The immigration court backlog could grow to more than one million cases if the government shutdown drags into February and March, according to data compiled by CBS News. Some states, including Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, are particularly vulnerable, and could see their state's immigration courts' backlog increase by more than a third.
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Those postponed hearings will be added to the immigration court system's already record-high backlog, which stood at more than 800,000 cases as of November 30, 2018, according to Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). Because of the government shutdown, more recent data is not available, said Susan Long, a director at TRAC, in an email to CBS News.
As of last Friday, nearlysince the shutdown began, according to TRAC. If the shutdown continues through all of January, 108,112 immigrants will have had their appearances cancelled. That number grows to 185,071 if the shutdown continues through March 1, according to TRAC.
If the government remains shutdown through February 1, the backlog will rise at least 12.5 percent in cancelled cases alone, not including any new immigration hearings. If the government shutdown goes on until March 1, the backlog will reach at least one million hearings, a nearly 25 percent jump since the end of November.
"This level of dysfunction and chaos is simply unacceptable," said Kate Voigt, the associate director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, in an email to CBS News. "Every day the shutdown continues, the immigration court backlog gets worse and people's lives are unfairly held in the balance."
Some states will feel the impact of the immigration court closure much more than others, according to data compiled by CBS News. In Bloomington, Minnesota, the state's lone immigration court had a 8,547-case backlog as of November 30, but that could increase by more than 43 percent if the government shutdown persists through March 1, according to data compiled by CBS News.
Minnesota has seen a surge of Guatemalan immigration cases starting in recent years. That court had just under 800 Guatemalan pending cases in 2016, but the number surged to 2,326 this year, according to data from TRAC. If the shutdown continues through February 1, the court's backlog will grow by at least 27 percent.
Pennsylvania's immigration courts have also seen an influx of Guatemalan immigration cases, according to TRAC. Between the state's two immigration courts — in Philadelphia and York — Pennsylvania already had a 15,945-case backlog at the end of November, nearly a third of which were for Guatemalans. If the government shutdown continues through February 1, the state's total backlog will grow by at least 20 percent; that number rises to 32 percent if the shutdown goes through March 1.
"Every day the shutdown continues, the immigration court backlog exponentially grows, further burdening an already overloaded system with high quotas and so much at stake in the lives of immigrants in proceedings," said Ruby Powers, a Houston-based immigration attorney, in an email to CBS News.
Immigration attorneys also point out that without these court hearings, deportations cannot be ordered for migrants who don't have legal grounds to stay in the U.S.