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The U.S. Government Shutdown Causes Delays in Critical Asylum Cases

The shutdown of the United States federal government has caused a great deal of uproar, confusion, and contention throughout the country and around the world. While there are government agencies and branch offices still open in various places, many government services and operations have ground to a halt. That being the case, there are a number of critical and ongoing issues in this country that have been put on hold, one of the most prominent being that of petitions for political asylum. Most deportation and political asylum cases will likely have to wait until full government service is restored which could take anywhere from a month to a year or more.

Since many government services related to immigration, and other services that are largely financed by customer fees will continue, immigrants who are currently in federal custody will have their cases heard as scheduled. But the shutdown could mean that subsequent steps in any proceedings are subject to delay. The process for political asylum is particularly backlogged with over 350,000 cases pending. Many trial dates are being put off for a year or more after the initial court hearing.

One case in particular, that of Didier Vakumbua, is indicative of what has happened with the processes of a number of government services, and the already mounting level of frustration that those involved are experiencing. Vakumbua is a medical doctor from the Congo who fled to the United States after being beaten by Congo authorities for disclosing information about human right violations. He has lived in California and has been waiting for his petition for asylum to be approved while his wife and children fled to another country in Africa. He was recently granted asylum, and was even granted emergency permission to bring his family to the U.S. because one of his children is suffering from a brain tumor. Vakumbua needed one final signature on some documents by a federal judge in order to allow his family to be sent. The shutdown effectively closed the court in which that judge was working, and now Vakumbua must wait until the shutdown ends before he can get that needed signature – and see his family.

The American Immigration lawyer Association has stated that about 1 in every 10 applicants for political asylum is allowed to keep his or her scheduled court date. For the other 9, many of their very lives and those of their family members hinge on that court date and whether it is sustained or delayed. The significant backlog of cases combined with the government shutdown means that rescheduling court dates within a reasonable amount of time will be next to impossible.

These can be very difficult times for anyone looking to immigrate to the United States, especially as our government wrangles over budget issues. However, the U.S. remains the land of the free and the home of the brave. After many years of experience as an immigration attorney, I understand your anxieties. I am here to help.

If you or someone you know is experiencing difficulties with your asylum petition, or even have general immigration issues or questions, I can help. Please call the Lyttle Law Firm, PLLC at (512) 215-5225 for a free confidential consultation.

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