Shutdown impacting immigrants in Austin waiting for court date

"No one's calling anybody! The immigration court is shut down, they're not giving any notices, they're not making phone calls," said Austin immigration Attorney Chito Vela.

Vela has been making phone calls though on behalf of his clients.. to a Federal 1-800 number.

According to the automated voice, due to the "lapse in appropriations and the resulting partial shutdown the 'Executive Office for Immigration Review' is limited to emergency operations. This means that non-detained cases will be postponed and will be rescheduled for a new hearing date," the voice said.  

As for those who are detained, for example someone who has been arrested by ICE at the border and is being held pending an asylum hearing... "Immigration cases for detained immigrants, detained cases are moving forward normally," Vela said.  

But as the voice on the phone said, immigrants who aren't detained will have to wait for their day in court. "Me personally, I have had 4 clients have their cases postponed.  Two of them were just yesterday," he said.

Vela says those hearings were supposed to be in the San Antonio immigration court.  

His clients are just trying to fight deportation.

And with these cases being put on the back-burner, Vela says it's adding to a national backlog that's already pretty hefty. "I believe the last I saw, it was at 800,000 pending cases.  I think that will easily go over a million," he said.  

And the wait time?  Vela says if someone walked into his office right now...

"They will probably not have a final hearing on their case until 2021 maybe 2022," Vela said.

The thing is, Vela says these cases are stressful and difficult to win. So his clients are not upset about not having to go to court. "Any kind of time that they can get is time here, working, with their families, with peace of mind so the 4 cases that I had were postponed, all of the clients were very happy to get that phone call from me that we don't have court tomorrow and not to worry about things," he said. 

Vela says it's fair to call the situation a 'double-edged sword.' "Over the long term it's contributing to a more and more dysfunctional immigration system in the United States," he said.  



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