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Prolonged shutdown cancels hearings, adds to backlog in Michigan's only immigration court

McNamara Federal Building
General Services Administration

Hundreds of hearings in Michigan’s only immigration court have been canceled due to the partial government shutdown.

397 hearings had been canceled in Detroit’s immigration court as of last week, data from Syracuse University’s Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse shows. That number would jump to 948 if the shutdown continues into next month.

Attorneys and clients have no idea when those hearings will be rescheduled, and that leaves everyone feeling “anxious,” says Metro Detroit immigration attorney MiGladys Bermudez.

Bermudez says this will only add to the immigration court backlog that leaves some people waiting years for a judge to hear their case. Detroit’s immigration court, which has four judges, had well over 5,000 cases pending as of November 2018.

“We have no idea if the people who have been canceled are going to be scheduled ahead of everyone else, or if they are going to continue with the hearings as they are [scheduled], and schedule everyone that’s missed [hearings] for after,” Bermudez said.

“Some of my cases, even prior to the shutdown, were not going to be held until 2022. This is only going to delay that process.”

Bermudez has had two client hearings canceled this month. “One of my clients is in desperate need of a work permit, which allows him to have a social security number and a driver’s license,” she said. “And this is delaying their ability to do that.”

Immigration courts are only hearing some cases of people in government detention as the shutdown drags on. All non-detainee cases have been put on hold. Court staff including judges aren’t getting paid, and some courts are closed.

The Detroit court’s backlog is smaller than many other states with larger immigration caseloads. Nationwide, Syracuse TRAC reports that more than 42,000 immigration hearings had been canceled due to the shutdown as of Jan. 11. That number would jump to more than 108,000 by Feb. 1.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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