How would a government shutdown impact border, immigration courts?

HOUSTON – A government shutdown would not impact operations along our borders, but would mean tens of thousands of Border Patrol Agents and Officers with the Office of Field Operations would have to work without pay.

Currently, there are more than 19,000 Border Patrol Agents responsible for 6,000 miles of border and 25,000 OFO officers working at 300 ports of entry, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, of Laredo, said border patrol agents and OFO officers are essential workers because their jobs are critical to national security. He said these individuals were paid on Sept. 29 and if a shutdown lasts less than two-weeks, then they shouldn’t see an interruption in their pay. However, a shutdown lasting longer than two weeks would mean agents and officers will have to work without pay.

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, those required to work during a shutdown will receive back pay.

“After the lapse in appropriations has ended, employees who were required to perform excepted work during the lapse will receive retroactive pay for those work periods,” read OPM’s “Guidance for Shutdown Furloughs” published December 2021.

“In the interim, they have to make car payments, mortgage payments, feed their families,” Cuellar said. “I’ve seen shutdowns last anywhere from two days to 35 days.”

A government shutdown could have a severe impact on the backlog in immigration court.

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, there are 2.6 million cases backlogged in immigration court. TRAC data shows the average time a case is pending in court is now 632 days. A government shutdown would mean court hearings involving non-detained migrants would be canceled and have to be rescheduled. How far out canceled hearings would be rescheduled depends on the length of a shutdown. Detained migrants accused of crossing the border illegally or placed in removal proceedings for other reasons would see their cases move forward during a shutdown.

“Just to give you an idea of how backed-up the cases are, some of our most recent (hearings) were (scheduled) for 2025, now we have received a few hearings scheduled for 2027,” said immigration attorney Raed Gonzalez.

Gonzalez did note paperwork in pending cases can still be filed electronically during a shutdown.

According to DHS, funding for certain border-related operations would be stopped. A news release from DHS stated $770 million was allocated this year to help communities providing shelter to migrants accused of crossing the border illegally and released from custody pending a court date.

“Recipients may be unable to draw down on a portion of the funds, and no new awards will be made under a shutdown,” read a DHS news release.

About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”