The air is noticeably crisper, the baseball playoffs have begun, I have started to see decorative gourds, but the traffic got a whole lot lighter today. It is October 1, 2013, the first day of the fiscal year 2014 (FY2014), and the federal government has shut down over the inability of Congress to pass a budget that does not seek to undo the Affordable Care Act. With the radical takeover of the House of Representatives, government functions, including immigration, have ground to a halt. If the House can not even keep the government running, how are we to expect that they can actually create positive change by passing meaningful immigration reform?
Here are things that are not going to happen because of the government shutdown: our client, a lesbian from South Africa, will not get to present her case for protection to an immigration judge and she will remain in limbo for the forseeable future, worrying whether she must return to a country where “corrective rape” is a common occurrence for those deemed to be gay; our clients, DI and NM, husband and wife, will continue to be separated while they wait for the National Visa Center to resume processing DI’s case and deciding whether the birth and marriage documents from Iran are the right ones, and our client, DR will have her hearing rescheduled once again.
DR’s case presents an amazing saga of government bad luck and government dysfunction. DR is supposed to go before the immigration judge on Monday, yet the case is likely not to go forward due to the shutdown. Even if it did, the word is that the Congressionally-limited 4000 green cards available through cancellation of the removal for FY 2014 are already gone. Chew on that for a minute. The 4000 visas available for cancellation, meant to get the country through the entire year, were gone before the FY even started. Thus, the Judge could not even grant the relief we were seeking. Perhaps she could have reserved one of the FY 2015 visas and had us return in a year to finish the case. This was supposed to all occur last year for DR. However, last year, Super Storm Sandy closed the immigration court in New York for about two weeks. DR missed her hearing and, by the time, she returned to court in December 2013, the cancellation visas were all gone. Certainly, there would be new cancellation visas on October 7, a week after the FY begins, we all reasoned in December. So, we scheduled for October 7. Oops. The irony of all this is that the government and the Judge all agree that she should be granted her residence. Yet, it is Congress that has continued to stand in the way. The 1996 Congress which passed the dreadful immigration law which limited cancellation grants to 4000 a year has caused endless bureaucratic delay and now with a shut down has made it impossible for the parties to work out a solution. Meanwhile, DR keeps working and going to school, wondering when she will get the relief she deserves.
The Congressional inaction has also stalled immigration reform. Millions of immigrants wait for the chance to regularize their status and integrate more deeply into American life. The promise of reform has been tantalizingly close since June when the Senate passed its immigration bill. Yet, the House has done nothing with that bill. Rather than build, they seek to destroy. In the meantime, millions of immigrants, their families and their employers get up and go to work and school. They do their jobs while the House Republicans close the biggest employer in the DC area. Yet, the deportation machine keeps running. ICE has announced that enforcement and removal operations will continue during the shutdown. The heavy priority on enforcement over benefits and relief has been noticed in the immigrant priority. Certain immigrant groups have taken matters into their own hands, seeking entry into the United States across the Mexican border. I have no idea what will be the long-term effect of that strategy, but I do know that it can not be any less effective than trying to lobby Speaker of the House John Boehner.
At least the traffic in downtown DC is better.