Immigration attorneys worry that new priorities are exacerbating the backlog of cases coming through federal immigration court in Cleveland.
Local defendants tell News 5 that hearings are being scheduled as far out as 2019, 2020 and 2021.
It’s in part due to Executive Order No. 13769, issued by President Donald Trump just days after taking office.
Before the order, undocumented immigrants with felonies, serious misdemeanors or who had recently entered the country were prioritized over other non-criminal cases. But under the latest order, those priorities have changed.
“Under this Executive Order, ICE will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said, in part, in a release dated Feb. 21.
An added strain
Brian DiFranco, an immigration attorney who represents many undocumented immigrant clients across the state, told News 5 that added cases are putting a strain on an already short-handed Cleveland court.
“Justice is slow,” said DiFranco, who explained that there are just three federal immigration court judges authorized to hear cases across the entire state.
One of those judges retired at the end of April and a replacement is not expected to start hearing cases until the end of May.
“I’ve had individuals who have been waiting for a final hearing and then they pass away,” he said.
Waiting for answers
Francisco Pastor Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant working as a stone mason in Northeast Ohio, told News 5 he’s waiting desperately for answers.
“I was just trying to basically have the American Dream and it became a nightmare,” Hernandez said.
According to court records, Hernandez claimed political asylum because he was beaten by members of a gang for being an indigenous Guatemalan.
His case has been administratively closed since 2014 because of his clean criminal record.
“But now things have changed,” Hernandez said. “I’m still afraid now. I’m afraid now to go out and enjoy life because they could just pick me up at any time.”
DiFranco explained that no matter a person’s views on immigration, pushing more cases through the court will impact all taxpayers equally.
“The department of justice may spend roughly $24,000 on one case for the life of the case,” he explained.
The Cleveland Federal Immigration Court did not return a request for comment about case loads.