Chicago immigration attorney Lisa Chun said one of her clients was excited to finally get her day in immigration court after waiting for almost nine years.
Chun’s client, an indigenous woman from Ecuador, fled her country after a man invaded her home and raped her. The woman reported the rape to the local authorities. The man was sentenced to a few months in prison, but the woman was told she would have to pay police to find the man and get him behind bars. Without money and afraid for her safety, the woman fled Ecuador, came to the United States, and filed a claim for political asylum in 2010, Chun said.
But Chun’s client won’t get her day in court this week like it was scheduled because of the partial federal government shutdown. Hundreds of immigrants in Chicago, like Chun’s client, are facing extended delays in court. The shutdown is adding more stress to an already overwhelmed system.
“I mean it’s emotionally draining for me as the attorney. I can’t even imagine how terrible it has to be for the client,” Chun said.
The only immigration court opened during the shutdown is the detained docket, for immigrants held under the custody of the Department of Homeland Security. The Executive Office of Immigration Review, the administrative court system under the Department of Justice, issued a memo Dec. 26, 2018, notifying people about the closures.
Dana Leigh Marks, an immigration judge in San Francisco and a former president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said the shutdown “feels like the straw that could break the camel’s back.”
“These cases that are taken off the court’s calendar now because the courts are closed — there is no place to put them. It’s like being bumped off an airline but there is no later flight that day, that week, or that month. You’re going to have to travel years later. And that’s the situation for many people,” Leigh Marks said.
She called it “a crushing load.”
Nationwide, the backlog in immigration court is at an all-time high. In 2018, the backlog reached over a million cases. It would take 5.1 years to work through that load at the court’s current pace, according to an analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a group at Syracuse University.
In the Chicago immigration court, it takes an average of nearly three years to adjudicate a case.
María Ines Zamudio city immigration for WBEZ. Follow her@mizamudio.