Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday restored the ability for immigration judges to press pause on the certain deportations, including cases considered low priority or where an immigrant has a petition pending and shouldn’t be deported while that’s decided. The decision, which reverses policy by Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, could significantly slash the immigration backlog, the American Immigration Lawyers Association said.
“With this decision the Attorney General has restored the ability for immigration judges to manage their cases fairly and efficiently, by giving them back the ability to administratively close cases when that is warranted,” said President-elect Jeremy McKinney. “This has the potential to shift hundreds of thousands of cases out of the 1.3 million case backlog and bring more efficiency back to the process.”
“For the non-lawyers, administrative closure is a way to press pause on a deportation case,” tweeted Michael Kagan, director of the UNLV Immigration Clinic. “Doing that is a way to make the system more rational, so that people who have pending visa applications are not ordered deported even though they might be eligible to stay legally.”
I mean I’m no immigration law expert, but that just seems like common sense, right? But while Sessions’ announcement in the Matter of Castro-Tum back in 2018 claimed to promote the rule of law in the immigration system, AILA said the decision ”had been weaponized by the Trump administration to strip immigration judges of their authority to administratively close cases, thereby forcing more cases to remain in the backlog and clog the immigration courts.”
Attorney Karen Tumlin said Sessions’ decision forced the reopening of over 350,000 cases, including those of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. She wrote that one person she represented “was threatened with deportation despite being in valid DACA status,” she continued. “Today’s decision ends the constant fear that hundreds of thousands have faced. I am so grateful to see this needed change.”
Matter of Castro-Tum was just one of the strikes Sessions made in taking a sledgehammer to the legal immigration system as attorney general. Another decision by Sessions—who as senator from Alabama was boss to former White House aide and noted white supremacist Stephen Miller—ordered immigration judges to stop granting asylum to most victims of domestic violence. That decision was also reversed by Garland last month in a move widely celebrated by vulnerable people and their advocates.
Asylum-seeker Maribel said in a statement from the Welcome With Dignity campaign that she was “thrilled to hear about these critical changes to the law—I know it is going to change my life, and the life of so many women who, like me, are survivors of domestic abuse.” Asylum-seeker Leticia said in the statement that “[i]f I win my case, I will be happy and I will feel free. I feel like God is giving me another chance.”
AILA Executive Director Benjamin Johnson said Garland’s latest decision “is a relief to families and communities across the nation today. We welcome this return to a more effective and efficient immigration court system. A key judicial authority has been restored to immigration judges who are best positioned to manage their dockets. The necessity of this decision only underscores the need for a truly independent immigration court system to protect due process and help ensure justice and fairness under our laws.”