Thousands of immigration cases are on hold for Tampa Bay area residents because of the government shutdown.
Since December, callers have heard the same message when they call the immigration court office in Orlando.
“Due to a lapse in appropriations and the resulting partial government shutdown, the executive office of immigration review is limited to emergency operations,” a woman can be heard saying.
“Cases are being backlogged. The hearings are being cancelled, and that’s creating a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress from the clients,” said Immigration Attorney Jean Pierre Espinoza.
8 On Your Side learned that the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the overseeing agency, doesn’t have enough funding to operate.
Espinoza said the only cases still going before a judge are people who are detained. He said all of the other cases, people looking for residency, asylum, and other cases of that nature, are on hold.
To add even more stress, Espinoza said that if someone misses a court hearing, they can be deported, so his clients are having to drive to Orlando for their hearings just in case the government resumes.
“Because we don’t know exactly when shutdown is going to end, we still send them to court because we don’t want to be in a situation where the shut down is fixed like in an afternoon and then the court resumes the day after,” Espinoza said.
It’s a system already backlogged with cases.
According to data from Syracuse University, there are currently more than 800,000 backlogged cases across the country. More than 60,000 of those cases are in Florida.
“We had hearings scheduled for today, we have hearings scheduled for tomorrow, we have many hearings scheduled for next week,” Espinoza said.