Federal government shutdown halts most Pa. immigration court hearings

The federal government shutdown — caused in part by disagreements over immigration policy — is halting immigration court hearings across Pennsylvania.

Immigration courts in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as well as similar courts around the United States, are cancelling scheduled hearings, per a notice datedDecember 26 from the Department of Justice. A much smaller number of cases will continue to be heard in detention centers that hold immigrants, such as one in York County. Court staff there may not be paid during the shutdown.

These delays are happening at a time when immigration courts already face a heavy workload.

“We don’t have time to adequately consider the cases that we do have, much less have to spend extra time to think about what we’re going to do with all the cases that have to be rescheduled,” said Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, a role which allows her to speak to the press when most immigration judges may not.

She said she alone has about 2,000 pending cases, and some immigration judges have upwards of 4,000 cases scheduled to their courtrooms. In recent years, these numbers have swelled, as has the time it takes to bring each case to a close.

On a typical day in immigration court, each judge may hear a dozen cases at a time, some for only a few minutes. When court is cancelled, it pushes those hearings back, potentially by a year or two. In Pennsylvania, the average immigrant with a claim before the court has been waiting for 485 days, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which keeps statistics on U.S. immigration. More than 15,000 cases are pending in Pennsylvania, double the number in fiscal year 2016.

By Laura Benshoff for WHYY

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