In late January, U.S. courts began telling immigrants seeking legalization that their cases would be delayed for four years, announcements that spurred an uproar among immigration attorneys and advocates.
Most peculiar was that the federal office in charge of scheduling immigration court dates issued the same date for each hearing: Nov. 29, 2019.
But the federal Executive Office for Immigration Review says there is no reason for concern. The 2019 date is merely a default temporarily used for thousands of non-priority cases after a flood of unaccompanied minors and adults with children crossed the border last year.
An agency spokeswoman said the 2019 date will almost certainly change for nearly every person who is scheduled for that day.
"The majority of the cases will be rescheduled [from 2019]," said Lauren Alder Reid of the Executive Office for Immigration Review.
A person with a case scheduled for March 2015 may receive a notice saying his or her case has been delayed for four years. But another letter will probably soon follow, Reid said, resetting the case to a 2015 date.
Detention cases are generally put on a faster track, as are non-detention cases that involve unaccompanied minors or adults with children. Late last summer, the Justice Department prioritized the cases of tens of thousands of Central American unaccompanied minors or mothers with children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.
Previously, only immigrants in detention were considered priority cases.
Cases that face a longer delay are those in which a person is not detained or otherwise considered a priority case.
Such an arrangement doesn't sit well with Mercedes Ryden, a Phoenix immigration attorney. "As a practitioner, I find that problematic," she said.
Ryden's concern is that the abrupt start-stop-start nature of the scheduling could lead people to believe that their cases have no hope, or alternatively, encourage them that they have more time in the U.S., leading them to move.
"Then if they miss that court date, they get an 'in absentia' notice for deportation," Ryden said. "That's alarming to me."