Federal Government Shutdown Could More Than Double Wait Time for Immigration Cases

January 12, 2019, 12:18 AM UTC

The United States immigration courts are overburdened. Roughly 800,000 cases are portioned out between around 400 immigration judges, according to PBS NewsHour. And with the federal government shutdown continuing into its third week, applicants who have already waited years for their court date may now be shuttled to the back of the line, their hearings rescheduled as late as the 2022. This directly effects people’s everyday lives, as immigration status impacts basics such as the ability to get a work permit.

Focus on immigration enforcement under the Department of Homeland Security may be up, but the immigration courts, which fall under the Department of Justice, have not been given much attention despite the record-high demand for hearings that has been growing over the past decade. Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president emeritus of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told NewsHour the effects of the shutdown are having a “devastating impact.” San Francisco-based Judge Marks says that her own caseload of nearly 4,000 dockets includes cases that are already several years old. With no scheduling slots available, she says those cases may be reset to another date several years in the future.

Non-detained immigrants make up about 90% of judges’ caseloads, and those cases can end up involving anything from asylum decisions to deportations. The other 10% of cases, those for immigrants who are detained by immigration officials, are the only ones that can be processed during the shutdown. And that’s why the vast majority of those waiting for a hearing will simply be moved to the back of the line again.

The effects of the record-long government shutdown are also touching the lives of everyone from private-sector contractors to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents and travelers. And if the shutdown continues for another two weeks, its cost to the economy will surpass $5.7 billion, the amount it would cost to build President Trump’s border wall.