Changes to the Immigration Court SystemPosted on Wednesday, December 5, 2018
It should come as no surprise that the Trump administration, through former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has made many significant changes to the Immigration Court system. Although the immigration courts have always been under the purview of the attorney general, AG Sessions has been particularly active in reshaping the immigration court system. Substantively, Sessions has made changes in how the asylum laws are interpreted, and drastically limited people’s ability to seek asylum based on domestic violence or gang related violence. Unfortunately, this trend is likely to continue under Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who has already certified additional cases to himself.
Procedurally, immigration judges are more restricted in their ability to manage their own cases and dockets. Previously, immigration judges had much more flexibility in granting continuances, administratively closing cases (akin to putting cases “on hold” for a time period) or terminating cases (ending deportation proceedings against someone). AG Sessions wanted cases to be processed quickly, so he issued several decisions severely curtailing the judges’ ability continue cases or put them on hold. In particular, this impacts immigrants in deportation proceedings who have applications pending with USCIS that take a long time to process. Immigration judges believe they can no longer grant continuances to allow USCIS to process these applications, and instead must order the applicant to leave the country and wait outside the United States for USCIS to make a decision on their application. This will almost surely lead to more immigrants being deported more quickly, even if they might otherwise have valid claims to avoid deportation, which will result in more families being separated. AG Sessions also instituted quotas for immigration judges, requiring that a certain number of cases be completed per year. This may also result in judges ending cases and deporting people quickly to meet their quotas, even if due process would require that a case be allowed to continue.
If you find yourself placed in deportation or removal proceedings, please contact an experienced immigration attorney right away to discuss your options.