The partial shutdown of the U.S. government is leaving hundreds of thousands of immigration cases in limbo indefinitely.
Immigration court judges are hearing cases involving people who are in detention, but leaving many others on hold, said Lauren Alder Reid, the counsel for legislative and public affairs for the Executive Office of Immigration Review, to Fox News Latino.
“All other functions are suspended until we have funding,” Alder Reid said.
Immigration lawyers and advocates speculate that political asylum cases and deportation cases deemed non-urgent could be put off for months if the government shutdown continues much longer, according to The Washington Post.
EOIR said that 18 courts are fully operating, 25 courts are partially opened, and 16 are closed because they hear only non-detained cases.
The services component of immigration, known as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, is continuing to operate because it is funded mainly by user fees.
The Board of Immigration Appeals, which falls under the Justice Department, will continue to handle claims for emergency relief from deportation, said the Post.
Some 350,000 cases are pending before immigration judges, the paper said. Such cases normally take a long time, a year or more, for example, to conclude.
“This is a nightmare. It is already a nightmare, because of the huge backlog in the court system,” said Judy London, a lawyer with the Public Counsel agency in Los Angeles, according to the Post. “When we go into court, we are often told the first available trial date is a year later. This could mean more delays of months, or even another year.”
Officials at the American Immigration Lawyers Association said delays, even those that may not seem too significant, can have a great impact on a political asylum case, said the Post.
“Situations change. Memories fade. Evidence gets lost,” said Greg Chen, advocacy director for the association, according to the Post. “If you have a court date now, and it is kicked off the calendar, it could be a matter of life and death.”