Asylum Seekers and the Government Shut Down

In the month of January, the federal government was shut down as Congress and the President failed to agree on a national budget. Immigration formed the core point of contention resulting in the shutdown, as elected officials debated issues like methods for securing the southern border of the U.S. and strategies for showing compassion to those immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. At RILA, these questions are very close to our heart, and we’re glad to see our elected leaders spending time considering them. At the same time, we’re an organization that works very closely with the federal government, specifically with the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. As such, we were also affected by the government shutdown.

During the shutdown, the Immigration Courts only held hearings for immigrants who were in detention. All other hearings were postponed indefinitely. As a result, six of our clients who had hearings scheduled during January had those hearings canceled, and RILA has still not been notified of when they will be rescheduled. One of these was an individual hearing for a client who has already been in the U.S. for three years. This was at a critical point in the process, as it is at an individual hearing when the judge decides whether or not asylum will be granted. Our client was so close to seeing resolution in her case, and now we have no idea how much longer she will have to wait. Likewise, we have two other clients, one who has a disability and the other who has recently given birth, whose individual hearings are in limbo due to the shutdown. The government shutdown has increased the vulnerability of these clients who are simply trying to go through the legal asylum process and see justice done in their cases.

The Immigration Courts in Arlington had recently hired several new judges in order to try and expedite the many cases that have been awaiting adjudication. In RILA’s experience, this was working! Instead of having to wait more than a year to appear before a judge, we had clients going to court within six months of arriving in the U.S. to claim asylum. However, the current debate about immigration at the federal level has resulted in the same government shutdown that is stalling the asylum process, and this is both ironic and very unfortunate.

The government shutdown is no longer a headline news item. Congress passed a continuing resolution that extended government funding and sent federal employees back to work. The immigration courts have re-opened, and we’re starting to see some movement on cases that have been stalled. Also, since RILA has a number of supporters and volunteers who work for the federal government, we’re very glad to see our friends back at work! However, we’re conscious that this continuing resolution only extends to February 15, after which the shutdown could resume. So, over the next week, it’s imperative that our elected leaders come to consensus to avoid another shutdown.

To that end, would you join us in praying:

-        For elected leaders to agree on how to use our resources wisely and in ways that will promote effective border security, allow for timely processing of asylum seekers, and compassion towards immigrants who are already in the U.S.

-        For federal employees who have experienced hardship during the previous shutdown and are anxious about a future shutdown, that they would feel God’s peace and see his provision.

-        For RILA’s clients who were affected by the shutdown, that God would give them patience with the delays in their cases, that he would provide for their needs, and that they would see justice in their cases soon.

Heather Hall