Most of the country’s immigration courts are either closed or working limited schedules because of the U.S. government’s shutdown. That means some immigration court decisions could be delayed for months.
Every morning, Patricia Mejia calls the 24-hour hotline at the immigration court in Tucson to check on the immigration cases she is representing.
But on the morning of the first federal shutdown in 17 years, all she heard was a robotic, "I’m sorry, we are currently experiencing system problems and are unable to answer. Please try again later."
When that later is supposed to be, no one seems to know.
"It’s never happened before. I’ve never seen it like that,” Mejia said as she hung up the phone, “I had two final hearings today (Tuesday), and none of them are going on. So I had two trials and they’ve both been canceled."
Nationwide, 19 immigration courts remain open, but about 40 more either closed completely or are only working certain cases.
If the shutdown goes on for days, it means some immigration cases could languish in the already backlogged system.
"That will prolong the uncertainty of whether they’re going to stay here or not for yet another year," Mejia said.
Another area of immigration affected is E-Verify, the online system that allows employers to check the immigration status of potential hires.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which runs the system, is in operation during the shutdown, except for E-Verify, said spokeswoman Marie Sebrechts.
"Our offices remain open, our operation remains opens, our appointments are being conducted as they were scheduled," Sebrechts said.
Border Patrol agents are exempt from furlough. However their union representatives said agents must work, but they won’t be paid until the shutdown is over and a compromise is reached.