SILVER SPRING, Maryland - The decision May 17 by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Matter of Castro-Tum, is deeply troubling, upending decades of settled practice whereby immigration judges used their discretion to “administratively close” some deportation cases in the interest of fairness.
“This is another example of the administration showing unnecessary cruelty towards immigrant families,” said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. “Many immigrants who had claims for immigration relief relied on government assurances that they wouldn’t be deported if they agreed to let their cases be closed. Now, years later, the Trump administration is changing the rules on immigrants who did exactly what the government instructed them to do.”
The term “immigration relief” applies to many types of immigration status, including everything from visas granted to certain victims of crime to family-based applications, both of which may take years to adjudicate through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Under the Obama administration, attorneys from the Department of Homeland Security aggressively pushed many immigrants facing possible deportation to accept “administrative closure”—meaning their cases would be removed from the active immigration court docket—in an attempt to prioritize limited enforcement resources. DHS told immigrants who chose to pursue their applications for immigration relief instead of accepting administrative closure that they would face strong opposition from DHS during the trial. The immigrants who accepted administrative closure instead of pursuing their cases relied on assurances from the government that closing their cases would allow them to continue to live safely in the United States and without having to fear potential separation from family members.
CLINIC submitted an amicus brief in Castro-Tum, setting forth the statutory, regulatory and judicial bases that have made administrative closure an established part of immigration court procedures for decades.
In Castro-Tum the immigrant was a minor without legal representation, explained Michelle Mendez, Training and Legal Support Managing Attorney for CLINIC, and co-author of CLINIC’s brief. “The immigration judge had concerns about whether he had even received notice to go to court,” she said. “When DHS could not sufficiently demonstrate that he had received notice, the immigration judge administratively closed the case to ensure fairness for a vulnerable individual. After yesterday’s ruling, judges’ hands will be tied. As DHS places these cases back on the active immigration court docket, more immigrants, including unrepresented children, will receive deportation orders, even when it’s not clear they ever received notice of a court hearing.”
Castro-Tum is just one of several cases which the attorney general has taken upon himself to decide in his capacity as head of the immigration courts. In those cases, the attorney general seemingly seeks to narrow asylum protections and further erode immigration judges’ discretion and independence.
May 18, 2018
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