According to the Associated Press, thousands of immigration hearings have been delayed or shelved until 2015 because of the government shutdown in 2013. Nearly 40,000 hearings were affected by that shutdown, meaning immigrants who were waiting for information on their petitions for asylum, green cards or deportation will be forced to wait even longer – some months, some maybe even years.
Because of the enormous backlog in the U.S. court system, many immigrants have already had to wait years to schedule a date for their hearing to find out if they would be deported or allowed to stay in the country. Other immigrants who had petitioned to leave the country for a job or to visit family have seen their cases put on hold because of the shutdown, meaning they were forced to put their personal plans on hold as well.
A Freedom of Information Act request made available an email from Chief Immigration Judge Brian O’Leary to several immigration judges and court administrators, and revealed that there is a major shortage in immigration judges in the U.S. court system, which further delays cases from being resolved. Immigrants who have been affected have had different experiences, however. Those facing deportation likely bought more time in the U.S. with these delays, while immigrants requesting visas, green cards or citizenship rights are left in limbo.
Critics of the current system say the courts are so overburdened that the shutdown only exacerbated the problems faced by immigrants in the U.S. When a judge is absent, or a courthouse is closed due to extreme weather conditions, cases get backlogged and people have to wait to find out their fate. While the courts are running as usual now, supporters of immigrant rights still plan to advocate for a faster judicial process.