Published May 29, 2018
In recent weeks the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, issued a directive limiting the powers of immigration judges to “administratively close” or otherwise delay final decision-making for the cases of individuals facing removal from the U.S. due to their undocumented status. Instead, as ordered by Sessions, the judges are required, without delay, to issue decisions on all cases, no matter how sympathetic the individual’s circumstances might be or how clean their criminal record is.
The most common use of administrative closure involves cases of individuals who are living in the U.S. in violation of our immigration laws, but who are awaiting the completion of a close family member’s application for residence or citizenship. For example, an undocumented individual might qualify for relief from removal after their spouse or adult child gets approved for U.S. citizenship, and by way of an administrative closure order, an immigration judge might put off a decision on a case while the completion of the relatives application for citizenship is pending.
The new Attorney General initiative is premised on the belief that immigration judges are overusing the administrative tool, and are stepping beyond the powers the law confers on them.
The new policy will result in the re-calendaring and scheduling of hearings for tens of thousands of cases that have been taken off the docket as a result of Immigration Judge administrative closure orders. Without question, this has the potential to lead to the removal of tens of thousands of undocumented individuals, the vast majority, if not entirety, of whom have no criminal records whatsoever.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association issued a statement sharply criticizing Sessions’ initiative, noting that the new policy will infringe on individuals’ due process rights, as well as the independence of immigration judges. Advocacy groups see administrative closure as a practical form of prosecutorial discretion and means of handling sensitive cases and protecting from deportation individuals who otherwise have no immediate, genuine legal defense.
Included among those opposed to the new policy are a group of 14 former immigration judges who had filed a special request with Sessions to reverse the policy arguing that it unnecessarily and possibly illegally limits powers delegated to immigration judges by Congress.
As time passes and the new policy gets implemented, we can expect the numerous federal court challenges, with the lead plaintiffs being individuals with the most sympathetic or tragic circumstances – and where conventional defenses to removal are simply not available.
PUBLISHED May 29, 2018– “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM” Copyright © 2018, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois