(Justice Department photo)

Sessions Moves to Stop ‘Administrative Closure’ of Immigration Cases

Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered immigration judges to stop putting cases on hold — which in turn puts deportations on hold without a decision from the court.

“Immigration judges and the Board have come to rely upon administrative closure without thoroughly explaining their authority to do so. Unlike the power to grant continuances, which the regulations expressly confer, immigration judges and the Board lack a general authority to grant administrative closure. No Attorney General has delegated such broad authority, and legal or policy arguments do not justify it,” Sessions wrote in the May 17 order. “I therefore hold that immigration judges and the Board lack this authority except where a previous regulation or settlement agreement has expressly conferred it.”

Sessions argued that the Castro-Tum case, which involves a Guatemalan whose case was put on hold because a judge determined authorities didn’t put enough effort into sending notices for missed immigration hearings to the correct address, “demonstrates how administrative closure particularly undermines the INA’s mandate to swiftly adjudicate immigration cases when the respondent fails to appear.”

“In the other administratively closed cases, immigration judges and the Board ordered administrative closure without the authority to do so. I am cognizant of the need to return these cases to the active docket so that these matters can proceed expeditiously,” Sessions said. “Requiring recalendaring of all of these cases immediately, however, would likely overwhelm the immigration courts and undercut the efficient administration of immigration law.”

“Consequently, I now order that all cases that are currently administratively closed may remain closed unless DHS or the respondent requests recalendaring.”

Trina Realmuto, an attorney with the American Immigration Council, charged that Sessions’ move “ignores the often life-changing consequences of immigration proceedings and denies immigration judges the opportunity to make measured decisions consistent with due process.”

“Despite broad grants of authority to immigration judges to manage their own dockets that have been upheld by the federal courts, Sessions claims that judges lack authority for administrative closure, distorting the law to suit his own purposes,” Realmuto said in a May 17 statement.

Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said that immigration judges’ reliance on administrative closures has . been “broad authority” never granted by Congress nor delegated by the attorney general.

“This process — where immigration court cases were put ‘out of sight, out of mind’ — effectively resulted in illegal aliens remaining indefinitely in the United States without any formal legal status,” O’Malley said, adding that  Sessions’ opinion “promotes the rule of law in the immigration system and eliminates the unfettered use of administrative closures.”

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