LOS ANGELES - The federal government shutdown last year delayed more than 37,000 immigration hearings by months or years for immigrants already waiting in lengthy lines to plead for asylum or green cards.
While the country's immigration courts are now running as usual, immigrants who had hoped to have their cases resolved in October so they could travel abroad to see family or get a job have instead had their lives put on hold. Many had already waited years to get a hearing date in the notoriously backlogged courts, which determine whether immigrants should be deported or allowed to stay in the country.
The delays triggered by last year's federal government shutdown that closed national parks and furloughed government workers has further strained an immigration court system already beset with ballooning caseloads, yearslong waits and a shortage of judges. The impact on immigrants has been uneven. Those with strong cases for staying in the U.S. are left in limbo for even longer, while those who face likely deportation have won more time in the United States.
Gladys Hirayda Shahian, 42, originally from Guatemala, poses for a photo holding pictures of her family at her workplace in Los Angeles, Wednesday.
About 70 percent of all immigration court hearings were put on hold, and all involved immigrants who were not held in detention centers. The rest - immigrants in detention facilities - proceeded with their hearings as scheduled.
For others, the delay means more uncertainty. Gladys Hirayda Shahian said she has been trying to obtain a green card through her American husband for more than a decade. After getting turned away at the airport after a trip back to her native Guatemala in the 1990s, Shahian said she crossed the border illegally to reunite with him and filed her residency application.
Since then, the 42-year-old from Encino, Calif., has been unable to take her U.S.-born children to visit family in Guatemala or accept a job outside her home. After waiting nearly two years to get a court date in October, she now has to wait until August because of the shutdown. "Every time I go to that court, I come out broken, in tears," said Shahian.