While the government shutdown ended on Jan. 25, its impact on immigration courts will be felt for months as the backlog was substantially increased. During the shutdown, scheduled immigration hearings were canceled, which means that those people will now have to potentially wait for months or years to be rescheduled. The immigration court system already had a backlog of cases waiting for hearings for a year or longer before the shutdown. With the shortage of immigration judges, the backlog can now be expected to drag on even longer.
Impact During the Shutdown
President Trump shut down the government in Dec. 2018 because of an impasse between his administration and Congress over funding for his proposed border wall. While Congress had negotiated an agreement that would have provided some funding for the border wall, Trump refused to sign it, leading to the shutdown. The shutdown was the longest in U.S. history, lasting for 35 days and resulting in many vital services, including the immigration courts, to be closed. This meant people whose immigration hearings were scheduled during the shutdown had their hearings canceled since the courts were closed.
Ongoing Impact of the Shutdown
While the government was reopened after the shutdown ended on Jan.25, the impact of the shutdown on the immigration system continues. When hearings are canceled, immigration courts reschedule them to the next available hearing dates. People whose hearings were canceled will effectively be placed at the back of the line and wait for a year or longer. People whose hearings involved deportation proceedings run the risk of getting deported before their new hearings are held. They can request a cancellation of removal if deportation would result in extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen child or spouse.
Other immigrants who were waiting on naturalization hearings may have to wait much longer to become citizens. Some also are waiting on hearings on their petitions for permanent resident status. People who are seeking asylum so they can bring their family members to the U.S. to escape dangerous situations in their home countries face especially perilous situations. The only group that may not see much of a delay are immigrants who are detained because their cases are prioritized over others. People whose cases are relatively weak may benefit from the impact of the shutdown.