Nationally, about 43,000 immigration court hearings have been canceled as a result of the federal government shutdown. It’s estimated that 20,000 more will be nixed every week from here on out as long as the political standoff over a border wall continues. Here in New Mexico, immigration lawyers and their clients are feeling the effects.
The system was already backlogged before the shutdown began in December. Arifa Raza is a supervising attorney at the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center. She said her clients have had hearings these last weeks where they’re are required to appear, but they can’t, because the immigration court is closed. The uncertainty is wearing on them, she said.
"So they’re arranging time off, they’re arranging child care, arranging travel," Raza said. "But then also they’re having to deal with the emotional and psychological costs of not knowing when they’ll actually be heard by the immigration judge."
Some of the hearings are re-scheduled for between one and five months from now. So far, asylum hearings haven’t come up at the center during the shutdown, but Raza assumes those would be rescheduled as well.
People who are detained are still having their cases and hearings move forward as planned. "We’re working as if the government is open, so we’re meeting all our deadlines, we’re working with our clients," Raza said. "We’re foreseeing that once it reopens, things might get a little big more backlogged. It’s just not knowing is a little frustrating."
The shutdown is hitting immigrants who don’t have attorneys especially hard, because it’s a difficult to get information about what’s happening, she said, and so much hangs in the balance.