As you may have heard, parts of the federal government are closed for business. After two years of Republican inaction on "the wall," somehow President Trump has decided that now is the time to shut the government down in an effort to "permanently fix the problem on the Southern Border." Let's look at the effect of the shutdown on immigration generally, and on asylum more particularly.

In immigration world, the biggest--and most ironic--effect of the shutdown has been to close most of the nation's Immigration Courts. Courts that handle detained cases are still operating normally, but non-detained courts are closed. The irony is that shuttering the courts will have the effect of delaying the deportation of many aliens. On average (and based on current projections for FY2019), Immigration Judges will deport about 676 people per day. If we remove detained cases from the mix (very roughly speaking, detained cases make up about 13% of all Immigration Court cases), we can estimate that for each day the government is shut down, 588 people are spared from deportation. Given the long backlog in Immigration Court, most people with postponed cases will probably not return to court for another year or two, and so such people will be able to remain the U.S. far longer thanks to the shutdown.

Also from the Irony Department: The lapse in government funding means that Border Patrol agents--the very people who are supposed to guard our Southern border--will not be paid until the shutdown ends. As you can imagine, this is not great for morale. In addition, the E-Verify System, which allows employers to check whether a particular person is authorized to work, is down. If this "electronic wall" is not working, some "illegals" may be able to work. These results seems contrary to Mr. Trump's stated goals of deporting more people and fixing the broken immigration system, but what else is new?

Of course, many asylum seekers will not be very happy about having their court cases delayed. Some have been waiting years for a decision, all the while separated from family members and living with great uncertainty. For such people and their families, the delay is heartbreaking.

To check on the status of the Immigration Courts, you can visit the EOIR website, which will indicate whether operations have resumed. If your court case is postponed due to the shutdown, the case will be rescheduled once the lapse in funding has been resolved. From EOIR:

Non-detained docket cases will be reset for a later date after funding resumes. Immigration courts will issue an updated notice of hearing to respondents or, if applicable, respondents’ representatives of record for each reset hearing.

In other words, the Immigration Court will send you or your lawyer a written notice for the new hearing date. You can also check the Immigration Court hotline, which indicates when your next hearing is scheduled. The phone number is 800-898-7180. This is a computer system; not a person. When it answers, follow the instructions and, when prompted, enter your Alien number. The system will tell you your next hearing date. Unfortunately, the hotline will not be updated during the shutdown, but once the situation is resolved, you can check for your next appointment (whether cancelled Individual Hearing dates will be set for another Individual Hearing or a Master Calendar Hearing, we do not yet know).

What if you want to file documents, evidence or a change of address with the Immigration Court? Immigration Courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") are accepting filings for detained cases. As I understand, most courts are also accepting filings for non-detained cases, but such filings will not be acted upon. The problem is that such filings may get lost in the avalanche of documents that the courts receive. This problem will be especially acute if the shutdown drags on for weeks or months. My advice: If you have a deadline, file your documents, but make sure to keep a copy for yourself and have evidence that you filed (if you can file in-person, the clerk will stamp your copy of the documents; if you file by mail, you should keep a copy of the certified mailing receipt). If you do not have a deadline or an emergency, it is probably better to wait until the shutdown ends before filing any documents with an Immigration Court or the BIA.

For asylum seekers and immigrants who do not have court cases, the shutdown is far less consequential. USCIS obtains its budget from "customer fees" (i.e., money you pay for your green card, work perk, etc.), and so the lapse in government funding is not an issue (there is currently no fee for asylum, but USCIS customer fees fund the Asylum Offices). As a result, the Asylum Offices, USCIS offices, and Application Support Centers (the place that takes your fingerprints) are all operating normally. While this is unlikely to change, there is no harm in double checking before you make the trek to your appointment. You can do that here.

One final question is, How long will the shutdown last? Of course, we do not know. The longest shutdown to date occurred during President Clinton's term, and lasted 21 days. The current shutdown began on December 22, 2018, and so as of this writing, we are approaching Mr. Clinton's (or more accurately, Newt Gingrich's) record. The shutdown is inflicting much damage on our country, including to some immigrants and asylum seekers. Let's hope that our leaders can bring an end to the impasse as soon as possible.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: