Immigrant rights advocates raised concerns on Friday about a decision reached by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, forbidding immigration judges from delaying hearings while immigrants await resolutions that could affect their cases—including their pending applications for visas and green cards. The move could reopen hundreds of thousands of deportation cases and result in the swift removal of many immigrants from the country.
Immigration judges—who are already overloaded—use "administrative closure" to manage their dockets fairly. This is yet another attempt by Sessions & the Trump administration to rob our #immigration courts of due process—to push judges into making inadequate decisions. https://t.co/kStMLXYHdF
— National Immigration Law Center (@NILC_org) May 18, 2018
Sessions issued the directive on Thursday, saying that judges' closing of cases through a practice called administrative closure "effectively resulted in illegal aliens remaining indefinitely in the United States without any formal legal status."
Critics say the decision was made only to further the Trump administration's goal of maximizing deportations.
"We know he is part of Trump's political agenda to rush cases through the system," Trina Realmuto of the American Immigration Council told the Huffington Post of Sessions. "But as the attorney general, as the head of the Department of Justice, as the person who is certifying immigration cases to himself, he needs to be neutral, impartial and he needs to adjudicate without a political agenda."
Immigration judges have for years used administrative closure to delay court proceedings if an immigrant is awaiting approval of a visa application or appealing a criminal conviction, as outcomes of such proceedings could affect their immigration cases.
NPR's Joel Rose described administrative closure as "a lifeline for tens of thousands of immigrants," whose applications for visas and green cards can take years.
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"So immigration judges will sometimes close their cases to let those applications play out, effectively putting deportations on hold," he said.
Other matters beyond immigrants' control have also driven judges to put hearings on hold. Sessions based his decision on three cases including one involving a Guatemalan immigrant, Reynaldo Castro-Tum, who arrived in the U.S. as a minor. Castro-Tum failed to appear at five immigration hearings, and the judge overseeing the case ordered administrative closure after determining "that the government's efforts to send hearing notices to the respondent's correct address were inadequate," according to NPR, allowing for the mix-up to be resolved while other cases were heard.
Under Sessions's new order, critics fear that cases that could be held up by a pending application or appeal could end quickly with judges being forced to order immigrants' removal.
"There has been no example of situations in which the court has somehow abused its authority or somehow this has demonstrated to be an ineffective way of handling situations that come before the court," Judge Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told NPR. "To eliminate administrative closure from the judge's toolkit for docket management is problematic."
"It's the epitome of bad docketing practice to take a whole group of cases, thousands of cases, that could be resolved by another agency and have them just sit and linger in court," Jeremy McKinney, national secretary for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the Huffington Post. "Or worse than that, to deport people who are trying to go through the immigration system..."
Immigration lawyers will likely appeal quickly-made decisions to deport immigrants, McKinney added.