A few years ago, it was normal for immigration judges to administratively close deportation cases for undocumented immigrants whom they deemed didn’t pose a danger to American society. It’s important to understand that immigration judges weren’t simply trying to be nice; they were trying to put aside low-priority cases in order to deal with more pressing cases and catch up with their caseload. Immigration judges are each in charge of thousands of cases and are currently dealing with a backlog of over 730,000 cases.
Some of my clients, many of them women who initially applied for asylum, received what is called prosecutorial discretion, which administratively closed their cases. These individuals were able to keep work permits they had acquired as part of the asylum process and live in peace that they wouldn’t get deported to the countries they were fleeing from. Early in 2017, immigration courts stopped receiving prosecutorial discretion motions.
Now Attorney General Jeff Sessions is limiting the power of immigration judges to close, or indefinitely suspend cases. Additionally, ICE attorneys have requested reopening about 8,000 of these cases during the recent fiscal year, according to the Los Angeles Times.
This practice is not new. During the Obama administration, federal immigration attorneys asked to reopen or restart cases, targeting undocumented immigrants who were arrested or convicted of a crime, which is understandable. But since the Trump administration came into power the number requests to reopen cases has doubled.
To be clear: the suspension or closing of deportation cases do not grant any legal status to immigrants. It only allows them to stay in the country and, in limited cases, they can keep renewing their work permits.
As the months go by, there seem to be less forms of relief for immigrants seeking asylum or those who have spent most of their lives in the U.S. and even have U.S. born children and spouses. Although there are other actors in this attack against immigrants, Sessions has managed to use his power to unanticipated ends.
Some people are unsure about the government agencies involved in the immigration and how someone like Jeff Sessions can influence the future of immigration in the United States.
Most people know about the Department of Homeland Security, which houses agencies such as:
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is in charge of detaining illegal immigrants;
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which processes all immigration applications such as work authorizations, citizenship applications, work and family petitions, and asylum applications;
- Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which focuses on who or what enters through the country’s ports of entry and borders.
Then there is the Justice Department, controlled by the Attorney General Sessions. The Justice Department houses the immigration court known as the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). When ICE detains an illegal immigrant they refer their cases to the immigration court to start deportation proceedings. Sessions has been trying to influence what judges can or can’t do when reviewing these immigration cases. Many of the new sources discussing the matter agree that Sessions is using the court system to push an anti-immigrant political agenda, as opposed to ensuring that justice system works efficiently and fairly.