Photo: David J. Phillip, AP
University at Albany student Omar Helalat has been detained by immigration authorities in Batavia Federal Detention Center near Buffalo for nearly 10 months. His DACA status was revoked after his ex-girlfriend accused him of domestic violence, but even though the charges were dropped, he’s still facing deportation.
Just before Christmas, his Buffalo-based lawyer, Matthew Borowski, believed they were on the verge of a breakthrough to get Helalat bond, meaning the student could be released while his case was being decided.
But now because the government shutdown is canceling immigration court proceedings and threatening to cut off funding to federal courts, Helalat is left in limbo again.
The shutdown, caused by a conflict about border wall funding and now entering its 32nd day, has canceled thousands of immigration court hearings in New York. Cancellations have prompted relief for some Capital Region immigrants facing deportation while causing fear and confusion for many more waiting on their cases, attorneys say.
“I’ve had clients go to court expecting to have their case heard and they are met with a locked door,” Borowski said. “They’re not being notified.”
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data center based out of Syracuse University, estimated that 5,320 hearings would be cancelled in New York’s immigration courts by mid-January. That number is expected to double by the end of the month.
And while immigration courts have been canceled because of the shutdown, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is continuing activities “deemed necessary for safety of human life or protection of property” officials have said. That includes arrests, detention and deportations.
“ICE agents are still out there in full force,” Borowski said.
The problem, he explained, if that if ICE arrests someone with an outstanding deportation order, he can’t appeal his client’s immediate removal in court like he normally would be able to. He cited two cases during the shutdown where he requested ICE stall the removal of clients pending a court decision in California. ICE went ahead and deported them to India — which could happen to Capital Region residents as well.
Camille Mackler, director of the New York Immigration Coalition, also said cancellations might affect immigrants who will miss the deadline to file certain applications and appeals unless they’re given exceptions once the shutdown ends.
In the complex immigration system, various agencies and courts have been affected differently by the shutdown. ICE detention centers and the immigration courts within them are still running, although other immigration courts are canceled.
The Board of Immigration Appeals, which hears appeals for immigration cases and bond hearings like Helalat’s, said on its website “it is processing emergency stay requests as well as cases where the alien is detained, including appeals, motions, and federal court remands.” This would include Helalat’s case, although Borowski said it sounds like they’re operating on a skeleton crew.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which processes asylum, visa and citizenship applications, is running. Helalat has a pending green card application, filed nearly three years ago through his father, who had his own citizenship interview in January, but it can take a decade to process.
Helalat also has a petition pending in federal court in the Western District of New York challenging his prolonged detention. Federal courts are expected to lose appropriations by Friday. The Chief Judge in the Western District has stayed all civil cases, including immigration petitions, said Nicole Hallett, University at Buffalo law school professor and director of the Community Justice Clinic.
“These are people who may have a right to release under the Constitution, and whose cases are delayed because of the government shutdown,” Hallett said. “Justice delayed is justice denied and that is exactly what is happening in this case.”
For some Capital Region immigrants, the shutdown works in their favor: their deportation is delayed and they have more time to appeal their cases.
“Oddly, the shutdown has been positive for my clients so far,” said Mary Armistead, an attorney at legal aid organization The Legal Project in Albany who represents trafficking victims and undocumented children in Buffalo and New York City.
“Many of my clients need to seek continuances in order to have time to seek immigration relief from USCIS. Because of the shutdown, these clients aren’t having to travel to Buffalo or the city to request a continuance since non-detained cases aren’t being heard right now.”
But, she added, for others the shutdown means hearings to get asylum or challenge deportation could be delayed months.
Even when immigration court reopens, attorneys say canceled hearings will only add to an increased backlog in immigration courts, which totals more than 100,000 cases in New York.
“These immigrants could have been waiting months or years for their individual hearings only to have them pushed off for longer,” Armistead said, “thus forcing them to continue living in uncertainty.”
Powered by WPeMatico