Closure Challenges: Jeff Sessions Denies Immigrants Administrative Relief

By Andrew Soboeiro

As Attorney General under the Trump Administration, Jeff Sessions has sought to drive out unauthorized immigrants on multiple fronts. From attacking sanctuary cities to appointing more ICE attorneys as immigration judges, the former Senator has simplified deportation while eliminating sources of reprieve for the undocumented. As part of this effort, Sessions recently announced that he will be challenging the process of administrative closure. In doing so, he threatens both the independence of immigration judges and the safety of hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their families.

Understanding Administrative Closure

Administrative closure is a tactic used by immigration judges to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation in certain circumstances. It typically occurs when a judge feels they cannot rule on deportation at a given time, such as if the immigrant has filed a petition that immigration officials are still evaluating. Until the case is resumed, the immigrant cannot be deported.

Administrative closure is nothing new, but it has been used on a growing scale lately. In a period of four years during the Obama administration, 180,000 immigration cases were subject to closure. All told, there are roughly 350,000 immigrants who remain in the United States as a direct result of this procedure.

Sessions’ Challenge

While his predecessors have attempted to influence the closure process, Sessions appears to be undermining it entirely, or at least severely limiting its use. The Attorney General has questioned whether immigration judges have the legal authority to offer closures. He also suggests that this process makes deportation less efficient, thereby compromising “the timely and proper administration of justice.” Sessions has broad authority over immigration judges, and could end the practice if he chose to do so.

The Attorney General has not yet made a decision on this matter, and will not do so without first opening the issue to public comment. In the meantime, it’s important to consider the impact that ending or limiting administrative closure could have. On a purely practical level, doing so could make immigration backlogs worse. There are currently 650,000 immigration cases pending in Federal courts. Without closure, judges would have to add another 350,000 cases to this load.

If the practical cost of ending closure is high, the moral cost is even higher. Many of the immigrants offered reprieve through this process are often fleeing drug violence, war, and other deadly threats. Forcing courts to reopen their cases before their petitions have been fully evaluated may causes these individuals to be delivered back into the midst of such violence. Many could die as a result.

Even if we don’t consider the wellbeing of undocumented immigrants themselves, ending closure has a moral cost to US citizens as well. The American Immigration Lawyers Association has issued a statement urging Sessions to leave the closure process intact, claiming that eliminating it would constitute “undue influence” on immigration judges. This suggests that Sessions’ challenge could detract from the independence of the judiciary, potentially undermining one of the foundations of a free society.

Whatever the future of administrative closure, Vigoda Law Firm is committed to keeping you up to date on this and all other immigration issues. For more information or to request our legal assistance, visit our website today or call 919-307-7817.