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Government shutdown created a backlog in immigration courts

Everyone understands that differing views on immigration policy between the president and the Democratic Congressmen and Congresswomen are at the heart of the partial shutdown. Now the government is reopening after more than a month, which will add a tremendous backlog of business to attend to by furloughed government workers. This includes judges who handle immigration hearings.

Immigration in California further crippled by shutdown

As of January 24, the estimated number of cancellations has reached over 42,000. According to local news, more than 9,000 hearings have been cancelled here in California, which is nearly twice the rate of any other state. California also had the largest backlog of cases before the partial shutdown with 140,000 individuals and their families waiting to find out their fate.

Needless to say, the government shutdown has been a tremendous burden to all furloughed departments. However, the country’s overburdened system of immigration courts has been hit particularly hard, leaving many immigrants in emotional and legal limbo.

"Because we are so backlogged and short-staffed, the calendars are jam-packed and basically full for the next two to three years," Dana Leigh Marks, one of 20 immigration judges in San Francisco, and a past president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told a reporter for National Public Radio affiliate KQED.

What does it mean?

Only those cases involving immigrants in detention were handled during the shutdown, so those whose hearings were cancelled will literally go to the back of the line. The delays do not only mean a longer wait, extending the wait to hear a case means it is harder to get and keep in touch with corroborating witnesses. It also means that paperwork is more likely to get lost.

Conversely, according to that KQED story, those with cases that are not as strong will get more time to strengthen their claims by working with a knowledgeable immigration attorney who understands the process and can keep the case moving forward. Those with questions or concerns about how the shutdown affects their case should contact an immigration attorney as soon as possible.

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  • American Immigration Lawyers Association
  • State Bar of California | California Board of Legal Specialization
  • Avvo
  • Orange County Bar Association
  • Irvine Chamber