Computer problem delaying immigration court cases

WASHINGTON — When a person’s legal status is in question, their case goes in front of a U.S. Immigration Court Judge. But now a system which already has 366,758 pending cases may see that number grow due to a computer issue.

A computer system run by the Executive Office of Immigration Review went down on April 12th and hasn’t been repaired. The system maintains court dockets and also powers the phone hotline for immigrants to check the status of their cases.

“It’s basically frozen our document information as of that date,” said Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. “It really is the coordinating brains of our system which is currently not functioning.”

“Our staff has been working around the clock to remedy the issues,” says Kathryn Mattingly with the Executive Office for Immigration Review. ” Each immigration court has available to it the resources it needs to continue the dockets as planned. In instances that a computer would generate, for instance, a notice, staff are generating those documents manually.”

But Shaharyar Malik says his wife’s case has been put on hold because of the issue. Sana Shaharyar married Malik in 2007 and has two children with him, but according to Malik, she needs a court case to prove she is in the country legally. He’s told the delay is because of the hardware malfunction.

Malik is troubled that a month later the problem hasn’t been fixed.

“A government agency of (this) caliber does not have a back-up system anywhere?”

Malik says his wife’s mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer, but his wife if unable to visit her until a judge clears up the situation because if she leaves the country without legal status she can’t reenter for 10 years.

He also says until a judge hears the case his wife cannot work, leaving him as the sole income earner for the family.

Marks says there are cases that have been delayed because of the problem. The court docketing system also connects with the digital audio recorders in the courtroom which Marks says has left some judges with no choice but to pull out old technology to get the job done.

“Cassette recordings on a 4 track tape players…those are being pulled out in some locations in order to try to avoid anything having to be continued,” says Marks.

According to Marks, the situation is due in part to underfunded courts.

“We have been so deprived of resources that it’s worse than a starvation diet, it’s below that level.”

It isn’t clear how many cases may be affected by the problem.

“Some immigration court cases may be continued, but that effect is expected to be very limited,” Mattingly said.

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