SAN ANTONIO (AP) – Thousands of immigrants seeking legalisation through the US court system have had their hearings cancelled and are being told by the government that it may be 2019 or later before their futures are resolved.
Some immigration lawyers fear the delay will leave their clients at risk of deportation as evidence becomes dated, witnesses disappear, sponsoring relatives die and dependent children become adults.
The increase in cancellations began late last summer after the Justice Department prioritised the tens of thousands of Central American migrants crossing the US-Mexico border, most of them mothers with children and unaccompanied minors.
Immigration lawyers in cities that absorbed a large share of those cases, including New York, San Antonio, Los Angeles and Denver, say they’ve had hearings cancelled with little notice and received no new court dates. Work permits, green cards granting permanent residency status, asylum claims, and family reunifications hang in the balance.
Denver immigration lawyer David Simmons said he’s never seen such a standstill in nearly 30 years of practice. “There is no maneuverability,” he said. “It’s as if we have no court at all.”
The Executive Office for Immigration Review, the Justice Department body that oversees the nation’s immigration courts, could not say precisely how many hearings had been cancelled. But it said more than 415,000 immigrants who are not in detention have cases pending.