Attorney General

Groups decry Sessions' ruling that limits judges' ability to dismiss deportation cases

  • Print.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions./

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ruled that immigration judges have no inherent authority to dismiss cases, provoking an outcry from immigration-law-focused groups. Reuters and CNN have stories.

In a ruling dated Sept. 18, Sessions forbade immigration judges from dismissing cases as an act of judicial discretion. Rather, he ruled, immigration judges may dismiss cases only when the Department of Homeland Security—whose attorneys act as a kind of prosecutor in immigration cases—requests it, or when immigrants prove their cases or achieve a legal immigration status. This takes away judges’ ability to dismiss cases they believe are not worth everyone’s time or cases they believe deserve extra time.

“The authority to dismiss or terminate proceedings is not a free-floating power an immigration judge may invoke whenever he or she believes that a case no longer merits space on the docket,” Sessions wrote. “Rather, [the Code of Federal Regulations] constrains immigration judges’ discretion.”

That ruling came in for sharp criticism from the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which issued a press release Sept. 19 calling the ruling “part of a systematic effort to marginalize the role of immigration judges in their own courtrooms.” It called for the immigration courts to be made part of an independent federal agency.

“By placing his thumb firmly on the scales of justice, the attorney general shows a fundamental disregard for immigration courts and judges,” a statement attributed to AILA executive director Ben Johnson said. “Time and time again, the attorney general’s actions have shown us that an immigration court system housed under the Department of Justice cannot be one that guarantees due process.”

Judge A. Ashley Tabaddor, speaking in her capacity as the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told CNN this move limited judges’ independence for political reasons and would likely increase the enormous backlog of immigration cases.

“It’s another representation of the improper use of the court as an extension of the law enforcement policies of the executive branch,” Tabaddor, who sits in Los Angeles, told CNN.

The ruling came after Sessions referred himself two cases that the Board of Immigration Appeals, the appeals court for immigration cases, decided in July. Sessions may do that as the head of the executive branch department to which the immigration courts belong. In Matter of S-O-G, the BIA upheld an immigration judge’s decision to dismiss a case against a Mexican national even though she was pursuing an application for relief. Sessions affirmed that BIA ruling.

However, he vacated Matter of F-D-B, in which the BIA upheld a dismissal of a case against a Brazilian national who entered the United States illegally but later received a family visa; she planned to stay in the United States until a required visa interview in Brazil. The immigration judge had written that there “appears [to be] no apparent reason why this case should remain on the court[’s] busy docket when she is simply waiting for an interview abroad.” The BIA found this appropriate, saying that forcing the woman to leave could hurt her case.

Sessions reversed that, saying the immigration judge had no discretion to dismiss cases for reasons related to docket management or mercy. Rather, he wrote, they may only dismiss cases when the immigrant wins the court case or under the circumstances outlined by the relevant part of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.