Immigrants showing up to closed courts during shutdown
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.