migrants us-mexico border
Associated Press/Ramon Espinosa


  • The ongoing government shutdown has had a “devastating impact” on the immigration system, resulting in more than 42,000 court hearings being cancelled over the last four weeks.
  • Federal judges say these canceled hearings will take years to reschedule. America’s asylum system is already backlogged by more than 800,000 cases.
  • If the shutdown continues through the end of January, more than 100,000 cases will have to be rescheduled, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

The government shutdown — sparked by a dispute over border-wall funding — reached its 25th day on Tuesday, leaving a massive and rapidly growing backlog in the court system that determines whether immigrants can stay in the United States or face deportation.

An estimated 380,000 federal employees are furloughed, meaning they are barred from going to work and are not receiving paychecks during the shutdown. The furloughed employees include the roughly 400 immigration judges across the country who are permitted to hear cases only for immigrants held in detention centers, which the government deems most urgent.

As of January 11, 42,726 immigration hearings had been canceled because of the shutdown, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

TRAC’s data show that the shutdown has effectively added tens of thousands of cases back onto a court backlog of more than 800,000 cases that are already open. Since those hearings are scheduled years in advance, many of the immigrants who were due for appearances within the last four weeks won’t see a judge for years to come.

That’s a major problem for an already overburdened asylum system that grows more strained each day, Judge Dana Leigh Marks told PBS NewsHour last week.

donald trump
President Donald Trump. Associated Press/Jon Elswick


Judges such as Marks already have dockets filled with up to 4,000 pending cases. If the shutdown continues through the end of January, more than 100,000 cases will have to be rescheduled, according to TRAC.

“It’s been a devastating impact to have our immigration courts shut down,” Marks said. “Many of the cases that are being canceled for the shutdown have been on my docket already for two or three or four years, and now I have no time in the foreseeable future to reset them. It could be another three or four years before those people can expect hearings on their cases.”

The likelihood of a drawn-out shutdown appears high as President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders have not gotten anywhere close to a deal to reopen the government. The president has threatened to keep the government closed for “months or even years.”

Immigration judges have said that despite Trump’s desire to resolve what he sees as a border “crisis,” the government shutdown has thrown the asylum system into chaos, likely dooming some immigrants’ hopes of receiving asylum and delaying others’ deportations.

“It’s quite ironic to shut down the immigration courts because of the differences on immigration,” Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told NPR.

The shutdown kicked off in December after Trump suddenly reversed course and refused to sign any government-funding legislation that did not include $5 billion for a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Since then, Trump has repeatedly been unwilling to back down from his demand for wall funding, while Democrats repeatedly refused to acquiesce. The president even went so far as to threaten to declare a national emergency to gain access to the funds, bypassing Congress, but backed down from those threats recently.

Immigration courts are just one of the many services being disrupted by the shutdown. Airport security, food inspections, and US economic growth have all been affected by the lapse in federal funding.

As reported by Business Insider