The shutdown of the federal government that took effect on December 26th has caused the cancellation of an estimated 42,726 immigration court hearings to date. It has been estimated by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, an agency which tracks data regarding immigration cases, that this number will increase by approximately 20,000 for every week the shutdown remains in place.
This number was verified by Immigration Judge Ashley Tabaddor, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges who recently spoke to CNN. However, CNN was not able to verify the estimated number of cancellations. The report and estimate provided by Syracuse University were based on an analysis of immigration court records.
Most immigration courts throughout the nation are closed, meaning immigration judges, who are employees of the Department of Justice, Executive Office of the Immigration Judge, as well as and federal prosecutors, who are employed by the Department of Homeland Security, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of the Chief Counsel, are out of work on an extended furlough. In addition to the immigration judges and prosecutors, thousands of file clerks, paralegals, receptionists, immigration court interpreters and custodians are all furloughed. Last week all these employees failed to receive their bi-weekly paycheck for the previous two-week cycle. With no end in sight due to the political standoff, many federal employees are beginning to grow concerned with their financial situation, which grows increasingly more difficult each day.
The only immigration cases currently being heard are taking place at immigration detained facilities, such as KROME Processing Center in Miami, Florida and the immigration detention facility located at Varick Street in New York City. It is unclear if these judges and prosecutors are being paid or if they, like the TSA officers at the airports, are working without pay.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, commonly known as USCIS, remains open and continues to process applications as well as conduct interviews including applications for political asylum, withholding of removal and protection pursuant to The Convention Against Torture (CAT). Petitions and interviews for marriage and family-based petitions continue to be scheduled and heard as well as applications for citizenship. The reason USCIS can remain open is since they are a fee-based organization, deriving their earnings and income from immigration filing fees.
The current case load at immigration courts around the country are already backlogged and extremely overloaded. In New York City, the waiting time for an individual hearing date, following the initial master calendar hearing has an average of 2-3 years wait. This was before the shutdown and now there is no telling how this interruption will affect these cases and the cases that were canceled.
According to the report, the state with the highest number of cancelled immigration hearings was California. New York and Texas are running behind in second and third place. The government shutdown is the longest in the history of the United States. Today, the shutdown has reached a record breaking 25th day.
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