Local immigration courts impacted by government shutdown

Cases were backlogged before the impasse
Updated: Jan. 17, 2019 at 7:02 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - President Donald Trump remains a harsh critic of U.S. laws that allow illegal immigrants to be released into society while their asylum petitions take years to wade through the courts. But local immigration law experts say the partial government shutdown is making the already backlogged legal system worse.

A sign posted on the door of the federal Immigration Court in New Orleans informs the public that the court is shuttered due to the government shutdown. The closure affects court proceedings for immigrants who are not being detained.

"That means they already had cases set for merit hearings, which means trial scheduled during this period, and they're going to lose that date, and probably the cases will be rescheduled to three, four years from now,” said Prof. Hiroko Kusuda, Director of Immigration Law at Loyola University’s College of Law.

Others involved in the immigration legal system agree.

"The immigration courts already had 800,000 cases on their dockets, so people were waiting years to have their day in court, and this is just making it a much worse situation,” said Prof. Laila Hlass, an immigration law expert at Tulane University.

Kusuda said it did not take long for the impact of the shutdown to become event.

"As of January 11, over 600 cases were canceled before Louisiana, actually New Orleans Courts,” stated Kusuda.

She believes that number could reach over 3,000 by March if the shutdown continues.

The federal government was partially shutdown because of a standoff between President Trump and congressional Democrats over funding for a border barrier that the president insists the nation needs for security reasons.

Trump defended his position during a speech in New Orleans earlier this week.

"Somebody comes into our country, they touch one foot on the ground, and we have to catch them. It's called catch. We then take their names and we bring them to a court. Can you believe this? And we release them,” stated Trump.

Hlass said the impact of the shutdown works against the president’s goal of having fewer undocumented immigrants released into communities.

"The shutdown is completely contrary to what the president has been talking about. If he wants the immigration courts to be working, if he wants the immigration judges to be able to decide whether people can stay, or if they have to go then he needs to reopen the courts, he needs to reopen the government,” Prof. Hlass stated.

"Nobody wants the shutdown and the shutdown does have consequences,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.

Kennedy said he supports more border security, including a wall or steel barrier.

"You cannot seal a 1,900-mile border without using a barrier, at least in part, and you can write that down and take it home to mama, it's a fact,” Kennedy told reporters from his home state during a conference call.

Immigration lawyers said when cases are delayed for long periods of time evidence immigrants may want to present could be weakened.

Kusuda said some immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children could be adults by the time their cases are heard.

"We don’t know if they’re going to be available for years down the road which is very difficult for us to represent people,” stated Kusuda.

Hlass said even without a government shutdown legal resources are strained.

"In New Orleans, we have three immigration judges, and again they have huge backlogs,” said Hlass.

Kusuda said the federal government has a stake in having the immigration courts operating.

"For our clients, justice delayed is justice denied. Basically, they deserve to have a day in court to make their case and for the government side, also it’s in their best interest to go forward, so they can remove people who are not deserving of being in the United States,” she said.

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