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Shutdown Boosts Immigration Backlogs in Illinois, Minnesota and Elsewhere

— January 17, 2019

A government shutdown is causing thousands of immigration cases and hearings to be canceled or pushed back by years.

President Donald Trump’s partial government shutdown continues to wreak havoc on the nation’s immigration system.

Now in its 26th day, the shutdown has caused the cancelation of more than 1,200 immigration cases in Illinois alone. Across the United States, the figure exceeds 42,000.

According to the Chicago Tribune and an analysis by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, that number will grow enormously if the shutdown drags onward into February or March. Trac CLAIMS that, by the beginning of spring, cancelations in the Windy City could quadruple.

Ironically, the shutdown’s posited as a fight for better border security.

President Trump says he won’t re-open the federal government until Democrats agree to fund a long-promised barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border. While estimates for its construction vary, the commander-in-chief wants at least $5.4 billion.

Border Patrol agents patrol a stretch of desert along the U.S.-Mexico frontier. Image via Pixabay/user:mademoddymad. (CCA-BY-0.0)

Despite lawsuits by federal unions and mounting political pressure, Trump’s vowed to keep the government closed until Congress meets his demands.

In the meantime, Illinois won’t be the only state suffering. The Tribune claims that California—the nation’s most populous state—has canceled close to 10,000 immigration hearings.

With immigration courts already operating under record backlogs, wait times will only get worse. The Minnesota Post reports that migrants in the state wait, on average, three years to get immigration hearings.

Although former Attorney General Jeff Sessions prioritized immigration enforcement, some reforms have contributed to systematic delays.

“The irony of it, of course, is we’re at a time when there’s a lot of political discussion about moving cases through the system and dealing with the backlog,” said Stephen Meili, professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. “Now we have a shutdown, which is just going to exacerbate the backlog.”

The Minnesota Post notes that only a small minority of cases continue to be heard in Bloomington’s immigration court. Generally, the only hearings held during the shutdown concern persons already in detention.

While immigration judges may by stuck at home and federal employees on furlough, lawyers are still filing motions on behalf of their clients.

“Generally you bring them in, you get them stapled and the clerks take them in and put them in the files,” said Margaret Martin, legal program director for the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. “Now, they’re literally getting piled up on a desk because there’s nobody to put them in the client file.”

Nobody in Bloomington’s immigration court is available to take phone calls, says Martin. And, each day the federal government remains closed, ‘undetained’ cases for the following day are procedurally canceled.

“Every day there are more cases being canceled, so every day this goes on, the worse,” Martin said.


Almost 1,200 immigration hearings in Chicago canceled because of government shutdown; backlogs expected to grow

As shutdown continues, thousands of immigration court hearings have been canceled

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