Immigration Judges Forbidden by AG Sessions to Put Cases on Administrative Hold

Even people who have a separate right to pursue legal status in the U.S. will not be able to close their court cases to follow up on it.


Changes to U.S. immigration court procedures typically sound dry, complex, and relevant only to lawyers—as in fact, they often are. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recent decision that immigration judges and members of the Board of Immigration Appeals no longer have the authority to "administratively close" court cases (with a few exceptions) could have huge impacts on the immigrant community.

Let's take as an example the case of a non-citizen picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and placed into removal (deportation) proceedings. Imagine that the person, although currently undocumented, had submitted paperwork to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or had paperwork submitted on his or her behalf for an immigration benefit. For instance, the person's U.S. citizen parent or spouse might have filed an I-130 petition with USCIS for him or her, or the person might have filed an I-360 self-petition under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

In any of these cases, an immigration court judge hearing the case might logically use administrative closure to put matters on indefinite hold, giving USCIS time to make its decision on the matter. If all goes well, the non-citizen will (in the short or long term) be approved for lawful U.S. status (a green card, in the above example situations). Thus families can be united without getting the court involved, and afterward the court case can be permanently closed.

But that doesn't work anymore. In a case known as Matter of Castro-Tum, AG Sessions announced that the judge or B.I.A. can close a case "only where a previous regulation or a previous judicially approved settlement expressly authorizes such an action." Sessions also stated that "For cases that truly warrant a brief pause, the regulations expressly provide for continuances" (postponements to a later date).

The decision has drawn widespread criticism among those who know the immigration court system best. The American Immigration Lawyers' Association (AILA) said that the AG "has eliminated a critical docket management tool, effectively ensuring that the immigration court system will remain encumbered with massive case backlogs well into the future."

And AILA President Annaluisa Padilla noted, "... the Attorney General grossly misinterprets the law and disregards existing federal regulation and decades of immigration court practice. The Attorney General cherry-picked a case that is not reflective of the universe of cases that have been administratively closed and with the stroke of a pen, dismissed the inherent authority of judges to manage immigration court proceedings ... Unfortunately, today's decision represents the first in a series of efforts by the Attorney General to singlehandedly rewrite immigration law."

Effective Date: May 17, 2018