Shutdown Leaves Some Immigrants Worried About Their Future

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New York Presbyterian Hospital Where Fatima Is Treated

Suyapa is used to worrying. She’s at the New York Presbyterian Hospital with her 10-year-old daughter Fatima who’s getting a blood transfusion.

Fatima suffers from sickle cell anemia and is at a high risk of stroke. Blood transfusions lower that risk so Suyapa brings Fatima for the treatment every month.

“It’s really fun when my mom is here,” Fatima said. “She makes me laugh and stuff.”

But today Suyapa isn’t in a playful mood. The Honduran immigrant had a hearing scheduled in immigration court last week and would have likely been approved for a green card. But the government shutdown led to court closure.

“It’s something that I wasn’t expecting to happen,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for so long. I’m in limbo.”

Suyapa, who asked WNYC not to use her last name because of her unresolved immigration status, said her daughter’s illness makes her especially concerned about what comes next.

“The uncertainty, not knowing what will happen,” she said. “That’s the most difficult thing.”

Currently only immigrants who are detained are appearing before immigration judges. Lawyers like Andrew Johnson say canceled hearings in immigration court are particularly problematic.

“When a case is delayed, it could get knocked back another two to three years just based on the calendar of immigration judges in New York,” Johnson said.

That’s because immigration courts are severely backlogged. Over 50,000 cases are currently pending in New York State. But the impact of the shutdown isn’t restricted to immigration courts.

Companies that are hitting a deadline to file applications for green cards for employees who have worked for them for five years can’t do it now. Neena Dutta, an immigration attorney, says that’s because the Department of Labor isn’t issuing labor certifications required in the process.

“You have an employee who’s worked for a company for five years, they’re an expert in what they do, the company depends on them,” Dutta said. “And now we’re in a situation where if the employer can’t file, in year’s time they might have to lose them.”

Dutta says the DOL shutdown also affects highly skilled foreign workers in another way. Some who have planned to switch jobs aren’t able to do it now.

“People who have come here legally and who have had employers sponsor are really, really sensitive to the fact that they’ve done everything right and they want to continue to do everything right,” she said. “And this is forcing people into a situation where they may fall out of status, do something wrong.”