SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The government shutdown may be over, but the headache is just beginning for immigration courts. They now have to play catch up with hundreds of cases in Utah that were canceled during the 35-day shutdown.
Immigration lawyer Jennifer Ha had to be the bearer of bad news for two of her clients last week when she received notification that the interviews they had been waiting on for 11 months were canceled.
“Even on cases that are through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which are funded by user fees that are not supposed to be impacted, we still see that they are being affected,” said Ha. “I think part of it is because they’re not being able to get through the FBI background checks because those agents were being furloughed.”
She said scheduled immigration court hearings were already backed up because of a shortage of judges and with the shutdown canceling nearly 500 cases in the state, it could take anywhere between six months to a year to catch up.
“It puts us in a horrible position. In the past, we could take on a case and say, ‘the anticipated wait time is 10 months. At the next step, you’ll get this interview.’ But now, we have no predictability for our clients,” she said. “The emergency and bond hearings are still happening, but it’s very slow ’cause you’ve got judges who are working without pay. Nobody wants to be working without pay.”
Ha said Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have been patrolling court records, picking up people, and detaining them at the Salt Lake County Jail.
“Before, we would be able to have them have hearings here. But I just saw on the list serve this morning that they’re shipping people to the ICE detention center in Aurora, Colorado,” said Ha.
Although federal employees headed back to work on Monday, calls made by ABC4 News to the Executive Office of Immigration were not answered. Ha said immigration attorneys have been unable to reach officials to check on their clients’ status.
“It’s very traumatic for them, primarily because there’s no closure. Imagine yourself living in limbo. You don’t know if you should go back. You don’t know if you’re able to stay here. They’re constantly in fear of getting arrested again,” said Ha.