Jeff Sessions Begins Phase Two of Trump’s Brutal War On Immigrants and Immigration

Image by Barbara Dekeyser

Late last week, Attorney General Sessions took another step towards enacting the Trump administration’s deportation agenda, of which he has been a key player. With the stroke of a pen, he deprived the immigration courts of a critical procedural tool, which previously offered the judges independence and the immigrants who face deportation fundamental fairness and due process.

The decision, entitled Matter of Castro-Tum, concerned “Administrative Closure” which, as Alan Pyke notes in a ThinkProgress post, is “a tool judges and prosecutors alike have used for decades to manage immigration caseloads.”

Sessions falsely claims that Administrative Closure needs to go, because it’s abused by “alien respondent[s]” who merely want to stay in the U.S. in violation of the law. But, as we have come to expect from the highest levels of the Trump administration, Sessions is lying. Pyke points out that, contrary to what Sessions contends, Administrative Closure is an indispensable tool that “lets judges indefinitely suspend a proceeding so that parallel systems for resolving an immigrant’s fate can play out legally, or simply drop a low-priority case so that more urgent ones can jump the line.”

For example, if an immigrant woman tells the immigration judge she expects to be eligible for a green card based on her marriage to her U.S. citizen husband, the judge may administratively close the case with the concurrence of the Department of Homeland Security. The case only remains closed while the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — the DHS bureau that passes on marriage-based immigrant visa classifications — evaluates whether the woman’s marriage is bona fide and, therefore, whether she is eligible for a green card application. Once the woman and her husband prove to the USCIS that their marriage is real and not just for immigration purposes, the immigration judge ends the Administrative Closure, re-calendars the case, and decides whether the woman is deserving of a lawful permanent resident status.

Contrary to what Sessions claims, Administrative Closure has served as an important docket management tool for immigration judges across the country, allowing them to make the right call in numerous cases. No wonder the National Association of Immigration Judges virtually begged Sessions to leave Administrative Closure intact. In a January letter they explained to Sessions that the procedural device allows judges to efficiently and fairly manage their dockets and provides them “a superior tool in handling certain unique circumstances before” the immigration courts.

Most ominously, the immigration judges warned Sessions that leaving them “[w]ithout this useful docket management tool will result in an enormous increase in our already massive backlog of cases, which will overwhelm the system and require IJs to spend a substantial amount of time and resources on cases that would be handled more efficiently if administratively closed.”

This is not hyperbole. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reports that immigration judges face a daunting 692,298 case backlog. That’s almost 700,000 cases pending in immigration courts and only 350 judges. As recently noted in The Hill, “If the judges do 700 cases-a-year, it will only dispose of approximately 245,000 cases-a-year. At that rate, it would take almost three years to eliminate the backlog … if there are no new cases. But there will always be new cases.”

Sessions has demonstrated he lacks even a basic understanding of what Administrative Closure is or even how immigration courts work. Administrative Closure is rarely, if ever, used by an immigration judges. It’s usually employed — with the concurrence of the Department of Homeland Security — where an immigrant has a clear avenue to relief from deportation or there are overwhelming humanitarian concerns.

Given the existing backlog, why would any reasonable person find new ways to add more cases to the backlog, especially a caseload that includes what most would consider low priority?

Let’s be honest. Sessions isn’t interested in judicial economy, fundamental fairness or due process for anyone in immigration court. This all about implementing what I call the the second prong of Trump’s mass deportation plan. As I explained to Alan Pyke of ThinkProgress:

The first prong of this was going after people with final deportation orders all over the country, the moms and kids being rounded up. But then they’ve also got people in the immigration courts waiting for some sort of relief…You’re going to have a whole new slew of people with final deportation orders that are ripe for the picking by ICE.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions should direct his energy toward improving the immigration courts; ensuring that cases are decided fairly and immigrants are afforded due process. But that’s not why Sessions took the job. As I argued in a Medium piece posted shortly before Sessions was confirmed by the Senate, as Attorney General he has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attack immigrants — legal and undocumented — in several critical ways.

It comes as no surprise that rather than work in good faith to ensure fundamental fairness and due process, Sessions is aggressively using his power as Attorney General to turn the immigration court system into a massive deportation assembly line with ICE officers waiting at the exits, open handcuffs in hand.