Immigration Law

Garland restores discretion to immigration judges in ‘administrative closure’ decision

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Attorney General Merrick Garland has overturned a Trump administration decision that prohibited immigration courts from using a practice known as “administrative closure” to temporarily pause removal proceedings.

In his ruling Thursday, Garland pointed out that administrative closure does not terminate or dismiss a case, but instead removes it from an immigration judge’s active calendar or the Board of Immigration Appeals’ docket. He said it has been used to pause cases in certain situations, such as when “a noncitizen facing removal on criminal grounds pursues direct appeal or post-conviction relief in criminal court.”

Garland also wrote that administrative closure “has served to facilitate the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, allowing government counsel to request that certain low-priority cases be removed from immigration judges’ active calendars or the Board’s docket, thereby allowing adjudicators to focus on higher-priority cases.”

The Associated Press, CNN and NBC News have coverage.

According to the Hill, which also reported on the decision, the immigration court system saw its backlog of cases more than double to 1.3 million under the Trump administration. It is housed within the Department of Justice, and under former President Donald Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, underwent several changes—including the removal of immigration judges’ ability to administratively close cases.

Garland said on Thursday that it was “appropriate” to overrule Sessions’ decision regarding administrative closure. He contended that three appeals courts had also rejected the policy, finding that “administrative closure is ‘plainly within an immigration judge’s authority’ under Department of Justice regulations.”

Garland added that the Justice Department is currently considering rules related to administrative closure and will allow the practice to continue in the meantime.

Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president emerita at the National Association of Immigration Judges, told CNN that administrative closure is “a very practical tool that judges need to control their dockets.”

Marks also said that “it makes sense in immigration” since “there are certain applications and benefits that people can qualify for that require a preliminary step in by either [US Citizenship and Immigration Services] or sometimes by a state court and that action may determine whether someone is eligible for a benefit before the court.”

Jeremy McKinney, president elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the Associated Press that it will also restore autonomy to the country’s immigration judges.

“To say the immigration judges never possessed this power was simply ridiculous,” McKinney said.

Gene Hamilton, who served in the Justice Department and oversaw some of its immigration policies during the Trump administration, also spoke to the Associated Press after Garland’s decision. He said it will allow immigrants who are facing deportation to stay in the United States indefinitely.

In June, Garland vacated two other Trump-era attorney general decisions that made it more difficult to obtain asylum as a result of domestic abuse and gang violence. He said the asylum issues should be resolved through federal rulemaking and, in the meantime, the law should revert to prior precedent.

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