By now, everyone knows that the U.S. Federal Government is on shutdown. In the world of immigration, it breaks down like this: USCIS is open for interviews (they are fee-based and not reliant on the budget for their funding); the Immigration Courts are accepting filings, but only holding hearings for detained individuals, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement appears to be operating as normal. There are other agencies involved in immigration matters, though, that are working at a much-reduced level. For example, the FBI is not able to process background checks and the Department of Labor has put a freeze on certain types of employment-based immigration filings. It truly is a ripple-effect where one thing impacts another and impacts another and it keeps going.
But what does this mean for individuals? I’d like to talk about a few clients – anonymously of course – and how the government shutdown is making their lives extraordinarily difficult.
One gentleman is scheduled to receive a decision on his asylum application this upcoming Friday. He doesn’t live in Atlanta, so he needs to make travel plans to be here for the hearing with the Immigration Judge. If the government remains shut down, his hearing will certainly be rescheduled. However, if the government reopens at midnight on Friday, he will be expected to be in Atlanta at 9 am to receive the decision.
We have another client who wants to file for asylum, but she is half-way in removal proceedings. What has happened is that a Notice to Appear – the charging document that starts removal proceedings – has been created by ICE, but it has not been filed with the court. Once it’s filed with the court, she loses her ability to fight for asylum with the asylum office and will instead have to fight in front of an Immigration Judge. We don’t know if our asylum application will make it to the asylum office before the Notice to Appear makes it down the hallway in Atlanta to the Immigration Court for filing. It could greatly reduce her chances for approval if we have to go before an Immigration Judge. If the government stays shut down, it’s very possible that we can get her case where we want it and give her the best opportunity to fight to stay in the United States.
These are just two examples of how the government shutdown is impacting lives. The immigration system is already a roller-coaster of emotions. It’s a flawed system that can be unpredictable and subject to whims of officers, adjudicators, and judges. With the shutdown, though, a new level of unpredictability has been added. Attorneys cannot adequately advise our clients. We cannot tell them when cases will be heard or decided. We can’t strategize to the best of our abilities because we simply don’t know when the government will be functioning again. Until all agencies and offices are open for business, our clients suffer. Everyone suffers.