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Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday that immigration judges can put off hearing deportation cases they deem to be low priority, the latest example of the Biden administration reversing an immigration policy of its predecessor.
Garland’s decision restored the ability of judges to practice a concept called “administrative closure” — removing cases from their docket without declaring them closed. Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions put a stop to the practice in 2018, writing that it “lacks a valid legal foundation, and I do not believe it would be appropriate to delegate such authority.”
As a result, Sessions ordered all administratively closed cases to be considered permanently closed unless the Department of Homeland Security or an immigrant requested otherwise.
Garland said Sessions’ order “departed from long-standing practice,” and added that administrative closure “is plainly within an immigration judge’s authority under Department of Justice regulations.” The AG went on to note that three federal appeals courts had already rejected Sessions’ 2018 policy, saying judges had the authority to decide how they wanted to handle cases.
The Justice Department, which runs the immigration courts, is making rules related to administrative closure and will allow the practice in the meantime, the attorney general wrote.
While the Trump administration argued that administrative closure allowed illegal immigrants to remain in the US longer than they should, immigration judges say the practice helps them avoid calling in immigrants and attorneys for unnecessary hearings.
“It helps us clear our dockets so we’re dealing with cases that are really ready for hearings,” Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president emerita and executive vice president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told the Associated Press.
During the Trump administration, the number of cases in the immigration courts surged, partly as some of the hundreds of thousands of cases that had been put on hold were added back on the court calendar following Sessions’ decision.
Since the 2018 fiscal year, the number of cases pending in the immigration courts has risen 74 percent to 1.3 million, according to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
Immigration activists say administrative closure is a lifeline that shields immigrants from deportation while they await word on applications for legal status, such as green cards or other visas.
Almost from the moment President Biden took office, his administration has set about undoing Trump’s immigration policies — most notably halting construction of the border wall and ending the “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum-seekers. Last month, Garland ended two policies that made it harder for immigrants fleeing violence to qualify for asylum.
With Post wires
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