The federal government is currently in the midst of the longest shutdown in U.S. history, and immigration is at the center of the discussion. The current shutdown began before the start of the New Year, and it has continued for 34 days as of January 24, 2019. The month-long shutdown stems from congressional disagreement over how to spend the government’s money. When Congress cannot agree over spending legislation, there is a lapse in funding for many government agencies. Government shutdowns are not unprecedented in modern American politics. However, the length of this shutdown has the potential for devastating impacts on many American’s lives.
Government shutdowns occur when the Congress or the President fail to pass legislation that outlines how much money to appropriate to the many government departments, agencies, and programs. Of course, the government cannot run without funding. Therefore, the common consequence of this failure is the closure, or “shutdown,” of various, day-to-day government processes. Federal government shutdowns furlough hundreds of thousands of federal employees, leaving them without work or pay. There have been around 10 shutdowns severe enough to furlough workers. These shutdowns can be as short as one day, or as lengthy as the current shutdown of 34 days.
Immigration has played a central role in this shutdown, from its inception to its impact. The central premise for this shutdown comes from a disagreement regarding border security. The current administration greatly desires to fulfill a campaign promise by funding a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The administration says this wall is of utmost importance to national security. They believe it will impede the flow of unlawful immigration into the U.S.
On the other side of the conversation are congressional Democrats who find the wall immoral and ineffective. They are reticent to pen or pass legislation that would spend taxpayer money on an impractical political monument. In this highly charged political environment, compromise is hard to come by. The public mirrors this sentiment, and according to some surveys, many Americans see political compromise as unacceptable, but also disapprove of current shutdown negotiations. This impasse has extended the current shutdown into its fifth week, with very little hope for resolution.
The main impact the shutdown is having on immigration is the closure of immigration courts. Hearings are being rescheduled in huge numbers, and the only cases being heard are those of detainees. Immigration hearings are already in a massive backlog, with more and more cases piling up. The courts have rescheduled thousands of hearings. According to reports, around 20,000 immigration hearings will need rescheduled for each week of the shutdown. Aside from the procedural headache, it is difficult to say how beneficial or detrimental these cancellations will be. Each individual case is different, and more time can sometimes be helpful for people seeking benefits, but it can also be harmful if policies restrict further in the future. Additionally, many people have been waiting years for their court date, and rescheduling could mean more time spent in legal limbo.
USCIS, the government agency tasked with processing the majority of immigration applications is largely unaffected by government shutdowns. The agency derives the majority of its operating income from applicant fees. It is therefore still operational even though other aspects of the immigration process, like the courts, are stymied.
Immigration matters are complex and case-specific. If you, or anyone you know, have concerns about the shutdown affecting your immigration case, please contact a knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorney.
Sources and further reading:
The Balance, “Government Shutdown 2019, 2018, and 2013 Explained,” (1/21/2019)
Pew Research Center, “How Americans see illegal immigration, the border wall and political compromise,” (1/16/2019)
The New Yorker, “As the Shutdown Continues, Trump Offers a Deal That Democrats Are Sure to Reject,” (1/19/2019)
National Public Radio, “Democrats Reject Trump Border Wall Proposal, Calling It A ‘Non-Starter’,” (1/19/2019)
The Guardian, “How Trump’s border wall impasse is costing the US economy,” (1/16/2019)
National Public Radio, “Government Shutdown Leads To A Spike In Canceled Immigration Hearings,” (1/14/2019)
Immigration Impact, “As Shutdown Moves Into Fourth Week, Most Immigration Courts Remain Shuttered,” (1/14/2019)