Im­mi­grants show­ing up to closed courts dur­ing shut­down

The Fresno Bee - - Stay Connected - BY KATE MORRISSEY

Though the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down over Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s quest for a “bor­der wall” has gone on for weeks, clos­ing most im­mi­gra­tion courts among other fed­eral ser­vices, many im­mi­grants still showed up for hear­ings this week.

Those hear­ings are post­poned in­def­i­nitely. Once the court re­opens, it will send out new dates for them to ap­pear in court. Those hear­ings are likely to be months or even years into the fu­ture be­cause of how many cases are al­ready pend­ing and judges’ sched­ules are al­ready tightly packed.

In the mean­time, judges, their clerks and gov­ern­ment at­tor­neys go with­out pay­checks, and the court back­log con­tin­ues to grow.

Ash­ley Ne­grette, an im­mi­gra­tion at­tor­ney in San Diego, has a client who came from Mex­ico in late 2016 and ap­plied for asy­lum. Her first in­di­vid­ual hear­ing, where the judge would hear the facts in her case to make a de­ci­sion, was orig­i­nally sched­uled for June 2018 and then resched­uled by the court for this week. Now it’s go­ing to be bumped again.

“Luck­ily, my client is pa­tient and un­der­stands that she has to ‘wait her turn,’ but these de­lays un­de­ni­ably cause hard­ship for her – emo­tion­ally and fi­nan­cially,” Ne­grette said.

The up­side to the court clo­sure, said im­mi­gra­tion at­tor­ney Kirsten Zit­t­lau, is that for clients who may even­tu­ally go on to lose their cases, the de­lay will buy them a lit­tle more time in the U.S.

The down­side is that for some who have good chances of win­ning their cases if they’re heard now, wit­nesses’ mem­o­ries may fade or con­di­tions may change in the coun­try they fled.

Im­mi­grants who don’t have at­tor­neys of­ten don’t know that the courts are closed. Oth­ers know that hear­ings are can­celed, but they come any­way out of anx­i­ety that some­how they will still be de­ported if they don’t.

Liza De­larea took Thurs­day off work to ac­com­pany her friend, who is orig­i­nally from the Philip­pines, to im­mi­gra­tion court in down­town San Diego.

“We knew it was closed, but we had to make sure it was closed,” De­larea said. “If she doesn’t come to court, it’s go­ing to be on her, not them.”

De­larea took a pic­ture of her friend in front of the court’s closed sign be­fore they left as proof that she had been there.

Sa­man Nasseri, an at­tor­ney who spe­cial­izes in im­mi­gra­tion and crim­i­nal de­fense, also came to take a photo of the court’s closed sign to send to his clients. He hoped the vis­ual would ease some of their fears.

“They don’t un­der­stand what it means that the gov­ern­ment is shut down,” Nasseri said. “It’s been a lit­tle bit of a night­mare.”

He’s had six hear­ings can­celed and has four tri­als com­ing up in the next two weeks, he said.

Mean­while, at Otay Mesa De­ten­tion Cen­ter, in court­room five, Judge Scott Simp­son briskly worked through more than a dozen cases on Tues­day af­ter­noon. While those who have been al­lowed to re­main free while their cases progress will have their hear­ings resched­uled months or even years into the fu­ture, court con­tin­ues for those held in im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion cen­ters.

As with other fed­eral em­ploy­ees still show­ing up to do their jobs in af­fected agen­cies in re­cent weeks, Simp­son won’t be paid dur­ing the shut­down.

Whether they’re fur­loughed or work­ing with­out pay, the shut­down is frus­trat­ing for im­mi­gra­tion judges, ac­cord­ing to Ash­ley Tabad­dor, head of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Im­mi­gra­tion Judges. They’ve al­ready been un­der pres­sure to push through the back­log of cases, and the shut­down is only adding to the bot­tle­neck.

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