The Waiting Game: A Backlog Of Disastrous Consequences

choice

(Photo courtesy of Henner Law Group, P.C.)

By Jano Tantongco

Modern immigrants face not only enormous hurdles adapting to a new way of life in the U.S., but an infamous set of complex legal barriers that make their journey to freedom even tougher.

And, with dwindling judicial resources coupled with more aggressive targeting from President Donald Trump’s administration, those waiting to plead their case face even longer waiting times to see an immigration judge, exacerbating consequences for immigrants.

Maira – who withheld her last name – left El Salvador three years ago to seek asylum from an abusive husband, according to WNYC. Since then, she’s been set aside, representing just one of 80,000 cases backlogged in New York to be handled by 29 judges, who are more overtaxed than ever.

Maira

Maira, pictured with her attorney Shouan Riahi, told WNYC that she waited for more than two years for her case to be heard by an immigration judge. She’s since successfully found asylum in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of WNYC/Beth Fertig)

“And to be waiting and waiting is an anguish for me,” she said.

In May, WNYC discovered that several immigration judges where nowhere to be found in the Jacob Javitz Federal Building in lower Manhattan, where such cases are heard.

In contacting attorneys in the South, they discovered that since March at least eight of New York City’s judges were shipped off to Texas and Louisiana.

Since then, she’s been waiting for a chance to see a judge, with a hearing scheduled for March. But, just one week before, the case was rescheduled for October 2018 because her judge traveled to Louisiana to hear cases there.

The wait alone from the backlog has left thousands of undocumented immigrants floundering, but also has direct consequences on their opportunities to attain documented status.

A June report issued by the Government Accountability Office found that an increased tide in immigration, particularly from Central America, originating in 2014 has also contributed to the torturous waiting times.

“The effects of the case backlog are significant and wide-ranging, from some respondents waiting years to have their cases heard to immigration judges being able to spend less time considering cases,” the report concluded.

The GAO’s report can be viewed in full here: http://www.gao.gov/assets/690/685022.pdf.

The report also said that unaccompanied children take longer in their cases because they may find enhanced relief in applying for asylum and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Though it would make sense to funnel resources to New York, which is being crippled by sheer volume, former immigration judge Andrew Arthur gave WNYC a disturbing reason why shifting judges to border states is a priority for some.

“Because the quicker that you hear the cases the less likely that an individual is to be released,” Arthur said. “Therefore the less likely another group of individuals are to attempt to make the journey to the United States.”

Though the situation can seem dire, especially with esoteric, legalistic hurdles for those who may even struggle with English, there are resources immigrants can avail themselves of.

New York’s Legal Aid Society has an immigration law unit that can provide free representation, including for removal defense and Violence Against Women Act self-petition, which non-citizens like Maira can apply for.

But there’s also help in the private sector, too.

David Sperling, a Huntington-based attorney, practiced immigration law for more than two decades and has seen his community grow in vibrancy as Central American immigrants have set up shop to call Long Island home, he told the Long Island News in December 2016.

Sperling.jpg

David Sperling, a Huntington-based attorney, can help immigrants at a nominal cost or pro-bono with legal assistance. (Photo by Jano Tantongco)

He said in many cases, because his firm takes in a high-volume, they can often work with local clients pro-bono or “low-bono” to get the legal defense they need.

“If they have an attorney who’s really committed, in many ways, we can help people.”

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