for immigration hearings, the government shutdown could extend their waiting period by months or even years.

Effects of the Government Shutdown

The partial government shutdown, which began December 22, 2018, has resulted in the closure of many immigration courts. According to a memorandum issued by the Executive Office of Immigration Review, all hearings for non-detained individuals scheduled at a Department of Justice immigration court have been indefinitely cancelled. Immigration courts in New York, San Francisco, Newark, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia have all shut down. These court closures mean thousands of scheduled immigration hearings have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed. In immigrant detention centers, a smaller number of cases involving detained individuals will continue to be heard, although court staff at the detention centers are working without pay during the shutdown.

Preparing for an immigration hearing can be costly for individuals who need to retain legal counsel, hire expert witnesses, and cover the travel costs of witnesses. Many of the cancelled hearings involve significant immigration issues, including those related to final asylum and deportation. Postponement of these hearings result in additional expenses for many immigrants who need these resources to win their immigration cases.

Delays in immigration hearings also take an emotional toll on individuals whose future in the country remains uncertain. Many individuals have waited years to finally get a scheduled hearing date. Hearing dates are often scheduled for months or years in advance. The stresses associated with delaying immigration hearings affect entire families whose legal status remains in the balance during this time.

Backlog of Immigration Cases Growing

Even prior to the partial government shutdown, the immigration court system has been dealing with an excessive backlog of over 800,000 cases. This is the highest backlog of cases in immigration court system history. The backlog has increased by 49 percent since the January 2017 inauguration of President Trump. Representatives from the National Association of Immigration Judges fear the time required to reschedule the postponed immigration hearings will only add to the unacceptable backlog of cases facing each court. According to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the average wait for an immigration court hearing exceeds 485 days.

With such an excessive backlog of pending cases, immigration judges face extreme pressure to quickly make decisions. Without adequate time to thoroughly consider the unique facts of each immigration case, the job of the immigration judge becomes much more difficult. The average docket for an immigration judge consists of between 2,000 and 4,000 cases. Typically, an immigration judge hears a dozen cases at a time.

The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS), which handles naturalization and citizenship issues, has not been affected by the government shutdown. USCIS, unlike the immigration court system, is a fee-based agency, which will continue to operate during the shutdown.

Philadelphia Immigration Attorneys at the Law Offices of MC Law Group, LLC Handle Immigration Issues

If you or a loved one needs assistance with an immigration matter, the experienced Philadelphia immigration attorneys at the Law Offices of MC Law Group, LLC are here to assist you. With offices conveniently located in Philadelphia, we handle visa applications and appeals, asylum petitions, and deportation cases throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the entire tri-state area. To schedule a free consultation today, call us at 215-496-0690 or contact us online.