US battle over wall leaves immigration courts closed, new arrivals in limbo

World Today

US battle over wall leaves immigration courts closed, new arrivals in limbo

One of the departments which is out of funds is — the immigration court. Many already had backlogs of cases. One immigration judge said the shutdown will be “devastating.” And many would-be immigrants are in limbo. CGTN’s Nitza Soledad Perez has details.

Immigration courts are empty.  More than forty thousand immigration hearings have been cancelled because of the government shutdown, according to tracking done by Syracuse University. Immigrants are being turned away from the Miami federal building. A private guard is the only person talking to them. Leticia Calderon, a  Guatemalan immigrant stepped out of a car and headed to the court entrance. She had no clue about what was going on.

‘Is it closed?’ she asked. I had to explain to her that the US government is experiencing a partial shutdown. She just kept telling me that it was her first time at court.  Eight months ago, Leticia was detained with her son in a desert area of the US-Mexico border, then sent to Florida. She fled Guatemala after her husband was killed, leaving her daughters behind. 

Leticia Calderon and her 9 year old son wait outside of the immigration court in Miami.

“They told me that I had to come here today to talk to the judge. I don’t know anything. It’s my first time here. I will call ICE, maybe they can give me some answers,” Leticia said.

Another man from Guatemala came to his scheduled hearing. He said his name was Juan.  “They told me it’s closed so I have to wait for them to send me a new paper and then I will come back here.”

Juan showed up without a lawyer, waiting to hear instructions from a judge. These two undocumented immigrants left with a generic notice given them by the guard — that their hearings will be rescheduled. Sui Chung, a Miami based immigration lawyer has had hearings canceled; her clients’ lives on hold. Chung tells CGTN that asylum seekers are the most affected.

“For an administration that has put so much focus on the deportation machine, and making sure cases are being moved quickly through the system, it’s really impacted the immigration courts so severely, and all the federal employees involved, it’s just increasing the tremendous backlog that we already have. 

The US immigration courts system has more than 800,000 pending cases. On top of that, there are only 400 immigration judges across the United States, and reported shortages in court employees, space and even interpreters.

Leticia waited for her ride back to the farms of South Florida, where she works as a day laborer. Her life, like that of so many immigrants, in limbo while politicians keep fighting, ironically, over the funding of a border wall.