Government Furlough Ends – Immigration Court, and Immigration Enforcement to Resume

By Jamie Gorton

In a policy change that’s hard to view as anything other than a firm legislative rebuke to the Trump Administration, the federal government will be funded temporarily (Link: NPR), but with no money for a “border wall.” This is a change from less than 24 hours ago, where the White House and Senate Republicans were demanding a “pro-rated down payment” towards the wall. That demand has been taken off the table, although the President again invoked his purported ability to declare an emergency to force wall construction. It is unclear as to what that emergency is, or how the emergency declaration would make the administration more able to exercise eminent domain to build the wall.

Meanwhile, the shutdown had a striking effect on the enforcement of immigration laws. The Immigration Courts were shut down to skeletal staffs in place to handle only detained matters. Immigration information clearinghouse TRAC estimates that over 86,000 cases were rescheduled because of immigration court furloughs (Link: TRAC). From a practitioner’s standpoint, the Courts will now face another substantial backlog just to reschedule those 86,000 cases onto an already backlogged calendar. The shutdown has also completely spoiled any expectation of Immigration Judges meeting their recently-imposed quotas of resolving 700 cases per year (approx 2.68 per day) (Link: CLINIC), especially since the shutdown has already chewed away 7% of the working days in the year. It may be months before these cases can be calendared.

It is hard to consider that this will be considered a victory by anyone, on any side: the Trump Administration has ceded on what was thought to be its last, best chance to build the Border Wall (Link: Associated Press via Boston 25); proponents of strict enforcement of immigration laws saw a nation with emaciated enforcement for 35 days, and proponents of immigration reform should be dismayed to see the problems they’ve been warning about significantly worsened by and put on display by the shutdown. Meanwhile, this practicioner is eagerly awaiting the full return of DHS services, such as the USCIS Ombudsman’s Office, that had been furloughed due to the gap in appropriations.

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