The surge of Central American immigrants that began last summer has resulted in long delays for immigrants with legalization cases working through U.S. immigration courts.
When Maximiano Vazquez-Guevarra, 34, recently won his appeal to become a legal permanent resident, the Mexican national still had to make one final appearance in front of an immigration judge in Denver. But as the Department of Justice (DOJ) prioritized Central American immigrants—primarily comprised on mothers with children and unaccompanied minors– on federal court dockets, Vazquez and others like him who have low-priority cases are facing prolonged delays in the administration of legal processes.
As the influx of Central American immigrants has been especially hard hitting in New York, San Antonio, Los Angeles and Denver, a published report says immigration attorneys in those areas are reporting hearing cancellations. As the Central American immigrants move to the front of the line, “work permits, green cards, asylum claims, and family reunifications hang in the balance,” reads an Associated Press story.
Initially, delayed court dates are being rescheduled for Nov. 29, 2019. While immigration advocates immediately called out the rescheduling date as an excessive delay, a subsequent report says government officials used the November date simply as a temporary fill. “The 2019 date is merely a default temporarily used for thousands of non-priority cases after a flood of unaccompanied minors and adults with children crossed the border last year,” an article in The Los Angeles Times reads. “An agency spokeswoman said the 2019 date will almost certainly change for nearly every person who is scheduled for that day.”
Before July 2014, priority immigration cases only included those where immigrants had been detained. Revised policy now calls for prioritization of unaccompanied minors and families facing deportation status. While reports say the total number of cancelled hearings is currently unknown, pending cases for immigrants who aren’t in detention is greater than 415,000, according to numbers distributed by the Executive Office for Immigration Review—the DOJ’s immigration court oversight body.
Hearing delays can be both helpful and hurtful to immigrants awaiting their day in court and depend on individual situations. In some cases, the fear surrounding delay includes dated evidence, witnesses who disappear, the death of sponsoring relatives and dependent children who become adults. On the flip side, a delay can offer some immigrants the additional time they need to build a stronger case.