HOUSTON (FOX 26) — If a border security agreement is not reached by Friday, parts of the federal government could shut down again. People with pending immigration court hearings worry what this could mean for their cases.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, as of December 31, 2018, there are more than 821,000 immigration cases pending review. The last shutdown added to the backlog. Dmitry Shinyavskey's case is one of them.
In 2017, he arrived in Houston from Russia in hopes of obtaining an employment visa based on extraordinary ability.
"I have several degrees in science and business," explained Shinyavskey. He and his wife Tatiana paid the extra money to expedite the decision on their case. Their attorney says it was supposed to take two weeks.
"They're an example of a case that's been taking an unreasonable amount of time," says Ruby Powers with the Powers Law Group.
Powers, who took on the couple's case about six months ago, says longer wait times for any immigration case type appears to be the norm and the times have gotten worse in the last few years. She adds that processes are also getting more difficult.
"There's more requests for evidence for things that we've already submitted or things that were never required before," describes Powers.
From fiscal year 2016 to 2018, pending cases increased by more than 50 percent.
Powers believes the backlog is based on a combination of issues such as an increase in applications, not enough immigration judges, and policy changes under President Donald Trump's administration.
"We're calling this the invisible wall because this is what's keeping a lot of people from being able to maintain a legal status or move forward with their lives," Powers tells FOX 26 News.
Dmitry and his wife are also still waiting for their work permits to be approved while their case is processing. They say their families in Russia are helping them financially, but they are unsure how much longer they can go on.
"It's really frustrating right now," says Tatiana. "You don't know what going to happen the next day." She says she was a university professor in Russia and misses teaching.
"I really believe we'll be useful for this country," concludes Dmitry.