The Trump administration’s justification for ending administrative closure is on thin ice.
A new report casts doubt on key arguments presented in a proposed regulation that would end the practice of administrative closure. This tool allows immigration judges to temporarily suspend a hearing by taking it off of the court’s active docket.
The Syracuse University-based TRAC Center’s new report reveals that administrative closure has helped reduce the immigration court’s backlog, currently at more than 1.2 million cases and climbing. This contradicts the claims made by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).
TRAC’s data also shows that most immigrants whose cases are put back onto the docket following administrative closure ultimately win their cases and the ability to stay in the United States.
Administrative closure has been used in the immigration courts since the 1980s. When a case is administratively closed, it remains entirely off the court’s active docket so that no hearings on the case are scheduled. The case will then remain suspended until either the government or the immigrant file a motion to return the case to the docket.
This tool is used most often when a person is seeking a form of relief that can only be granted outside of immigration court, such as an application or petition adjudicated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. For example, people who were in removal proceedings but were eligible for DACA typically had their cases administratively closed.
Administrative closure makes the court process more efficient in certain circumstances, such as when a person will become eligible for relief in the near future, or a different court has to decide an issue before the immigration court can make its own decision. By administratively closing the case, the immigrant doesn’t have to keep coming back to court to check in.
TRAC’s new report shows that administrative closure has been a vital tool to keeping the immigration court docket from spiraling out of control.
So why is the Trump administration trying kill it? One possible reason: immigrants are more likely to win relief when they use administrative closure.
According to TRAC, people win the right to remain in the country in 60% of all cases that had been administratively closed and then “re-calendared” and placed back on the court’s docket. Just
Administrative closure was also used by the Obama administration as a form of “prosecutorial discretion.”
Individuals who were not a priority for deportation could have their court cases suspended indefinitely at the agreement of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
This was used quite often from 2012 to 2016, with TRAC’s data showing that fully 24% of all cases which are currently administratively closed having been closed due to prosecutorial discretion.
In 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a decision ordering the immigration court to end the practice of administrative closure. While two federal circuit courts have since ruled that Sessions’ legal arguments were wrong, administrative closure remains blocked in most of the country.
In August, EOIR proposed a rule which would effectively implement Sessions’ decision by regulation. The proposal claims that the use of administrative closure has “exacerbated … the existing backlog of immigration court cases.”
TRAC’s new report shows that this is simply not true.
If the nearly 300,000 cases which are administratively closed were added back to the court’s active docket, the backlog would jump by nearly 25% to over 1.5 million cases. This would further overwhelm the court system.
EOIR also claims that administrative closure has increased the backlog because in years where it was used most heavily, immigration judges “completed” fewer cases.
But as TRAC reveals, that too is incorrect. EOIR can only make that argument because the agency simply declares that a case is not “completed” if it has been administratively closed.
This means that when Obama-era ICE prosecutors voluntarily administratively closed tens of thousands of cases, EOIR statistics showed a drop in case completions—even though those cases were effectively completed.
When Attorney General Sessions ended administrative closure, case completions suddenly went up—even though the same number of cases were ending each year.
As TRAC’s report shows, administrative closure remains a vital tool to protecting immigrants from deportation and keeping the court backlog from getting worse. Those who want to oppose EOIR’s new regulation have until September 25 to register their objections.
FILED UNDER: Administrative Closure