Asylum-seekers and others awaiting their day in U.S. immigration courts will have to wait even longer due to delays that have mushroomed during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data published earlier this month.
More than 850,000 individuals are expected to be affected by the partial shutdown of immigration courts, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, a research center that collects and analyzes data on immigration court activities.
“These immigrants will now have to wait many months — if not years — before they have their day in court when their cases finally get resolved,” TRAC concluded in a report.
Even before the coronavirus outbreak, U.S. immigration courts faced a 1 million case backlog. Exacerbating the situation is a dramatic reduction in court activity in recent months.
The research center calculates U.S. immigration courts completed 6,460 cases in April, down from 42,045 in January and 41,793 in February. Through May, cases for 368,000 individuals had been delayed, including more than 85,000 canceled hearings, according to TRAC, which estimates the number of delayed cases will more than double as the pandemic wears on.
Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told VOA in a telephone interview that courts, like every other facet of American life, have been impacted by COVID-19. She added that court proceedings are especially challenging to conduct safely during a pandemic.
“Even as we reopen, we’re not going to be able to return to business as usual,” Tabaddor said. “You can’t return to those sheer volumes of people that you were bringing to court. So, this is going to certainly have a dramatic impact on the pace of cases working their way through the system.”
According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the Justice Department entity that oversees immigration courts, an immigration court in Hawaii resumed hearings this week. At least seven other immigration courts across the nation are expected to resume hearings by the end of the month.