The Backlog At LA's Immigration Court Was Already Bad. The Shutdown Made It Worse

A line of people waits outside the immigration court on Olive Street in downtown Los Angeles in October 2018. (Leslie Berestein Rojas/LAist)

With the government shutdown, the backlog at the nation's immigration courts has only increased.

Last month, LAist/KPCC reported that there are 74,000 cases awaiting their court date in Los Angeles County, and fewer than 40 immigration judges to hear them.

But those judges are off the bench until the federal government reopens, and every day that goes by means more cases pile onto their workloads.

"We cannot come back to work, we cannot volunteer our time to come back to work," said Judge Ashley Tabbador with the Los Angeles Immigration Court and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.

For people whose court dates coincided with the shutdown, they unfortunately go to the back of the line and will have to reschedule. That could mean a wait time of two to three years.

"It's not like when we come back, we can absorb the cases," Tabbador said in an interview with KPCC's Take Two. "There's no magical way to tell thousands of people to just come to their court hearings two weeks later so that the ones that were not heard can be heard."

And moving through cases can be slow: Judge Tabbador estimates that she and her colleagues can move through as few as 20 cases in the morning and 20 cases in the afternoon.

"Some of my colleagues have been pushed to hear 80 or 90 cases a day, which quite frankly is indefensible," she added.

Once the courts reopen, people who missed their dates will be able to reschedule, and officials will be able to tabulate how many more cases they'll have to wade through.

It's unclear when that will be, though. Last week, President Donald Trump said he may keep the government partially closed for "months or even years." And on Monday, Trump announced he would address the nation at 6 p.m. Tuesday (PST) regarding the border wall.


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