How Sessions Is Making an Overstretched Deportation System Even Less Fair

Let’s say you came to this country as a 3-year-old with your parents and overstayed your visa. You felt American. You graduated from high school and college, and you fell in love with a U.S. citizen and got married. But upon applying for legal status, through your spouse, you got stopped by immigration authorities, arrested, and told you’d be deported.

In the past, a mechanism called “administrative closure” could have helped. Until about a month ago, it would have allowed an immigration judge in one arm of this country’s sprawling immigration apparatus to pause the deportation process in order to allow another arm of the government to process the petition for legal permanent residency. This crucial tool has for decades helped judges to ensure fairness and efficiency in deportation cases, allowing them to temporarily take certain cases off the docket. 

But now Attorney General Jeff Sessions is restricting this critical power. On May 17, he issued a decision that severely limits administrative closure. Now, instead of having the discretion to close cases whenever it makes sense in light of relevant circumstances, judges are restricted to granting administrative closure only in narrow situations that largely apply to a small and dwindling universe of immigrants from select countries — a small fraction of the total number of cases currently administratively closed.

Advocates, lawyers, and many immigration judges agree that curtailing administrative closure will have an enormously negative impact on immigrants in removal proceedings — something Sessions knew well when he chose unilaterally to end the practice in nearly all cases.

Sessions’ ban on administrative closure means that husbands and wives of U.S. citizens awaiting permanent residency could be ripped away from their spouses before they can complete the process. It could mean people not mentally competent to participate in their deportation proceedings could be forced to move forward anyway. And unaccompanied children seeking special protective status could be sent back to dangerous situations before their backlogged visas are available. 

The attorney general’s decision to wipe out administrative closure will also contribute to the already massive backlog of more than 700,000 immigration cases, further squeezing the courts and undercutting immigrants’ opportunities to fairly present their claims. Immigration courts are already overburdened and lack important procedural protections. But they have to make critical, sometimes life-or-death decisions about whether immigrants — many of them asylum seekers fleeing persecution or Dreamers with deep roots in their communities — will be admitted or exiled.  

As Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks has put it, immigration courts are already “doing death-penalty cases in a traffic-court setting.” But with this administration’s policy changes, even that traffic court is turning into a kangaroo court. Mistakes and due process violations will inevitably result. It’s not hard to see how people who legally qualify to remain in the U.S. could be deported.

This is just one of many changes Sessions is imposing to make immigration procedures less fair. He is planning to weigh in on an immigration case that could make it much harder to get a “continuance” — another important tool in immigration judges’ toolkit that allows immigrants more time to get a lawyer, prepare their case, or await the outcome of an immigration application. And earlier this year, Sessions’ Department of Justice announced that it would be putting in place ambitious case completion goals on immigration courts and imposing quotas on individual immigration judges, both of which increase the pressure on judges to push cases through quickly and limit delays of any kind.

We’ve partnered with the American Immigration Council to put out a practice advisory that helps immigrants and their lawyers navigate this latest attempt by the administration to further undermine basic fairness in the removal system. As we explain, although Sessions is ruling out administrative closure in most cases, immigration judges continue to have valuable tools that they can and should use to bring some reason and fairness to the deportation system. And whether the attorney general likes it or not, our Constitution guarantees the right to due process — including when it comes to deportation.

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Thoughtful Voter

This is what happens when rednecks get to power: ignorance, violence, and degeneration of civil society.

Common Sense

Rednecks? Lmao... You need to learn the difference between an Illegal alien and a legal immigrant. This country isn't a dumping ground for anyone who wants to come over. Do it the legal way or stay out. It's that simple.

Dr. Timothy Leary

If more Americans would emigrate to other countries maybe it would balance out with the number of people entering this one.

Anonymous

I'm waiting for Guatemala to completely empty out then I'm gonna go claim me some beachfront property. If anyone comes back I'll just say "finders, keepers and etc but you can keep Chicago as a consolation prize."

Anonymous

Administrative closure was being used for de facto Amnesty. People were on it for decades - even people who had exhausted their asylum claims. In the case of Dreamers, there is every indication that there will not be a DREAM Act, so all the delay s going to do is make it harder to restart their lives in their own countries after deportation. If they chose useful college degrees and bothered to keep practicing the languages of their own countries many of them could get entry level positions in their field in their home country while they are still the ideal age and before they get kids, mortgages, and etc .

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