1,727 days. Over four and a half years. That is the current projected wait time between the date a removal proceeding is filed with the Chicago Immigration Court and the date of the first scheduled Master Hearing. This week, I received a Hearing Notice for a client before the Chicago Immigration Court. He had been scheduled for a Master Hearing in April of 2016. However, his Hearing has now been re-scheduled for November of 2019 - more than five years from now. The Court advised me that his case had been bumped for more "priority" hearings. That wait time is just for the first hearing before the Court - there may be several preliminary hearings before a final trial is scheduled. The Chicago Immigration Court has one of the longest wait times for hearings, second only to Oklahoma City.
Does this delay matter? Absolutely. Many people in removal proceedings do not have lawful status in the United States. In many cases, they are not eligible for work authorization in the United States. They are not eligible for driver's licenses, Social Security numbers, bank accounts, and cannot attend college. They are not eligible for any government assistance. And if they leave the United States while their case is pending, they may not be allowed to return for their next hearing.
But at the same time, they may be married to a United States citizen, or parents of United States citizen children. They may be eligible for relief from removal. For example, a person in removal proceedings who has been in the United States for ten years, is a person of good moral character, is not subject to certain criminal and other bars, and whose removal would cause an exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to a United States citizen spouse, parent, or child, is eligible for a form of relief from removal called cancellation of removal. Cancellation of removal cancels the removal of the person from the United States. It allows that person to obtain a permanent resident card, and live and work in the United States permanently. Cancellation of removal is a way that our laws recognize extreme situations and keep families together for the benefit of United States citizens.
As the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied. Dreams delayed are dreams denied. The current lengthy wait times for Immigration Court proceedings is unacceptable, and harms the lives of United States citizen family members of people in removal proceedings. It forces people in removal proceedings into a shadow life, without the ability to support themselves or their family members, and without the ability to contribute meaningfully to our society. Or, it forces people to choose to work illegally, and drive without being licensed or insured, so that they can support their families while waiting for their day in Court. This undermines our economy, makes our roads unsafe, and hurts United States citizen family members.