During the recent government shutdown, federal departments and offices across the U.S. were affected. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees went without pay during the longest government shutdown in history. Not only that, but the shutdown also affected many services and offices. National parks faced vandalism and a torrent of waste because there weren’t employees available to keep managing the parks. Routine food safety inspections ground to a halt as the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) was closed. Essentially, if a federal department was affected by the shutdown, you can imagine that they now face a backlog of work to catch up on — and yes, that includes immigration cases that were scheduled months ago.
Immigration court hearings are necessary for a wide range of different immigration cases. Whether it’s a Green Card applicant or a deportation hearing, any applicant will have to go before an immigration judge before changes occur to any immigration status. If your immigration case was canceled because of the government shutdown, here’s what you should know:
The immigration courts didn’t completely stop hearing cases during the shutdown. They did, however, reduce their numbers down to hearing a mere 5 percent of scheduled cases, simply because that’s all they had the staff to handle. During the shutdown, only detained cases were being heard, which means tens of thousands of scheduled cases had to be canceled. Even then, there wasn’t enough staff working through the shutdown to keep the backlog of numbers down.
The shutdown served as a sort of “double-whammy” to immigration courts. Not only did they have to cancel more than 40,000 scheduled hearings — though it’s estimated that the number may be closer to 60,000 or 80,000 given the length of the shutdown — but immigration courts also face a backlog of more than 800,000 cases that had built up before the shutdown began. The sheer volume of cases means that some are waiting as long as three years from now for their case to be heard. Immigration cases are scheduled out as far as 2022 already, and that was before the shutdown caused a further spike in immigration cases that need to schedule court time. For many, this is incredibly frustrating because they have already been waiting years for this court date to come.
What To Do About Canceled Hearings
If you or a loved one had an immigration hearing that was scheduled during the shutdown, try not to panic. The cases are not being canceled entirely, and this change does not mean you should fear deportation — assuming that you are following the requirements/restrictions of your immigrant visa, of course. If an immigration hearing was canceled during the shutdown, it will be rescheduled.
While it may not feel like it right now, thanks to the major frustration over so many cases being canceled after such a long wait, a canceled immigration hearing may be a blessing in disguise! Those canceled cases will be added back to the backlog and rescheduled. Yes, that means waiting even longer. But also remember, that means additional time you can use to build up solid support for your immigration case. If your immigration hearing was canceled, this is the ideal time to begin working with an immigration lawyer!
Improving Your Immigration Case
Whether you are applying for asylum or seeking naturalization, any immigration hearing is going to rely on having sufficient supporting information for your case. The additional time means you can work with an immigration lawyer and collect the information you need to build a stronger case.
The other potential upside comes in the form of something that only time can provide. A delay in your immigration hearing may also mean qualifying for another form of immigration status. This is especially optimistic for those who don’t currently have a strong claim for status. Time, along with the help of an immigration lawyer who knows the system well, can potentially open up different options to qualify for immigration that may not have been available based on current time in country or other factors. Maybe seeking asylum isn’t the best option, but the additional time may give you the option to apply for a Green Card or another form of visa. Working with an immigration lawyer is the best way to explore all of the options available based on your specific situation.
If you have questions about your immigration hearing or any other immigration services, work with an experienced team. Connect with the Law Office of Diron Rutty, LLC in the Bronx and across New York City to work with a knowledgeable immigration lawyer!