On May 17, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that immigration courts are barred from authorizing indefinite administrative closure of removal proceedings against non-citizens that Homeland Security seeks to deport. This is a stunning rebuke to the independence of immigration judges, who for decades have used administrative closure as a docket control method for cases which may be resolved by other agencies or courts.
The Attorney General’s decision is likely to cause the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reactive as many as 356,000 removal (deportation) cases which had previously been administratively closed. Sessions’ order does not compel immigration courts to affirmatively recommence proceedings that have been administratively closed in the past. In most cases, DHS would move to restart the deportation proceedings. Since DHS no longer prioritizes among removal cases based on the facts (ostensibly, anyway), one might expect DHS to begin recalendaring most of them.
When added to the 714,067 currently in-process removal cases in the immigration court system, the active case backlog will total more than 1 million. Currently, there are approximately 350 immigration judges, and, as of May 2018, immigration hearings are being scheduled as far out as May 2023.
Sessions’ efforts to dramatically restrict immigration courts’ use of administrative closures has been roundly criticized by attorneys and immigrants’ advocacy groups. Most significantly, perhaps, many immigration judges have strenuously opposed Sessions’ restriction, as articulated in a letter submitted by the National Association of Immigration Judges.
It is highly likely that Sessions’ decision will be challenged in federal court.