The Shutdown Is Making the Immigration Case Backlog Much, Much Worse

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For a man who’s cast himself as a single issue president, President Donald Trump’s government shutdown over $5 billion in funding for his border wall is really fucking everything up. While the Justice Department has continued court proceedings for detained immigrants under the shutdown, others who have waited years for their day in court may have to wait years longer.

With the country’s longest-ever shutdown now in its fourth week, dozens of immigration courts remain closed nationwide and tens of thousands of hearings have been canceled so far, ABC News reported on Monday. This is a huge problem, considering the nationwide immigration court backlog is already more than 800,000 active cases.

According to a data analysis by Syracuse University, as of this week more than 40,000 hearings have been canceled as a result of the shutdown. The people whose hearings are being canceled may already have been waiting as long as four years for their court date, Syracuse found, while Judge Marks, the former president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told PBS last week that the cases canceled during the shutdown could add another three or four years to the waitlist.


The analysis also shows how much worse things will get if Trump allows the shutdown to last through the end of this month, or even, as the White House Office of Management and Budget has reportedly prepared for, through the end of February. According to Syracuse’s analysis, an estimated 108,000 hearings could be canceled by Feb. 1. And as of March 1 that figure could almost double, resulting in 185,000 hearings canceled since the shutdown began.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst with the undocumented immigrant advocacy nonprofit American Immigration Council, told ABC News that he estimates for every day the government is shutdown, 500 immigration cases go unheard.


“The stress on the immigration court system will only increase as backlogs continue to skyrocket due to the shutdown,” Reichlin-Melnick told the network.

NPR reported earlier this month that these hearing cancelations could mean a wide range of consequences for immigrants—someone who qualifies for a certain status now may not in the future, should immigration policies change yet again, while someone with a delayed case may have more time to qualify for a different status.


However, for many stuck in this political limbo, having a court date canceled after waiting for years is devastating. It’s also the latest proof of how little Trump actually cares about reforming the immigration system over having his mnemonic device come to fruition because he doesn’t want to look like a fool.